Friday, December 09, 2005

PopCult Gift Guide/ Day Five: Movies, Art Books, and General Weirdness

It's the last day of the continent-spanning, time warping PopCult Gift Guide. In this final installment, we're going to dig into the neatest gift ideas in Art Books, Movies, and just General Weirdness. We're all dreaming of a weird Christmas, right?


ART BOOKS

Little Nemo In Slumberland-So Many Splendid Sundays
$120 whereever limited edition books are sold

You may be wondering why a collection of comic strips is listed as an "Art Book" gift. Winsor McKay's Little Nemo In Slumberland is art. This limited edition book collects 110 digitally-restored Sunday pages from the classic comic strip in their original size: 16" by 21." This is a huge, beautiful book. Comics fans today don't realize that, a hundred years ago, people all over the country would wake up on Sunday morning and rush to the newspaper to see the surreal full-color comic strip adventures of Little Nemo. Set in a little boy's dream world, this strip is as bizarre and delightful as anything done since. With this limited edition book, you can finally see the strip reprinted close to its original size, and in full color. You can really appreciate McKay's craftsmanship and innovative use of color. He did things in comics that nobody else even tried to duplicate for 70 years. This book will be equally at home in a comic book collection or on a shelf for fine art books.

Leonardo's Notebooks
$25 to $40 whereever books are sold

Going back even further than we did with Little Nemo, we find Leonardo Da Vinci, the Renaissance man. This book collects the most profound writing from Da Vinci's notebooks, compiled and translated by H. Anna Sung and illustrated by Da Vinci's own sketches. You not only get the incredible art, but you also get a rare insight into one of the most amazing people to ever walk the planet. With all the recent "code" hooplah, you might be able to trick a mystery novel fan into developing an appreciation for fine art. With the perfect mix of writing and illustration, this is more than your typical art book. It's more of an illustrated philosophical treatise. Since the artwork is so striking, nobody will mind the philosophy.

Shag The Art of Josh Agle
$40 where ever books are sold

Josh Agle, or "Shag," as he signs his work, has developed his retro-post-war style into a popular look that's become one of the most imitated graphic design motifs in years. His work can be found on cocktail napkins, lighters, and the redesigned Pink Panther, and imitators are found all over the illustration world. This book is the first collection of Shag's paintings, wonderful time machine trips back to the days of bachelor pads, the Rat Pack, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and slumming in beatnik bars. A lot of his paintings look like the perfect illustrations for articles from Playboy Magazine, circa 1962. The 200 paintings contained here show just how much work and backstory Shag puts into his work. Many of them capture a moment, and it's left to the viewer to decide just exactly what's going on. This is the perfect gift for the retro hipster in your life.

MOVIES


The Fantastic Films Of Ray Harryhausen DVD collections $30 to $45 whereever DVDs are sold

There are two DVD collections of master special effects animator Ray Harryhausen's films. You have your choice of "Legendary Monster" films, like Jason And The Argonauts and his Sinbad series in one box, or you could go with "Legendary Science Fiction" classics like It Came From Beneath The Sea, Twenty Million Miles To Earth or Earth Versus The Flying Saucers. Each set contains five films that feature Harryhausen's incredible stop-motion animation. Highlights are the skeleton swordfight in Jason, The Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, and the Ymir from Twenty Million Miles To Earth. These films will make a great gift for the monster movie buff, special effects fan or sci-fi maven on your list.


The Concert for Bangladesh Deluxe Limited Edition
$35 to $50 where ever DVDs are sold

Held in 1971, The Concert for Bangladesh was the first all-star charity benefit of the rock and roll era. Masterminded by former Beatle George Harrison after hearing about the plight of Ravi Shankar's homeland, this show brought together an amazing line-up of musicians to perform in Madison Square Garden, with the proceeds going to the devastated region. Harrison called in some pretty powerful "friends" like Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston and a then-reclusive Bob Dylan, who hadn't performed in public since his motorcycle crash in 1966. This was an amazing night, and it was captured in this documentary, which is supplemented in this set with deleted songs, footage from the rehearsals, and a new documentary detailing how the show came together. This deluxe edition also includes a 60-page booklet, a set of ten postcards, a cling sticker, and a reproduction of Harrison's handwritten lyrics for the song "Bangla Desh." Without the example of this concert, it's doubtful that we would have seen such other all-star rock benefits as Live Aid, Farm Aid or Live 8. This is a great gift for the Beatle freak, music lover or philanthropist on your holiday list.

Forbidden Zone
Under $20 where ever strange DVDs are sold

This is one of the greatest movies ever made! Sure, it's bizarre, obtuse, slightly perverted, and can be used to clear Republicans out of your house, but it's still one of the greatest movies ever made. Forbidden Zone is a labor of love, directed by Richard Elfman, and featuring his brother Danny Elfman and his band, Oingo Boingo. Danny plays the Devil, and sings a re-written version of "Minnie the Moocher." There's lots of nudity and goofiness, but still, this is one of the greatest movies ever made. Marie-Pascale Elfman stars as "Frenchy," the schoolgirl who gets transported to the "Forbidden Zone," The Sixth Dimension, through a portal in her basement. There, she is spied by the King, played by Herve Villecheze, and challenges the evil Queen (Susan Tyrell) for his affections. Things you need to know: Although this movie was made around 1980, it was shot in black and white; many nice-looking ladies run around topless for the entire film; it's a musical, but most of the songs are from the 1930s, or earlier, with some performers lip-synching to Cab Calloway or Josephine Baker. Mixed in among the classic tunes are original songs and the first film score by the Oscar-nominated Danny Elfman. If you have a film buff with a zest for adventure on your shopping list, then this is the gift for them. It is one of the greatest movies ever made. The DVD includes deleted scenes, a short test film, a documentary, and hysterical commentary by Richard Elfman and co-writer, Matthew Bright.

GENERAL WEIRDNESS


Punk Rock Candles
$9.95 each from Wicked Cool Stuff.com

Sure, the idea of candles may seem somewhat at odds with the world of punk rock, but aside from the hippy-dippy connotations, candles are nothing more than tiny fires. And fire can burn and destroy. What could be more punk rock than that! Over at Wicked Cool Stuff.com, you can find these candles in tin boxes that bear the graphics of the Sex Pistols and The Ramones. They're perfect for that intimate romantic encounter with your spiked and pierced sweetie. If you want you can save the Ramones candle to light in mourning the next time one of them kicks the bucket (there are a couple of drummers left, right? ).


Mexican Wrestling Masks
$9.95 for a set of four from Archie McPhee.com

Not quite apparel, but not purely a wrestling item, these cheap Wrestling Masks are just strange enough to land in the General Weirdness category. For ten bucks, you get four masks that are perfect for wearing to church, school or to dinner with the boss. Or you could just put one on and run up El Drunko's bar tab at The Tank. This is a must-have item if you plan to call out El Santo for a Tijuana Cage match. And these are a great security item. Nobody will mess with you if they think you might slap the "claw of death" or the Scorpion Leg Lock on them. This is the perfect gift for the delusional psychotic on your holiday list.

Braxton County Monster book, prints, T-shirt
A variety of prices from The West Virginia Book Company

It just wouldn't be Christmas without the Braxton County Monster. Our own homegrown General Weirdness has inspired books, fine art prints and a cool T-shirt, all of which can be found at the West Virginia Book Company website. Frank Feschino has a whole cottage industry going based on that night in 1952 when the strange visitor from beyond landed in Flatwoods. Of course, we now know that it was merely a time-traveler who had miscalculated. Seems he wanted to go to the FiestaWare Outlet store, stock up, and make a killing on intergalactic eBay in the year 2985. But that's all water under the bridge. The legend of the Braxton County Monster is West Virginia's own little Roswell, and you can delight the conspiracy theorist on your list with the book, prints and T-shirt that feature the most famous vacationer to ever take a wrong turn in the Mountain State.

That wraps up the bloated and inspirational PopCult Gift Guide. I hope you got some workable gift ideas, or at least a chuckle. Remember to keep reading PopCult every day, and check back next year for a Gift Guide that will be much, much shorter.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

PopCult Gift Guide/ Day Four: Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman

Day Four of the infamous PopCult Gift Guide finds us staring in the face of three things we can all use more of in our everyday life: Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman.

MONKEYS

King Kong (Collector's Edition) DVD
$40 or less, where DVDs are sold

With Peter Jackson's remake hitting the big screen soon, interest in the story of King Kong is at it's highest since 1976, the last time someone tried to re-do this classic. To commemorate the release of the new Kong, the folks at Turner have put together an amazing package that includes a restored print of the 1933 film, King Kong, along with two documentaries about the film; "lost" sequences; commentary from legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen; a 20-page reproduction of the original souvenir program; postcards depicting scenes from the movie; and a mail-in offer for a movie poster, all housed in a collectible tin. This is a great gift for the movie buff, monkey aficionado, or big hairy guy on your Christmas shopping list.

You may want to consider a different option, though. If you think your giftee cares more about the movie than the packaging and extras, for the same price, you can get a 4-DVD set that has the same discs as this set, but also throws in the sequel, Son Of Kong, and the related film, Mighty Joe Young, in which master animator Willis O'Brien, who brought Kong to life, was joined by a young Ray Harryhausen, who took the craft of effects animation to new heights. All the films have amazing restoration jobs, with the prints looking better than they have since their original theatrical release. The 4-disc set doesn't have the extra goodies or tin box, but it does have two more movies. Either way, King Kong is a must-have for the simian cinema fan on your list.

Zippy The Chimp Look-a-like
$19.95 plus shipping from The Vermont Country Store

Zippy the chimp was a beloved fixture on The Howdy Doody Show, and for years after that show went off the air, toy versions of Zippy were a popular toy all over the world. My kid sister had one of these, and she was born long after the Doody gang had shuffled off the airwaves. Millions of kid had this faithful companion, with his monkey grin and ever-present banana. To clarify, this is the Zippy the Chimp from the Howdy Doody Show, the one who wears the yellow shirt with red suspenders. There were other, different Zippy The Chimps, including one who painted abstract art, and another who appeared on many TV shows during the 1950s and 1960s, and may have possibly been a Gabor sister. This is not a licensed copy. His shirt doesn't say "Zippy" on it, but otherwise, it's a perfect replica of the classic toy. If you know somebody who grew up with one of these toys, this is the perfect gift to take them back to the days when they liked to monkey around.


Smoking Monkey
$5.95 plus shipping, from Archie McPhee

Smoking is a nasty habit--one of my pet peeves, in fact. So what better way to illustrate how horrible smoking is than to have a monkey--an animal known for throwing and flinging all sorts of nasty things around--demonstrate how silly an addiction tobacco is.

Well, not really. Monkeys are just funny. And a monkey wearing a fez is even funnier (a fact of which Archie McPhee is well aware). So when you have a ceramic monkey in a fez with a butt going, well, it's pretty funny. The tiny monkey cigs are not real demon tobacco, they're just incense wrapped in paper, so you don't have to worry about giving cancer for Christmas. This is a cheap little stocking stuffer that's guaranteed to put a smile on someone's face. If you know somebody with a really twisted sense of humor, you might want to try the Smoking Baby!

APPAREL

Indiana Jones Hat
$100 plus shipping from Miller Hats 1-800-789-0839

I started wearing hats this year. After seeing myself in the audience on the IWA East Coast DVDs, I came to grips with the fact that I am fairly, well... bald. Now, it's not pure vanity, or displeasure over my missing hairline that has me wearing hats. You see, having no hair means that I no longer have to worry about HAT HAIR! I've always liked hats, but whenever I wore them, once I removed the hat I looked like that mug shot of Nick Nolte. Not anymore! Now I can wear any kind of hat available, and not worry about mussing up that what ain't there no more. If you have someone on your shopping list who has been liberated from worry about their hair, you might want to consider giving them a hat. You can't go wrong with a fedora, and the coolest fedora is the one worn by Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Miller Hats is the world's largest online hatter, and aside from the Indy hat, they carry tons of headgear, from bowlers to gauchoes. This is the perfect gift for hat-wearer on your holiday list.


Kinky Friedman Campaign T Shirts
$20-$25 plus shipping from Kinky Friedman.com

Kinky Friedman has been a comedy country balladeer, a best-selling mystery novelist, and now, he's campaigning to become the next Governor of Texas. You can support Kinky's quest by marching over to his website and snapping up one of his 20 or so campaign T-Shirts. They sport some pretty funny logos and slogans--my favorite is "Why The Hell Not?"--and they're a great way to interfere in the politics of somebody else's state. Your support may help Kinky ascend to the top spot in Texas government, and then, maybe he can rinse the horrible taste out of the country's mouth that was left by a certain other Texas governor. Bop around his website and you can get an idea of Kinky's platform, and take a look at his other fund-raising merchandise, like the talking Kinky Friedman action figure. Do you have people on your list who have become disillusioned and depressed over the state of politics in this country? Well, you can buy all of them Kinky Friedman T-shirts. I think they give bulk discounts.

Wicked Cool Wristbands
$4 to $10 from Wicked Cool Stuff.com

Do you have a cool, yet sweaty person on your shopping list? If so, you should head on over to the Wicked Cool Stuff.com, and snap up some of these nifty wristbands that feature a variety of pop culture images. My favorite, pictured in the middle of the photo at right, is Meatwad, from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. You can also find wristbands featuring The Muppets, Invader Zim, Family Guy, various superheroes, and other pop icons of the modern age. And they're really absorbent! Who wouldn't want to wipe their brow with Davey and Goliath? This is a good, cheap stocking stuffer with a coolness factor that can't be matched by any other perspiration-inhibiting device.

SUPERMAN

Superman 13 Inch Deluxe Collector's Figure
$89.99 plus shipping from Entertainment Earth


Ninety bucks may seem like a lot to spend on an action figure, but this is one very cool action figure. This 1/6 scale Man Of Steel has many points of articulation, and sports some incredibly-detailed sculpting. Not only do you get the Last Son Of Krypton, but you can also dress him in his Clark Kent outfit, which is included in the package. The cool thing is, once you dress him as Clark Kent, nobody can tell that he's also a Superman action figure. He looks totally different! Superman comes with two sets of interchangeable hands, the Kent clothes and glasses, a "steel" girder that he can bend, a copy of the Daily Planet, and breakaway chains. There are plenty of Superman fans out there, and if you have one on your holiday shopping list, this is a great toy for them to put on their shelf. Then when no one's looking, they can hold it and run around the house making "whoosh" sounds.


Smallville DVD sets
$20 to $55 where ever DVDs are sold

A few weeks ago, I sang the praises of the television show Smallville, and one great way to catch up with this terrific retelling of the Superman legend is with the DVD collections. Each DVD boxed set contains an entire season of the show, and you'll get to watch them with crystal clear DVD quality, instead of the really crappy local broadcast signal that we get. This is the story of a high-school aged Clark Kent, as he learns of his Kryptonian heritage and great powers. Long time fans of Superman will get a kick out of this fresh re-casting of the legend, and they'll really enjoy the foreshadowing and in-jokes. You can find these sets at a variety of prices. Season Four has just been released, and will cost the most, but many stores are discounting the earlier boxed sets to as low as twenty dollars each. This is perfect for the Superman fan on your shopping list.

All Star Superman #1
$2.99, where ever comic books are sold

The ideal stocking stuffer for the super-hero fan on your holiday list, All Star Superman is what happens when DC Comics decides to clear away all the convoluted continuity and back story from the current comics, and allow the top creative talents in comics to tackle iconic stories featuring that pre-eminent superhero, Superman. Grant Morrison has been one of the top writers in comics for years. He managed to bridge the gap between Vertigo-style modern Goth, and DC's standard superheroes. After becoming a sought-after commodity in comics, Morrison was hired away by Marvel, and spent a few years taking The X Men to new heights. Now, he has returned to DC, and brought his X Men artist, Frank Quitely, with him. The result is wonderful. This is the most fun Superman story in ages. Lex Luthor is trying to kill Superman. No pretenses, no convolution. Superman is a good guy with a secret identity, who fights to protect the world. The writing is sharp, the artwork is gorgeous. This is what Superman is supposed to be. At three bucks, it's a great, inexpensive gift.

On Friday, we wrap up the gift guide with PopCult picks for Movies, Art Books, and General Weirdness.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

PopCult Gift Guide/ Day Three: Toys, Chocolate, and Comedy

Day three of the larger-than-life PopCult Gift Guide brings you gift ideas for three things that will enrich your life: Toys, Chocolate, and Comedy

TOYS

G.I. JOE ADVENTURER Limited Edition Reproduction
$43 or $79 from the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club
(817) 448- 9863

Full disclosure time: I am a member of the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club, and I write for their website. The reason is that I'm a die-hard, unrepentant G.I. Joe collector. The club produces some of the best reproductions of classic toys in the world. For the past few years, the club has treated us to top-notch reproductions of the Adventure Team G.I. Joes, complete with accurate packaging, and authentic materials. These toys are near-perfect copies of the toys we had (or wanted) from our childhood.

This year, the club has stepped up a notch and has given us the "Adventurer" (commonly known among collectors as the "Black Adventurer"). This African-American figure was produced in small numbers, and is very hard to find in decent condition today. I don't remember even seeing them in stores when I was a kid. Examples in mint condition, still with their packaging, can run hundreds of dollars, or more. This club edition features a perfect copy of the original figure, complete with the flocked afro, shoulder holster and pistol, and Adventure Team dog tags. The reproduction box also includes copies of all the original paperwork.

As a bonus, you get an enamel pin depicting the Adventure Team's trademark Yellow ATV. The reason there are two prices listed is because these are produced for club members only. If you aren't a club member, then you have to join to get this item, and your membership is included in the price. This is a great gift idea, because, not only do you get a really cool gift to wrap and put under the tree, you also get a monthly reminder of how cool G.I. Joe collecting can be, with the club newsletter and Mastercollector Magazine and other benefits. The G.I. Club figures are a rush of nostalgia for the person who had these guys as a kid, and it's much more affordable to buy this reproduction than it is to lay out the big money that the vintage figures command on eBay.

EVEL KNIEVEL SUPER STUNT SET
$39.99 plus shipping from Back To Basics Toys

Speaking of cool toy reproductions, Back To Basics Toys has an exclusive set featuring a reproduction of the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, one of the best-selling toys of the 1970s. This set includes a figure of Evel, his famous motorcycle, the crank-operated launcher, and an assortment of ramps and obstacles. Plus you get a ring of "fire" and a brick wall, into which you can propel your miniature daredevil. Each set is individually-numbered, and comes with a booklet explaining the history of the toy. Anyone who had this toy as a kid knows how much fun it can be to make the much-injured Evel jump over the furniture, bounce off walls and crash into the grill on the front of the refrigerator. This could be a great bonding gift for a father and son. Maybe you'd better buy two, though. Some dads aren't going to want to share.

HOT WHEELS CLASSIC TRACK SETS
$6.99 to $24.99 only at K Mart

You know, maybe I should have called this the "cool retro boy's toys" category. This recommendation for your Holiday shopping list is yet another blast from my past. Mattel has gone back to the halcyon days of the late 1960s and recreated the original Hot Wheels experience. K Mart is the only place you can find these Hot Wheels Classic race track sets, with the original bright orange track. There are a variety of sets available, including the basic set with five feet of track and clamp to hold it onto a table, and the elaborate Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Set (pictured). You can also find the famous loops and ramp stunt sets. Coolest of all, Mattel recreated the original box graphics, with the then-cool mustard yellow motif, and great paintings of the toys in action. Next March, I'm expecting a new nephew to be bounding about, and it's great to have an excuse to stock up on cool toys for him. Of course, I'll have to try them all out, first.

CHOCOLATE

48-PIECE G COLLECTION GIFT BOX
$125 plus shipping from Godiva Chocolatier

Well, the toy category was dominated by gifts for the guys, so to make it up to the ladies, here's some Godiva Chocolate. A huge, expensive box of Chocolate, to be exact. For this very high price you get 48 assorted pieces of fine Godiva Chocolate, the kind for which women are known to kill. There's a lovely presentation box with a ribbon, so if you want, you can be a total cheapskate and keep refilling it with Brachs Candies that you bought at Fas Chek. Offer it to your guests and they'll tell you how much they love Godiva Chocolate, and how this is the best they ever had. You can get smaller assortments, but why be cheap when you're being so extravagant?

MORITZ GERMAN MILK CHOCOLATE ICE CUBES
$12.95 plus shipping from The Vermont Country Store

You know, some people go nuts over the Godiva stuff, but for my money, the best chocolate in the world is good old ICE CUBES. These used to be found almost anywhere candy was sold, but lately you pretty much have to resort to the Internet to track down these tasty little morsels. You can get a bag of 28 of the double-thick Ice Cubes from The Vermont Country Store, which has a lot of other cool antiquated brands of food, candy and cosmetics. They also carry about 400 things made out of maple syrup. It is Vermont, after all. Ice Cubes are a great little chocolate treat, and if frozen and smashed, they make the best chocolate-chip cookies you''ll ever cram sideways into your mouth.


FOX'S U-BET CHOCOLATE SYRUP
Around $2.50 at many area grocers

So you need a stocking-stuffer for a choco-holic, eh? Well, Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup is just what you're looking for. I first heard of this on a Food Network show about Egg Creams, and when I found it in a local store, I picked it up to see what all the fuss was about. This is, quite simply, the best chocolate syrup you'll ever taste. It's perfect for homemade milkshakes, egg creams, hot chocolate, and particularly creative romantic evenings. This stuff is so good that I want a blender now, just so I can make more milkshakes, and I don't even like milk! It's just a U-Bet syrup delivery system for me. It's cheap. It's chocolate. What more do you need to know?

COMEDY

THE COMPLETE MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS 16-TON MEGASET
Around $150 where DVDs are sold.

If you don't like Monty Python, then you don't like comedy. This gigantic 16 DVD set contains all 45 episodes of the original Monty Python television series, plus 1982's "Live at the Hollywood Bowl," 1989's "Parrot Sketch Not Included," and 1998's "Live In Aspen." You also get all the extras from the original 14 DVD Megaset, interviews, behind the scenes features, and the infamous German-language program. I could start reeling off the classic comedy sketches contained in this set, but I'd be here all day. Suffice to say, this set is the perfect gift for the Python freak in your life. In addition to the pure joy of simply owning this set, you also get to stop watching the show on BBC America, with the 8-minute commercial breaks. This set preserves the shows uncut, and uninterrupted. It's like the Encylopedia Britannica for anglophile comedy geeks.

FULL BOTTOM NOT ANOTHER HALF-ARSED DVD SET
$26.97 from Amazon.com

Unless you're an anglophile comedy geek, you may have never heard of BOTTOM. Maybe you've heard of The Young Ones, the hit Brit comedy that MTV brought over in the mid-1980s. Well, Rik and Vivian from that show were portrayed by two British mainstays of the Alternative comedy scene, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson. BOTTOM was a series that ran from 1991 to 1995, and basically told what happened when Rik and Vivian grew into middle-aged losers and were forced to live together because nobody else could tolerate them. They have different names in this series, but they're essentially the same characters. Rik Mayall is Richard Rich, the creepy twit, and Ade Edmonson is Eddie Hitler, the dangerous lunatic. This is crude, outrageous fun, and you're likely to hurt yourself laughing. Don't expect anything highbrow here. BOTTOM is like a live-action Ren and Stimpy with every cheap laugh possible wrung out of the material. After the series ended in 1995, Mayall and Edmonson continued playing the characters in a series of live tours (preserved on DVD) and a feature film, none of which have been released legally in this country. If enough people can rush right out and buy this set, maybe we'll finally be treated to the DVDs that tell the rest of the story, farts and all.

LENNY BRUCE: THANK YOU, MASKED MAN
$11.98 plus shipping, from Concord Music Group

Without Lenny Bruce, comedy today would be vastly different. This guy blazed the trail that made Richard Pryor and George Carlin possible. He was rude, profane, controversial, and brilliant. This collection of routines recorded in clubs from 1958 to 1963 captures this tortured comic genius at his peak, with classic riffs on Tarzan, Jazz musicians, Superheroes, and of course, the Lone Ranger. The real treat of this enhanced CD is that, in addition to the audio content, you can slip this sucker into your computer and watch the classic cartoon, "Thank You, Mask Man," with Bruce doing all the voices. This cartoon played on the midnight movie circuit for years before disappearing from sight in the mid-1980s. It was last seen intact on USA Network's "Night Flight" in the early days, before they started censoring their programs. The obscure and soon-to-be-ex network, Trio, made a big deal out of showing this cartoon during their "celebration of free speech" festival last year, but they bleeped the more offensive words, which sort of defeated the purpose. On this enhanced CD, you get the full, uncut cartoon. Any fan of edgy comedy will love this CD.

Tomorrow, Day Four of our epic journey through your wallets continues, with gifts ideas centered on Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

PopCult Gift Guide/ Day Two: Home Furnishings, Robots, and Comics

Day Two of the PopCult Gift Guide brings us some of the necessities of life: Home Furnishings, Robots, and Comics. Whip out your holiday shopping list and tear into these meaty ideas for gifts that won't soon be forgotten. That could be good or bad.

HOME FURNISHINGS


Classic Leg Lamp
$129 plus a hefty shipping fee from Red Rider Leg Lamps.com

Everybody loves the movie "A Christmas Story." Jean Shepard's nostalgic tale of Christmas with a dysfunctional family has become a holiday tradition, displacing "It's A Wonderful Life" as America's favorite Christmas movie. And since everyone loves that movie, who wouldn't love a Leg Lamp, just like the prize that the Dad in the movie won. This 45" beauty comes shipped in a crate marked "Fragile", just like in the movie. You actually have the option of how elaborate you want the crate to be. Shipping charges range from $30 to $195, but if you're buying a gift like this for somebody, you obviously don't care about the cost. What could impart the joy of the holiday season better than a memorable lamp like this? The stocking can be rolled down, for a provocative glimpse of thigh, if you're really, really lonely. This is a great way to relive a very funny movie, and if you choose this lamp as a reminder of that movie, instead of the Daisy Red Rider BB Gun, then you won't have to worry about shooting your eye out.


Monkey and Banana Barstool
$94.95 plus shipping from Archie McPhee

Only from the kings of kitsch, Archie McPhee, can we get so bizarre an item as the Monkey and Banana Barstool. This 15 1/2-inch ceramic wonder is perfect for your buddy with the tropical fetish. This is the ideal seating for a landlocked Tiki bar. With a mighty comfy bright yellow seat perched atop a very neat, but weird, monkey with a giant banana, this is sure to stand out in any room. Declare war on good taste! Buy one of these for your friend who has a boring home decor. It's fun. It's funky. It's got a ceramic monkey. You can't go wrong with this gift idea.


Kit Kat Clock
Starting at $45 at the Purple Moon, on 716 Lee Street in Charleston
(304) 345-0123

The Purple Moon on Lee Street is one of the coolest places in Charleston, and I'll be doing a longer blog entry on them as soon as I remember to take the digital camera downtown with me. If you're intrigued by the first two offerings in the Home Furnishing category, but don't want to take a hit on the shipping charges, you need to get yourself down to their store and bask in all the retro-cool wonderment. One of the more striking items they offer is the classic Kit Kat Clock. Starting at $45 (you can get fancier models with jewels and other color options), the Kit Kat Clock is a primo example of American ingenuity. This is a fine timepiece, but it's more than that. The eyes move back and forth. The tail swings. People see it and grin. It's the perfect holiday gift for the person who needs cheering up.


ROBOTS

Robbie the Robot Genuine 7-Foot Replica
$49,999.95 plus $500 shipping from Hammacher Schlemmer.

It's an unfortunate fact that most people who have fifty grand to fritter away simply aren't hip enough to waste it on a life-size, animatronic replica of the second-coolest robot in history. But just in case.....here's this year's most insanely expensive gift idea. Robby the Robot made his debut in the 1956 film "Forbidden Planet", and went on to guest star in dozens of movies and TV shows in the '60s. He was all over the place. Robby was the first robotic media whore! He even guest-starred on "Lost In Space," with the most-coolest robot in history, Robot B-9. This replica, created by noted robot replica-builder Fred Barton, can move his head and antennae via remote control. He is programmable, and can speak his lines from "Forbidden Planet," or if you want to, you can feed your own voice through him. At this price, he ought to do housework and mow your lawn, but I guess they're saving that for next year's model.


Robo Raptor Remote Control Dinosaur Robot
Just under $100 where toys are sold

Speaking of Robotic media whores, this fella has been all over TV this fall. He has hosted shows on G4 (the network named after the number of people who watch it) and has appeared on all the morning news shows. This cousin of last year's Robosapien is a 32" long robotic dinosaur who has advanced artificial intelligence and a variety of motions and moods. He has 40 pre-programmed functions, and if left unattended will learn to hunt and kill your household pets, so you want to be wary of that if you're an animal lover. This is one of the hot tech toys this holiday season, but I'm going to recommend it anyway, because the idea that we should use advanced technology to make giant robotic predators appeals to the kid in me.


Robots DVD
Under $20 everywhere DVDs are sold

I couldn't forget one of the favorite flicks for "Animated Discussions" this year. "Robots," from the makers of "Ice Age," is a bright and entertaining romp through a planet of robots. It's got a nice, anti-corporate greed message, and wonderful voice work by Robin Williams and Mel Brooks, among others. The DVD is loaded with behind-the-scenes features, two commentaries, and a new short cartoon starring Aunt Booty. You also get deleted scenes, the test film that sold the studio on the idea of the movie, and a preview of "Ice Age 2." If you like robots, but don't necessarily have room for them in the house, then this DVD is the way to go.


COMICS

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
$150 or less, where ever books are sold

Calvin and Hobbes had a ten-year run as one of the finest comic strips in history. Then Bill Watterson, the strip's creator, just stopped doing it. He's never talked much about his reasons, but the mystery only deepens the aura of greatness that this comic strip had achieved. By quitting at the top of his game, Watterson assured that the strip would not go into a decline, or be turned over to lesser hands. This whopping mammoth of a book contains over 1400 pages of great comics within the three-volume, slipcased edition. Every Calvin and Hobbes strip is here. The suggested price is $150, but most booksellers are discounting it by nearly a third. If you have a lover of comic strips on your shopping list, then this is the gift for them.


Watchmen (Absolute Edition)
$50-$75 where books are sold

One of the perplexing quirks of the graphic novel medium is the mystery of how Watchmen, the classic dark comic book maxi-series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, has managed to remain in the top-ten sales list each year for the past two decades. Observers can't understand why this collection continues to outsell the vast majority of new graphic novels released each year. They figure that everyone who's read it, should have a copy by now. What they don't get is that this story is so good, that people who try to convince non-comics readers to give the medium a try use this as a starting point--an example of just how powerful the comics medium can be. They loan out their copy of the book, and never get it back. Then they have to buy a new one. This Absolute Edition of Watchmen is NOT a loaner. This hardback edition reprints the artwork in a larger, 9" by 12" size, with new coloring, and includes almost 50 pages of bonus material. This is the definitive collection of the most powerful superhero story ever told. A must for any comic book lover on your list.


Love and Rockets Collection
Several volumes under $20 from Fantagraphics Books

Of course, there's more to comic books than just superheroes. Love and Rockets, the long-running series from Los Bros. Hernandez, is a great example of just how the medium can be used to tell compelling human stories with an edgy mix of fantasy and surrealism that belies gut-level storytelling grounded in very real emotion. There are twenty books that collect the stories from Love and Rockets. There's not a bad volume in the bunch. Jaime Hernandez is the more commercial of the two brothers, with stories that largely revolve around Maggie and Hopey, two L.A. girls who find themselves in bizarre situations. Gilbert Hernandez' work has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, due to the depth and complexity of his storylines. With their entire output in print, you can go back to the beginning and watch the Brothers grow as artists, abandoning the science fiction flash along the way as they tell more mature and serious stories. Love and Rockets can make a comic book fan out of anyone. And yes, that New Wave Band stole their name from the comic book, which forced the Brothers Hernandez to come up with a new name for their own band.

Tomorrow: The never-ending PopCult Gift Guide soldiers on, with gift ideas from the worlds of Comedy, Chocolate, and Toys!

Monday, December 05, 2005

PopCult Gift Guide: Animation

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Kicking off the marathon PopCult Holiday Gift Guide, here's three gift ideas for the animation fan on your Christmas list.

Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 3
Price Range: $50 - $60
Available wherever DVD's are sold

You can't go wrong with the classics. This third installment in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series contains 60 classic Warner Brothers shorts starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Pie, the Road Runner, and Speedy Gonzales among others. Despite being the third collection in the series, this volume still contains some of the A-List cartoons like "Duck, Rabbit, Duck" and "Easter Yeggs." Extras include two documentaries and super deluxe neato keen packaging. Like the two earlier volumes, the Looney Tunes Golden Collection is a treasure trove for fans of classic animation.


Aeon Flux: The Complete Animated Collection
Price Range: $30 - $40
Available wherever TV-MA DVD's are sold

If the animation fan on your shopping list has more adult or contemporary tastes, they may like the bizarre, experimental work of Peter Chung. This 3 disc set contains the entire animated canon of Aeon Flux. This cartoon began life as a series of short, surreal non-sequiturs on MTV's experimental animated anthology Liquid Television, but was successful enough to be spun-off into a half-hour series. Aeon Flux is a futuristic, scantily-clad, female assassin, who battles a totalitarian regime and carries on an affair with the dictator of that regime. Many episodes end with with one or both of them meeting a violent end. This set contains all of the Liquid Television shorts, plus the entire 13 episode half-hour series, as well as behind the scenes features and commentary from creator/director Chung. This series also spawned the recent live action film starring Charlize Theron, but don't hold that against it. Aeon Flux is a burst of edgy, sci-fi animation, and is sure to please the hipper animation fan on your list.

One Dollar DVD's
Price Range: $1 each
Available almost everywhere

One of the open secrets among animation buffs is that tons of the most interesting animated shorts are in the public domain. The copyright on them has expired and anybody who can get their hands on a decent print can sell copies. Several enterprising companies discovered this and started churning out hundreds of different DVD titles chock full of these obscure bits of animation history. Some of this work is among the finest ever done in the medium. You'll find plenty of cartoons from the Max Fleischer studios, as well as work from legendary animator Ub Iwerks and Oscar winning shorts by John and Faith Hubley, Bruno Bozzetto, and other mavericks from the '50's and '60's. Some of these compilations are well thought out and present an hour or two of cartoons featuring one character or studio. Others are scattershot, mixing Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons with funky independent shorts, oddball educational cartoons from the '60's, and astonishingly horrible Flimation cartoons from the '70's. That's the fun of these one dollar DVD's. No matter how good or bad the cartoons are, at a buck each you're never going to feel ripped off. You can find these almost anywhere that DVDs can be found for a dollar, and at that ridiculously low price, they're a perfect stocking stuffer for your beloved animation buff.

PopCult Gift Guide/ Day One: Wrestling and Candy

Today's the kick-off for the PopCult Holiday Gift Idea-a-palooza. Here are the rules. I'm going to delve into a myriad of different pop culture categories and come up with three ideas for each of them. I'm shooting for three different price ranges, but that's easier said than done. Your job is to figure out which people on your list go with which gift. You've probably already seen the Animation gift ideas posted to this blog. Now, we're going on to hit two other things close to my heart: Wrestling, and Candy. Dig in!

WRESTLING GIFT GUIDE

The Wrestlemania Anthology: DVD Box Set
Around $220. Available where DVD box sets are sold.

The ridiculously expensive wrestling gift this year is the "Wrestlemania Anthology: DVD Box Set." Clocking in with 21 DVDs and smacking down your wallet somewhere between two and three hundred bucks, this is the perfect present for the obsessive WWE fan on your list. It comes in a holographic box that features DVDs for all 21 installments of wrestling's foremost annual event, Wrestlemania. The set features virtually every major wrestling star of the last twenty-plus years: Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Andre The Giant--pretty much anyone you can think of (except Sting, who never set foot in a WWE/WWF ring). I've seen this set discounted $200, but most reputable dealers have it for around $210. These discs do include all the original commentary, but due to a lawsuit, the WWF "scratch" logo is blurred on those shows that were shot during the Attitude era. Still, this is a pretty incredible gift idea for the die-hard pro-wrestling fan in your life.


The Pro Wrestling Torch, 50-issues plus VIP Web Access
$97 from The Pro Wrestling Torch on the web, or call 952-854-4274

Less expensive, but sure to please the "insider' wrestling fan on your list is the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter. This weekly 12 to 16 page newsletter is crammed with all the important inside information about what's going on in the world of professional wrestling. Wade Keller is the mastermind behind the Torch, and has been making contacts and reporting on the scene for nearly 20 years. Keller and his team of correspondents cover the entire industry, from WWE to TNA to the indy scene. Each week you get show results, in-depth analysis of the behind-the-scenes goings-on, and interviews with the top names in the business. On top of that, if you subscribe to the newsletter, you also get VIP access to an ad-free version of the Pro Wrestling Torch website, with bonus content, audio reports (hours and hours of audio reports each week), and a lively forum section, where you can argue pointless details with other obsessive wrestling fans. I've been reading the Torch for several years, and the insightful reporting coupled with the analysis and a healthy sense of humor among the contributors makes the newsletter more enjoyable than the actual television shows that they cover on some weeks. If 50 issues is a bit too much a commitment, you can give an 8-issue subscription for $18, and that still includes the VIP content. And if you don't like print, you can get an e-sub, for even less. Check the site for details.


IWA EAST COAST DVDs
$20 each, available from Smart Mark Video

Lastly, from the land of wrestling, we have my favorite local wrestling federation, IWA EAST COAST. You can buy DVDs of all of their shows, including PSYCHOPATHIC TENDENCIES, which was just held last month! All of the shows have been great, with top-flight commentary from Frank Manhattan and Kevin "Pimpdragon" Pauley, and the wrestling has been astonishing. Stars like The Sandman, Raven, New Jack, Billy Gunn, and Abdullah The Butcher have mixed it up with IWA mainstays like Mad Man Pondo, El Drunko, Chris Hero, and Necrobutcher. You can get the shows on DVD from Smart Mark Video. I usually like to buy them at the IWA EC shows, but the next show isn't until February, and that's too long to wait for an IWA EC fix. There are seven shows available. My favorite tends to be the most recent, but many folks think that "Happy Hour Hatred" was a particular high point. These events were held in Nitro, Dunbar, and South Charleston, and you can see lots of local wrestling fanatics in the crowd. Obsessive PopCult readers can even look for me in the audience (and watch as I lose the eyepatch and 70 pounds over the course of six shows). There's a parental advisory label on these DVDs. It's for language and violence, not the fact that I can be seen in the audience.


RETRO CANDY GIFT GUIDE

SUGAR MEMORIES: 50's, 60's, 70's LARGE BOX OF CANDY
$29.99 plus shipping from Groovy Candies.com

Ready for a trip down Candy Lane? How about a trip to diabetic coma land? The nostalgia will flow with the Sugar Memories: 50's 60's 70's Large Box Of Candy, from Groovy Candies.com. This package is crammed with four pounds of sweets you may not have thought about since your childhood. Included in this dietician's nightmare are Atomic Fireballs, Bit-O-Honey, Bubblegum Cigarettes, Candy Necklace, Clark Bar, Dots, Freshen Up Gum, Jawbreakers, Lemonheads, Mallo Cups, Sky Bars, Zagnut bars, and loads of other "bad" goodies. Do you have a Boomer on your list? One with a handy supply of insulin? Then this is the perfect gift for them!


Peanut Butter Bars (AKA Peanut Butter Logs) 80-count
$8.75 plus shipping from The Candy Company.com

When I was a kid, there was one candy that I'd eat until it made me sick. Peanut Butter Logs were my weakness. My folks had to hide them from me. I'd just tear into them like they were sugar-coated crack. Sometime in the '70s, I realized you couldn't find them in stores anymore. Occasionally,k I'd find some if I were in another town, but locally, I suspected that my parents had circulated photos of me to area candy merchants, with instructions to hide the Peanut Butter Logs if they saw me in their store. (Disguises proved that theory wrong.) For some reason -- just like Quisp, Shake-a-puddin', and Funny Face Fruit Drinks -- these wonderful sugar-delivery systems vanished from the face of the Earth. Until the Internet came along, that is. You can find anything on the Internet! And you can order Peanut Butter Logs in a cool penny-candy dispenser for less than ten bucks from The Candy Company. Just try to control yourself when you're eating them. Nobody wants to clean up Peanut Butter Bar sick.


Wacky Packages by Topps
99 cents a pack at stores that carry trading cards

Okay, this isn't candy. They don't even come with gum anymore, but if you remember these from your childhood, you probably remember buying Wacky Packages from a candy store, or at least the candy section of a regular grocer or drugstore. So I'm listing them here 'cause they're CHEAP! Well, relatively. Topps has revived the Wacky Packages stickers after years of folks like my publisher at Non-Sport Update bugging them to bring these funny little stickers back. These are a delight: Goofy little parodies of the products you find on store shelves, with the sense of humor of MAD Magazine, and healthy touch of subversiveness. Much of the same crew who worked on the original Wacky Packages is back on the new stickers, although Art Speigleman has moved on to higher-brow projects. It's cool to see gags like "Durasmell Cruddytop batteries" and "Chokin in the Sea Gunk Light Tuna in Oil polluted water." If, after seeing a few of these, you want to collect the entire series of 55, you can pick up a nifty little binder to keep them in for only four bucks. I've seen the binder and cards at Target, Wal Mart, and K Mart. Topps has released two series of stickers, and series three is due to hit stores in a couple of weeks. There are six stickers in each package, and some packages include magnets or temporary tattoos. These are perfect stocking stuffers for the 12-year-old at heart.

Tomorrow our epic feature-length PopCult Holiday Gift Guide continues with the best gift ideas in Home Furnishings, Robots, and Comics.