Friday, February 24, 2006

The Little Newscast That Couldn't

It's official, the WB30 Newscast has been cancelled. Thursday night's 6 and 10 PM broadcasts were replaced by an unscheduled home improvement show, and, unless it gets re-written, the station's Wikpedia entry already reports that the broadcast has "been axed." Also, the latest controversy seems to have stirred things up over at the fake Tom McGee Myspace Page (not really work safe, folks). Late Thursday afternoon, according to this entry at LiveJournal, the news operation was shut down. There are full details in this morning's Gazette.

It's not too hard to figure out what to make of the latest developments. I'd been hearing rumors for some time that the Portsmouth faction of WHCP was undermining the efforts to establish a successful newscast and move the station to Charleston. Evidently there's a lot of resentment there over the move. The physical ejection of lead anchor Tom McGee on Tuesday was an indication that the end was near. McGee's story is that he was standing up for the reporters that he helped the station recruit in a dispute over health insurance and parking. It looks like McGee may have been the hero of this piece. WHCP hasn't made a public statement yet, and as of Thursday night their website still had the 6 and 10 PM newscasts listed on their schedule, along with several other programs that weren't on Thursday evening. The internal memo that was posted on an industry message board blamed "recent events within the organization as well as the apparent unwillingness of the advertiser community to support our news products."

And so, the newscast is done and I'm betting that lawsuits will start flying in all directions. With so many lawyers on the Charleston end of the equation, things don't look good for WHCP. I'm also guessing that the station won't be moving to the West Side, after all. I hope I'm wrong in that assumption. If you could manage to sit through the newscasts, it was obvious from the poor quality of the commercials that WHCP didn't have a sales staff that could sell advertising here in Charleston. A local newscast should be a cash cow for a TV station, but all that WHCP could manage were really awful commercials for businesses in Portsmouth and Ironton, promos for RCW wrestling and public service announcements. They really should have hired experienced ad sales reps before they started the newscast. A move to Charleston might have forced them to produce better work.

It's too bad this didn't work out. Even with the relative inexperience of the news crew, it was nice to have an alternative to the slick, professional newscasts that the other local stations air. Plus it's hard to beat the sheer entertainment value of watching reporter Mike Karr's stammering, "deer-caught-in-the-headlights" reaction every time one of the anchors asked him a question. Plus, it would have been nice if the news division managed to drag the technical quality of the station up from the sad levels that they are now.

The bottom line is that we nearly lost the Duchess Bakery for nothing! Reportedly, the investors from Charleston are going to take another shot at local TV, maybe with a more willing partner, this time. It'd be sweet if they can make it happen quickly, and then hijack the new CW Network away from WHCP. Maybe if that happens, Charleston area viewers can watch those surviving WB and UPN shows in stereo, with a decent broadcast signal, for the first time.

Cool Toy Of The Week: Classic TV Toys

Chances are that if you were a kid during the 1970s, you were aware of MEGO action figures. These were little 8-inch tall figures that started out as a wildly popular line of Superhero figures, featuring both DC and Marvel characters. After mining that trend for a couple of years, MEGO started acquiring licenses to produce action figures based on hit TV shows of the day, like C.H.i.P.S, The Dukes Of Hazzard and Happy Days.

The MEGO figures were made like the old-style GI Joe, with an articulated body held together with elastic bands, and cloth uniforms. The head sculpts were a bit clunky, but that was part of the charm. Collectors go nuts over these figures. MEGO went belly-up in the early 1980s, after famously passing up the chance to make toys based on a little movie called Star Wars, but the company's 8-inch action figures left quite an impression on the collective pop culture psyche of the children of the polyester decade.

Today, a new company has resurrected the classic MEGO-style action figure. Classic TV Toys began producing reproductions of some of the most-beloved MEGO figures last year. They've also picked up the license to make action figures in the MEGO style for other TV shows that didn't have their own action figure lines back in the 1970s. Happy Days, The Munsters, The Brady Bunch, Married With Children and Space 1999 are just a few of the action figure lines they have available. They've even produced a MEGO-style figure of Andre The Giant.

These figures are very close reproductions of the body types used by MEGO back in the day, and they've even designed the packaging to look like the old blister cards that we used to see hanging in K Mart. If you have some older MEGO figures in distress, they also sell new replacement parts.

Classic TV Toys has also recreated several of the "generic" MEGO figure lines as well, with new figures of Pirates, Monsters, Cowboys and Knights. This is a huge nostalgic rush for those of us who had these toys when we were kids. Priced between 10 and 15 dollars, they're inexpensive enough for today's kids. You can order Classic TV Toys action figures, and check out their full assortment, at their website.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Doogal's Strange Path To The Screen

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

The movie Doogal opens this week, and this story of a dog on a quest has one complicated pedigree. For openers, this movie was not produced in America. The Weinstein Company brought it over from another country, dubbed in American voice actors, and is releasing it with a new title. That may not seem like such a big deal, except for one point: The "other country" is The United Kingdom. Doogal was released in Great Britain last year as The Magic Roundabout, and boasted a voice cast that included Joanna Lumley, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, and everyone's favorite "Dr. Who," Tom Baker. It was already in English.

We don't know whether they were spooked by the failure of Valiant, or if the distributors thought that the new voice cast would have more box-office appeal, but some of the replacements seem a bit odd. Zeebad, the villain of the movie, was voiced in the original British version by Tom Baker, who can be quite menacing. In the American version, Zeebad has the voice of Jon Stewart. The lead character is voiced either by Daniel Tay or Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson, depending on when you check the official website. We guess they're still making their mind up on that one, and the movie opens in two days as we write this.

Even more strange is how the movie, which only had the soundtrack changed for its domestic debut, now has a different director listed. Butch Hartman, who was brought in to supervise the new voice recordings, gets to walk off with a sole director's credit. Dave Borthwick, Jean Duval, and Frank Passingham share the director's credit for the British version, which to reiterate, is the same movie. It looks like Hartman, who created The Fairly Oddparents for Nickelodeon, found an easy way to get a feature film credit under his belt.

This sort of cross-cultural confusion is par for the course for The Magic Roundabout. Created by Serge Danot as a stop-motion-animated children's program in France in the 1960s, the show was brought over to the United Kingdom where it was chopped up, scrambled, and translated into entirely new stories that had a large measure of adult humor added. They bore little resemblance to the French version. The show was wildly popular in the '60s and '70s. After fading from the public's memory, the show was revived last year as a feature-length movie.

The show was rarely seen in the United States, so this CGI revival didn't have the nostalgic boost that the movie had in Britain. We can understand the title change, since American's don't know what a Roundabout is, but we're puzzled by some of the new voice casting. Joanna Lumley, who has high recognition due to Absolutely Fabulous, was replaced by Whoopi Goldberg. While they evidently can't decide who will voice Doogal, the trailers show him singing with Robbie Williams' voice, from the UK version. Kevin Smith is listed as providing a voice for the movie, but he's not on any of the cast lists we've seen, so he may be another late addition.

Aside from all the confusing history and voice-cast quirks, Doogal looks like it might be a fun little family movie. There are a few pop-culture jokes in the trailer, and the animation is worlds beyond the primitive mess that polluted Hoodwinked. Doogal might be a fun way for animation fans to pass the time while we're waiting for Ice Age 2.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Music Blogging: 'Late Winter Noodling'

It's been a while since I've posted any new music here at PopCult. The reason is that it's been a while since I had time to write anything new. Just last night (February 21, to be exact), I had a spare half-hour, so I pulled out the Midi program and knocked out this little tune, Late Winter Noodling.

Originally, it was a percussion track, but I started playing around with it to see how it would sound played with brass and strings. Now it sort of sounds like Philip Glass, with a head wound, trying to write background music for NFL Films.

Just click on the song title, or right click and hit "Save Target As", so you can download it and treasure it forever.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Art Blogging: Charleston Post Office

NOTE: Click picture to enlarge it full-screen.

"The Back Of The Post Office"

Digitally Assaulted Photograph

January, 2006

The Fall Of Radio Shack

News broke over the weekend that venerable electronics retailer, Radio Shack, would be closing between 400 and 700 stores after posting disastrous earnings last year. This came to light after their CEO, David Edmonson, became embroiled in a scandal over padding his credentials. He stepped down Monday. It's clear that Radio Shack needs a drastic new direction if they want to stay in business.

I've got a suggestion: How about actually having stores filled with electronics and the parts needed to repair them, and hiring sales people who care about what they're doing and have a clue about what they're selling?

Thirty years ago, Radio Shack was one of the best stores in the country in terms of customer service. You could buy all sorts of tiny and obscure electrical components. The sales people knew what you were asking for without requiring a four-hour explanation. You could join the "Battery Of The Month" club and get a free battery every 30 days. Heck, even their advertisements were fun, with Lewis Kornfeld's "Flyer Side Chat" and amusing asides in their catalogs.

About twenty years ago, that all began to change. The corporate culture creeped in and, in the name of boosting the bottom line, the informative flyers were cancelled; the Battery Of the Month Club was discontinued; the inventory carried by each store was slashed to a fraction of what it had been; the sales people were replaced with immobile doofi who don't the difference between a capacitor and ham sandwich.

If you walk into a Radio Shack store now, one of two things will happen: You will either be ignored completely, or you will be harassed about buying a cell phone. Once you make it clear that you're not there to buy a cell phone, then you will be ignored. If you manage to get the attention of one of their new sales people, and you ask them for something simple like a phono-plug adaptor, they'll look at you like you just started speaking Chinese. All they seem to care about is pimping their cell phone plans and pushing their tiny little remote-control cars. I would wager that you can probably walk into more than a few Radio Shack stores, ask for a radio, and walk out empty-handed.

The only reason this bothers me is because I liked Radio Shack so much when I was a kid. I hate to see it wind up as just another carcass along the side of the highway that we call "progress." Sure, you can get any tiny electrical part you need now on the Internet, but who wants to pay five bucks shipping for a transistor that costs a quarter? Maybe, just maybe, the board of directors at Radio Shack will gamble that a return to their roots will be the salvation of the company. Radio Shack should be the place for the electronics do-it-yourselfer. As it is now, they're just a lame cell phone store with crappy service and lousy prices. They could be so much more. They could sell raw computer components, build-it-yourself DVD players, VCR repair kits. You can buy cell phones anywhere! I miss the old Radio Shack. It's time for Radio Shack to get back to what made them a nerdy sort of way.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Toy Week: Time To Play The Games

For over a century, board games have been the one toy that both children and adults can enjoy. While the board game market is dominated by Hasbro, which owns both Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers, there are several entrepreneurs who have created their own board games with hopes of leaving a lasting mark on America's leisure time. Here are a couple worth exploring:


Not at all based on the song by YES, this board game, made by Otero Games of San Diego, California, is a basic strategy game, sort of like a cross between Chess, Chinese Checkers and Roller Derby. The object is to move your pieces one full rotation about the circular course. This goal is complicated by the fact that you, and your opponent, have pieces that move in both directions, and you can block each other's path. Having completed one full rotation, you remove that piece. This continues until one player has no pieces left, and is declared the winner. It's simple, yet challenging. It reminds me of Sudoku, in that respect. The rules are easy to understand, and their are all sorts of different ways to play. Two-to-four players can while away the time with this fun little diversion. While the game is rated for ages 10 and up, some younger children can probably grasp the mechanics of Roundabout.

You can order Roundabout directly from Otero Games. They're still trying to build a network of retailers, and haven't yet reached our area. For 15 bucks, it's a great value.


No, not real politics. I'm talking about a board game. Employing a game concept not unlike Monopoly, Charles J. Smaltz, the game's inventor and founder of Chum Chum Games (gotta love that name) have developed a board game for ages 8 and up that allows you to experience the highs and lows of a political career. From mayoral races to the president, the game of Politics lets you act on your delusional ambitions for power without actually doing any real damage. Think how much better off we'd be if some of our current leaders had gotten their political ya-yas out with this board game, instead of buying their way into office for real. This is a great way to pass an evening with friends, especially if they are of a different political persuasion than you, as the game allows you to needle them about it all night.

You can order POLITICS directly from Chum Chum Games on their website, or call 1- 888-542-5925. The game costs under $40, but you can also get a deluxe edition, autographed by the inventor, as well as T-shirts. One other nice feature of the game is that you can download additional scoresheets, rules and other paper items directly from the website, so you don't wind up having to make your own scoresheets when you run out, like you do with Clue.

That wraps up Toy Week, where I tried to bring you some of the real "best toys" available, instead of the same paid endorsements that the rest of the mainstream media passes off. This year, if you saw any Toy Fair coverage, I'm sure you saw the same items: The Dancing Barbie, the inflatable Superman outfit, the robot horse and the radio controlled bug-car. Since the coverage of the toy industry has become so predictable, I've decided to do what I can to rectify that. Starting next week, I'll bring you a new regular feature, "PopCult's Cool Toy Of The Week," spotlighting the smaller toy companies that can't afford to pay for media coverage. Check back next Friday to see what I pick for the first installment.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Toy Week: Toys For Kids

Admittedly, the first few entries in PopCult's Toy Week survey haven't exactly been kid-friendly. The Cthulhu plush is great for babies to play with, but I don't think many parents are reading Lovecraft to their kids at bedtime. The Warmachine action figure is really meant more for teens who play the game. Yesterday's Bobbie Doll pretty much falls in the the realm of "adult novelty."

So to make up for that, today we're going to look at three toys for kids, from smaller toy manufacturers. Although these are kid's toys, adults are allowed to play with them, if they ask nicely.

Puny Planes

Yep, the name cracked me up. On further investigation, the toy is pretty cool. Puny Planes are little foam airplanes that soar like gliders. Under 3 inches long, and made of soft foam, these are a great indoor toy. Puny Planes are made by Poof-Slinky, who also make Slinky, of course. They also make a lot of other cool toys, ranging from kid's toys to neat reproductions for adult collectors. This year, Poof-Slinky is introducing the Puny Planes Aircraft Carrier Launcher. For under 12 bucks, you get three Puny Planes and a cool launcher, shaped like an aircraft carrier. Your kid can fire off these little aerodynamic bits of flying foam fury, and you don't have to worry about anything getting broken. The Puny Planes Aircraft Carrier Launcher will be available from many major retailers, or you can order it directly from Poof-Slinky.

Sesame Street Action Figures

Palisades Toys is a small Maryland-based toy maker that burst on the scene a few years back making collectible action figures of independent comic book characters. Since then, they've established themselves as a top-notch toy company player with a series of major licenses like The Muppets, Pink Panther, Ren And Stimpy and Adult Swim. This year they're introducing an action figure line based on classic Sesame Street characters. The first assortment will be hitting stores soon, and includes Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Guy Smiley and the Two-Headed Monster. Palisades has done a great job of bringing collectors toys with tremendous detail and loads of accessories, and their toys are also sturdy enough for kids. It'll be interesting to see if these toys wind up in the hands of the current Sesame Street fans, or if the adults who grew up watching the show hoard them all. Look for these at major retailers sometime in the next few months.

Radio Control For Kids

Kid Galaxy has developed a line of R/C vehicles for the very young. This year they have two new entries in the "GoGo Auto" line of "My First R/C" cars: The GoGo Auto School Bus and the GoGo Auto Skid Loader. Both feature softer plastic construction, rounded edges and a sturdy, two-button radio controller. These are perfect for the car-obsessed toddler who isn't quite old enough to play with the remote control cars that the big kids have. The GoGo Autos sell for under $25. Locally, I know that Kid Country carries Kid Galaxy products, so if they don't have them, they can probably order them for you. There are two risks with R/C cars that any parent should be warned about: First, these things will eat batteries. Stock up, or get a recharger. Second, at some point after you get the toys up and running, you will have to let the kid play with it, no matter how much fun you're having.

Tomorrow we wrap up Toy Week with Board Games!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Toy Week: The "L" Doll

When you gaze upon the vast expanse of politically-correct dolls across the toy industry landscape, you'll find all sorts of special varieties so that little girls can have a doll with whom they can identify. You've got your ethnic dolls, handicapped dolls, dolls with learning disabilities, dolls that can't see straight. There are dolls representing every religion (excepting those that forbid dolls), race, occupation, and most combinations that you can imagine. But until now, they didn't make any lesbian dolls. Sure, we all had our suspicions about Midge, but there were never any openly gay female dolls until Bobbie came along.

Produced by Dykedolls, which is basically a one-woman venture started by S. Perdomo, Bobbie is a 13-inch tall fashion doll, with a decidedly different take on fashion. You can buy Bobbie dressed in your choice of three outfits: "Doc Holliday," Western gear, now that the world has been made safe for gay cowboys; "Rockabilly," with sleeveless white T-shirt and leather jacket; while "Diesel" sports a sleeveless denim shirt and trucker's wallet. Some Bobbie dolls also come with what can best be described as "adult accessories," so be warned, this is probably not a doll that you want to give your five-year-old, no matter what vibes you're picking up. Bobbie is strictly an adult novelty. She might be a great gift for a teen struggling with their sexual identity, but it'd probably be inappropriate coming from anyone other than a loving parent.

And even then, the "accessories" might be a bit much. Still, it's about time that lesbians had a doll that they could call their own. Gay men have Billy, and as far back as the 70's, they had Gay Bob, who was sold in a box that looked like a little closet. Before that, they had Ken. So isn't it time that inclusion hit the toybox, and everyone gets their own doll? Bobbie is available from select bookstores and gift shops, or you can order her here.

At between $40 and $50 a pop, you pretty much have to see Bobbie as a toy for adults. Tomorrow we look at toys that are actually intended for kids.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Toy Week: Lord Commander Coleman Stryker


It's a wild concept: take sword and sorcery fantasy like Conan or Elric of Melnibone, and add elements of Steampunk, giant fighting machines and firearms. You wind up with the world of Iron Kingdoms, where Warlords do battle, not on horseback, but with sorcery and six-ton metal behemoths called "Warjacks". Originally a role-playing game, this creation of the folks at Privateer Press quickly grew to include original fiction, miniature table-top gaming, and now, action figures.

The debut Warmachine action figure, Lord Commander Coleman Stryker, is one of the first action figures made by Southern Island, a young independent toy company from Arizona that has an exciting array of cool licenses in their portfolio. In the future, they'll be releasing figures based on the hot Anime properties, Full Metal Alchemist, and Case Closed, as well as a line of action figures based on the cult comic book, Victoria's Secret Service. As a bonus, all of their action figures will be in scale with one another (they're roughly six inches tall), which makes for more fun display options.

Their first effort is rather impressive. In the Warmachine mythos, Lord Commander Coleman Stryker is the "greatest Warcaster serving the nation of Cygnar." The detail and sculpting on this action figure is amazing. This figure, complete with a removable cape, Cygnar flag with base, and big honkin' sword, has a huge inherent "cool" factor. He'd look great on your desk, or laying waste to those puny Star Wars action figures that the nerdy guy in your office has on his desk. You can order Lord Commander Coleman Stryker directly from Southern Island here. He can also be found at select comic book and hobby retailers.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Toy Week: Plush Romantic Cthulhu And Cozy Spider Slippers

We're kicking off Toy Week with a double shot of twisted cuteness from Toy Vault, an independent toy company based in Corbin, Kentucky. Toy Vault has been around for the better part of the last decade. They had the license to produce action figures based on "The Lord Of The Rings" long before Peter Jackson's movies were even in production, and they've always had a great sense of fun with the toys they produce. Lately, they've been turning their talents to the world of plush, but instead of just giving the world more imitation Beanie Babies, Toy Vault has brought the world of the weird to the plush toy section.

Cthulhu, Demon Lord Of The Cuddly

When you think of H.P. Lovecraft, you don't normally think of plush toys. The folks at Toy Vault don't think like most of us, and they've treated us to a delightful array of bizarre stuffed animals of Lovecraft's "Great Old One", the demonic world-eating monster, Cthulhu. You can get Cthulhu dressed as a superhero, Cthulhu the hand puppet, Cthulhu dressed as Elvis, and even Santa Cthulhu. This year Cthulhu becomes a love monster, as Toy Vault brings us, Valentino Cthulhu.

From the description tag: "Dressed in an sexy ensemble that shows off his feminine side, Cthulhu is dressed this spring in this evocative outfit from designer Toee Vouwt. Featuring a color palette derived from the exotic cinnamons of the Orient, and ebony from deepest Africa, Valentino, as he is known to his many admirers." The Valentino Cthulhu is 15 inches tall, 13.5 inches around and 5 inches deep.

Toy Vault also has the license to produce plush toys based on Monty Python and Godzilla, so huggable Cthulhu is right up their alley. Valentino Cthulhu will be available in April through specialty and online retailers, but he's going to be a limited edition.

Go Ahead, Step On These Spiders

Eight legs per comfy Spider Slipper, makes for interesting footprints in the snow to say the least. Toy Vault has expanded their line of inappropriately creepy footwear with Plush Spider Slippers. These furry and friendly slippers are sure to keep your feet warm and anyone with arachnophobia at bay.

The slippers are made for 1 size fits most (sizes 9-13) with a black and gray color scheme. They each have 8 legs, 2 mandelas for capturing prey and many eyes to see from multiple angles. The Plush Spider Slippers are 15 inches long, 13.5 inches around and 5 inches high. You can also find these tootsie warming terrors at specialty and online retailers beginning in April.

Toy Week Intro: Small is beautiful

This week the International Toy Fair takes place in New York City. All the major and minor toy companies show off what they hope will be the hot toys that fly out of stores for the rest of the year. I've been writing about toys for over a decade, so this is a big deal for me, but there are a few things about Toy Fair that can very annoying.

The coverage by the mainstream media has never been particularly good, and has been getting worse every year. Rather than go to the convention center and actually investigate the toys -- and give air time to the ones that they think are the best -- most reporters just lazily report to the media desk. They are given a handler, who takes them around to the same group of toys by the same toy makers who have enough money to throw a few "product placement" dollars at the media handlers to make sure that the "right" toys get showcased.

Even after a major article in the New York Post exposed the fact that "Toy Consultant" Chris Byrne primarily consulted by taking payola from toy companies to steer reporters in the right direction, lazy reporters still use the guy and quote him liberally in their reports. They've allowed him to reposition himself as a parent's advocate, even though he's still working for the toy companies. The reporters don't take the subject matter seriously enough to care.

That's why, rather than seeing well-done reporting about real trends in the toy industry, we get the same giggling run-through with the same toys on every news program, and the same stock wire report where only the names are changed. How many years in a row are we going to have to read about how this is the year that toys go high-tech? How many more times are we going to get stories about Barbie's love life, instead of reports about how the new Bratz figures have eaten away at Barbie's market share? Why do the toys based on big-budget movies get so much air time on the major networks when the toys based on movies have largely been failures for years?

As a result of this kind of reporting, the smaller companies don't really get much of a chance to get any exposure. The homogenous coverage has also prevented the emergence of another "breakout" hit, like Tickle Me Elmo a decade ago. Now that the coverage is money-driven, the major toy companies put their marketing muscle (and payola) behind toys that they feel "need" the extra push. They do this instead of promoting what may be their best toy, in favor of the toy that they think will be more profitable.

The toy business is not as much fun as a person might think. And that's a shame, because it should be all about fun, and not maximizing shareholder value.

This year, since I have the platform of the PopCult blog, I'm going to do what I can to fix this. Each day this week, I'm going to bring you details about a new toy from a small company. These will be toys that you won't see on the major news programs or cable news channels. Being me, of course, the toys may seem a little strange. But at least they'll be different!

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Bloody Great Night

IWA East Coast once again invaded the South Charleston Community Center last Wednesday, and well over 300 fans were treated to a night of blood, guts and mayhem. "A Need To Bleed 2006" was the name of the event. Former WCW and WWE superstar Big Van Vader was the main attraction. As is always the case, the entire evening was an amazing example of the best of independent wrestling.

The tone for the evening was set with the first match. "Omega" Aaron Draven and M Dogg 20 made their IWA debuts, and let loose with an epic match that featured tons of thrilling high-flying moves. M Dogg won after delivering a Shooting Star Press (see right), and that was after he'd lost a contact lens during the match!

Next up we had a championship match, for the IWA Mid South Women's title. Crowd favorite Mickie Knuckles proved what a trouper she is by working the match despite being very sick. Her persistence was rewarded, as she recaptured the IWA MS Women's Championship from Cinncinnati's Haily Hatred.

The evil genius, Dr. Max Graves, then sprung a surprise on the crowd. He hinted that he would join his pet monster, Warpig, in a tag match, but then unveiled Razorback, Warpig's new tag-team partner in the aptly named "Freaks Of Nature." These two 8-foot, thousand-pound behemoths crushed the team of JTL (Justin Time and Travis Lynn) into powder in record time. Who knows what the future holds for IWA East Coast with these two beasts on the prowl?

El Drunko, unfortunately, did not make the show. It seems he was detained due to a misunderstanding over a DUI. Crowza, wrestling under a mask as "El Drunko," took his place, and proceeded to get destroyed by J.C. Bailey. Crowza and Woody Numbers would return, later in the show.

The IWA East Coast Championship was on the line as Chris Hero took on Tracy Smothers. Smothers has quickly become the favorite heel of the IWA regulars, and it was supremely entertaining to watch as he very nearly took the belt off of Chris Hero. There were a series of odd occurrences during the match--One of the security guards interfered on behalf of Smothers, and then Hero's travel partners, Ian Rotten, Mickie Knuckles, and JTL, came to the ringside area. Hero did retain his title and afterwards there was a prolonged handshake between the two wrestlers.

Next up, we had the IWA East Coast debut of Big Van Vader, who took on the Juggulator, as well as Crowza. Even Woody Numbers got into the act, throwing water on the immense superstar during the match. The guys were no match for the power of Big Van Vader, and he easily dispatched them. Afterwards, he got on the microphone to compliment the area and say how much he liked it here. The big guy was a class act.

Necrobutcher and "Mr. Insanity" Toby Klein then treated the crowd to a wild deathmatch that went all over the arena. After the two found their way back into the ring, Necrobutcher was victorious. Both men were bloody messes. It was one of the highlights of the night.

Nothing could top the sick spectacle that is the "Barefoot Thumbtack Match." Mad Man Pondo and Ian Rotten delivered an incredible match that was both compelling and cringe-inducing. The blood flowed freely as both men became walking corkboards. Pondo emerged as the winner after several minutes of sheer brutality.

"A Need To Bleed 2006" was another in a string of winning nights for IWA East Coast. The crowds continue to grow, and for fans of hardcore high-flying action, they can't be beat. The next IWA East Coast show is April 5, featuring Chris Hero putting his title on the line against Japanese great, Dick Togo in a ladder match, and the stupefying return of El Drunko as he takes on former ECW and WWE star The Blue Meanie, in what's sure to be a contest for the ages!

Area fans of Big Van Vader get a second chance to see the beast from Boulder Colorado tonight, as he appears with RCW, in Ashland. Check their website for more details.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Little Otik, Creepy Animation

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Disturbing Animation

Do you like creepy movies that tend to chase other people out of the room? If so, this month, The Sundance Channel is showing something that's right up your alley. Little Otik is the fourth feature-length film by Czech surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer. It's the story of a childless couple who adopt a whittled tree stump as their child. Soon, the stump, which they name "Otik," comes to life, sprouts teeth, and starts eating everything, and everyone, he can get his hands on. In terms of disturbing cinema, this tale of the terror of parenthood makes "Eraserhead" look like a Disney movie. Little Otik is also extremely funny, with dark situation comedy woven into its fairy-tale-gone-bad motif. The film is subtitled, so you can turn down the sound and follow the story, if the baby noises start creeping out your cats. It's mostly live-action, but Otik is animated, and a few of Svankmajer's earlier works make cameo appearances on TV screens in the background.

Sundance is showing Little Otik four more times this month: This Saturday at 5:45 p.m.; Friday the 17th at 2:30 p.m.; Thursday the 23rd at 10:00 p.m.; and Sunday the 26th at 8:05 a.m.. Sundance is also showing a collection of Svankmajer's animated shorts all month long, including a double feature with Little Otik on the 23rd.

Traditional Animation's Last Stand (for now)

Curious George opens this weekend, and it's notable for two reasons: First, it's an animated feature that is aimed directly at the younger set, with a clear "G" rating and no contrived pop-culture references or innuendo. Second, Curious George is the last big-budget traditionally animated American feature film that we'll be treated to for the foreseeable future. Unless Disney, under their new head, Pixar's John Lasseter, revives the hand-drawn animation unit, everything we see on the big screen will be created with a computer. In fact, we have to correct an item from last week. 'Flushed Away,' the next feature film from Aardman Animation ('Wallace and Gromit'), will be entirely computer-generated, although it will mimic the look of clay animation.

Curious George is a throwback to the more innocent days of musical cartoons aimed at children. It's great that the artform has moved beyond those limitations, but it's nice to see that a good children's cartoon can still find a home in the marketplace, too.

It will be interesting to see how well Curious George does at the box office. If it's a hit, will the credit go to the fact that it's a movie intended for kids, or if it bombs, will the blame go to the fact that it was made using "old-fashioned" 2 D animation? There's a chance that this movie could reverse the trend, and all the movie studios will start cranking out hand-drawn animation again.

But we're not holding our breath.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Need To Bleed

It snuck up on me! The first IWA East Coast event of the year takes place tonight. "A Need To Bleed 2006" sees former WWE and WCW star Big Van Vader coming to town to take on Ashland Kentucky's Juggulator. The highlight of the night will be Mad Man Pondo facing Ian Rotten in a barefoot thumbtack match, and the fans are bringing the thumbtacks! In addition, IWA favorites Necrobutcher, Chris Hero, Tracy Smothers, Mickie Knuckles and El Drunko will all be in action.

As the poster on the right says, this all takes place tonight (Feb. 8) at the South Charleston Community Center. Tickets are 10 and 15 dollars, and the show kicks off at 7 p.m. I'll have a full wrap-up tomorrow. If you're into ultra-hip bloodsport, this is the place to be.

The Super Commercials

Okay, even with my Steelers winning, the Super Bowl was a lackluster game that seemed like a contest between two teams trying to do everything they could to lose. We still had the main attraction, the thing that everybody looks forward to....we had the commercials.

As they have for the past several years, USA Today has done its "Super Bowl Ad Meter", and with no real news being reported yesterday and nobody wanting to talk about the actual game, the commercials have been analyzed to the point where, just two days later, everyone's sick of hearing about them, so I'm going to keep this short. I'm just going to run down my three favorite spots, the three I liked least, and I toss in a couple of extra dishonorable mentions that rubbed me the wrong way.


I'm a sucker for animated dinosaurs. I knew who Ray Harryhausen was before I started first grade. So the FedEx "caveman" spot won me over. In it, a caveman tries to send a message by tying it to the leg of a pterodactyl. However, it quickly gets eaten by a T-Rex, and the caveman gets fired for not using FedEx, even though it doesn't exist yet. Two more animated dinos give us a double punchline. This is one you can watch over and over again.

If I did drink beer, I probably wouldn't drink Bud Light, but you have to give its ad team credit for coming up with the most memorable commercials year after year. "Magic Fridge" made me laugh out loud, and that doesn't happen too often during commercials. This spot was the favorite on the Ad Meter. Maybe one reason that these spots are so funny is because they have to accomplish their comic goals in 30 seconds. Brevity is the soul of wit, something that Saturday Night Live would do well to remember.

Another great commercial for a product I would never buy was for the H3 Hummer. A Kaiju Monster is destroying a city when it comes face-to-face with a giant robot (yeah, they had me at "Kaiju Monster"). Instead of doing battle, they walk off hand-in-hand. In a montage, the monster is shown to be pregnant. Finally we see the proud parents cradling their baby -- an H3 Hummer. A great commercial for a gas-guzzling monster.


Speaking of gas-guzzling monsters, the Cadillac Escalade commercial, where the truck for rich sissy-boys poses as a fashion model, took an ugly vehicle and made it look even uglier. That spot was a total waste.

Gillette's Fusion is a razor with five blades on one side, one blade on the back, and you can get a version that runs on batteries, so it can vibrate. What the hell were they thinking? You take something with more sharp edges than a Ninja weapon, use it to shave, and THEN you want to make it shake all over the place? My face is bleeding just thinking about it. No commercial could sell me on that tiny suicide machine. No wonder the commercial shows them treating it like a WMD.

The spot for was just lame. That's an unpardonable sin for a Super Bowl commercial. It's time to retire this lame gimmick of mock censorship and find some other way to sell whatever the hell it is that they sell at Nobody cares.


The ad for the upcoming movie, "V For Vendetta" really got under my skin. It wasn't because the movie looks bad or anything. It was the tag line, "From the creators of the Matrix trilogy." See, this movie is based on a classic graphic novel written by Alan Moore and drawn by David Lloyd. Moore wants nothing to do with any movie adaptations of his work, so he insisted that his name not be used in promoting this film. He won't even take any money from the movie. The Wachowski brothers, who were responsible for the confusing mish-mash that was the Matrix trilogy, wrote the script for this movie, and reports are that they made arbitrary changes that take away from the original story. Giving them credit for this movie is just wrong.

Topping that on my own personal Peeve-O-Meter was the promo for ABC's Lost. I'm talking about the one where they took the late Robert Palmer's song and video for "Addicted To Love" and had some badly matched vocalist dub in "st" at the end of "love," which was supposed to make it sound like Palmer was singing "Addicted To Lost," but which really sounded like he was singing "Addicted To Lust." I think that's actually a psychological disorder. Either way, it didn't do anything to make me want to watch what I hear is actually a very good show.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Reviewing the Reviewer: David Williams on Symphony Pops Concert

I've been writing criticism for a long time. Back in my radio days, I would be asked to re-write commercials, punch-up political ads, and on occasion, re-write speeches. In 1992, with Melanie Larch, I started reviewing animated movies and TV shows for the Gazette. Since the mid-90s, I've been published in a variety of magazines writing on a number of pop culture topics. Not only have I written criticism, but I've also coached people on writing reviews. One question always comes to mind---"Who writes these reviews, and how come nobody reviews them?"

Maybe it's time we changed that. Here at PopCult, there's a "comments" link at the bottom of each post. If you read something you disagree with, feel free to leave a comment. You can call me names, or just say that I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm secure in my opinions. You can even rake me over the coals for writing this very item. I can take it. We critics can dish it out, but can all of us take it? Let's find out.

I have a unique opportunity to tackle this issue. Last Friday, I was privileged to be in attendance at the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra's Pops concert, "A Night On Broadway." This puts me in a position where I can pit my take on the concert against that of David Williams, whose review of the show ran in the Saturday Gazette-Mail. Since William's thoughts on the show didn't exactly jibe with mine, I thought it might be fun to run David's review through the same critical process that is normally used by reviewers.

I do have to confess to a glitch in my objectivity. My significant other, Melanie Larch, was a guest artist featured at the concert. While this may color my own opinion somewhat, it should be noted that Williams is a composer, and the Symphony has performed his work in the past -- so he's hardly an objective observer himself. We all have our built-in biases. The key is to inform your readers so that they can have a full picture. On to the review of the review:

Williams opens his piece with a rather clumsy paragraph that tries to explain the premise of the concert. He then wastes valuable space speculating about why the crowd was so large, without mentioning that dozens of legislators were visiting that evening. It's odd that he chose to begin his review this way. I would have saved the discussion of the crowd size for the end of the review. The size of the crowd doesn't really have that much to do with the quality of the performance. However, the point that the crowd was very large, and very enthusiastic, is worth noting. It's just not the most important point.

After that shaky beginning, when Williams begins critiquing the performers, we start to run into real problems. He seems to overlook the stunning performance by Eva Vidavska Kumar, so he can carp about some imagined microphone problem. He then pointlessly name-drops a person who had nothing to do with the concert, before briefly noting the incredible performance by Stephanie Adlington, and then dismissing her song as "worn out." A print review is not the place to offer "shout outs" to your old college buddies. (That's what the Internet is for.)

In the next paragraph, the reviewer praises the male singers, but takes what I think is an unnecessary pot shot at their ages. When you write a review, it's okay to say something nice about a performance without immediately qualifying it or adding a snarky remark.

Then, we get to the part where my objectivity goes out the window. Williams says that Melanie's song, "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "never quite took flight." He seems to base this remark on the fact that Mel interpreted the song, instead of coming out and performing as a caricature of Ethel Merman. Personally, I think William's comments were totally off-base, wrong-headed, and not grounded in reality. Mel received the second-largest crowd reaction of any adult soloist during the concert. She's worked 15 years towards the goal of performing solo with the Symphony, and I'm more than a little annoyed that Williams felt the need to be so dismissive of what the crowd obviously thought was one of the high points of the night. But then, I have a bit of a bias here.

Leaving that behind, we get to William's comments on two performances that I felt weren't exactly the high points of the concert. He says that putting an operatic vocalist on a song written for a pop singer was a "perfect fit." I thought it was a mismatch, and the singer would have been better served by a different tune, one more suited to her talents. He then goes on to describe the performance of "All That Jazz" as "comfortable." It was anything but comfortable. That song featured some of the only choreography of the evening, and it didn't really work that well for me. We can chalk this up to a difference of opinion.

Williams goes on to rightfully compliment Jon Cavendish and Joe Romagnoli, who both turned in wonderful performances. Almost as an afterthought, he mentions nine-year-old Alexandra Ayoob and sixteen-year-old Micah Atkinson, both of whom deserved far more than a one-sentence blow off. Had he not wasted so much space speculating on the size of the crowd, or interjecting irrelevant asides, perhaps Williams could have spent more time talking about these two dynamic young talents. Maybe he could have mentioned the standing ovations they received.

Wrapping up, Williams gives some love to the orchestra, praising their rendition of "A Century Of Song." The problem is, that 18-minute piece felt like it lasted a century. About halfway through, the dark of the audience looked like a starry night, as the twinkles of lighted wrist-watches started flickering like faraway celestial bodies. I felt that it would have been better had the orchestra skipped this medley, and devoted more time to the singers. It would have been nice if Bill Rainey or Mark Hornbaker could have had solo turns, or if the women could have had a group number. One has to wonder why a composer would go out of his way to praise the orchestra, even when they're performing a piece that didn't exactly thrill the audience.

As it is, I can't give Williams too high a grade on his review. I understand that the harsh, post-concert deadline makes it harder to organize your thoughts and build an essay the best way possible. But his analysis just seemed way off the mark to me and he didn't really present his thoughts in a cogent manner. Aside from his problems communicating his points, I felt like we didn't see the same concert. The concert I saw was an incredible event. The only parts I found slightly lacking were singled out for praise by Williams.

A review is supposed to be an opinion piece, but you have to be able to back up your opinions. His vague presentation and odd organization made for a sub-par bit of prose.

GRADE: I'd have to give this review a C-minus.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Culture-packed Weekend!

Hoo boy do we know how to cram a ton of fine culture all into the same weekend or what?

My Master's Voice

Friday and Saturday nights at the Clay Center, The West Virginia Symphony presents a pops program featuring nearly a dozen local talents performing Broadway hits. Among that group of folks is my "Animated Discussions" co-conspirator (and main squeeze) Melanie Larch. So now all you lucky people can rush out and hear the same lovely voice that I get to hear every time I ask Mel to sing back what we've written so far while working on a piece for the Gazz.

In addition to Mel, you'll get to hear homegrown talents Stephanie Adlington, Micah Atkinson, Alexandra Ayoob, Elisabeth Baer, Jonathon Cavendish, Mark Hornbaker, Bill Rainey, Joe Romagnoli, Evie Victorson and Eva Vidavska Kumar. They'll be tackling standards from the Great White Way, with tunes from South Pacific, Oklahoma, A Chorus Line and more. I'll be there Friday night. The show kicks off both nights at 8 p.m. Everybody ought to get out and support the symphony. If this goes over well, maybe they'll cast the next opera entirely with local singers.

A Rave For Old People

Saturday Night is also when the Friends of the Avampato Discovery Museum will be hosting the sixth annual Fidelio Party in the old Montgomery Ward space at the Charleston Town Center. Now, aside from the fact that scheduling a fund raiser for the Clay Center's museum on the same night as a concert at the Clay Center is not the swiftest move in the world, this is a fun way to raise money for a good cause. It'll be like a little taste of Mardi Gras right here in Charleston. And you don't have to wade through hurricane devastation to get to it!

The venue is intriguing. By holding the party in the mostly empty husk of an abandoned apartment store, Fidelio will have a unique industrial vibe. It'll be like a RAVE for grown-ups, only there'll be live music from Marci Stanely and The Ride Kings instead of droning electronica. And instead of Ectasy, there will be "legal beverages." Psychics, magicians and showgirls will mill about the partygoers. And they promise "exquisite desserts," which could be taken to mean almost anything. Admission is $55 at the door, unless you bought your tickets in advance, in which case you probably didn't bother to read this item. Proceeds go to the Avampato Museum.

The Big Event

All this culture and elegance is a build up to the big day -- SUPER BOWL SUNDAY! For the first time in 11 years, I will actually be watching the commercials AND the game. Melanie, who hates football, will be worn out from the concert, so I can just park myself in front the tube, and hope for a Steelers victory. But I will be at work. PopCulting while rooting on "The Bus." You see, the commercials that they run during the Super Bowl pretty much set the tone for the advertising that we see on TV for the rest of the year. On Monday, I'll give you my reaction to this year's crop of Super Bowl ads, and let you know which commercials you'll be sick of, and which ones you'll remember fondly.

The symphony, a benefit for a museum, and the Super Bowl, all in the space of three days! Just look at all the culture!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Art Blogging

This is a digitally obliterated photograph.

Occasionally, whilst digitally assaulting photographs, I get carried away, and the end result winds up looking so abstract that it's hard to tell exactly what it was in the first place.

This is one of those cases.

The title, which gives away the subject matter, is "Lee Street."

I'll post a less assaulted version next week. As it is, I liked the way this one turned out.