Friday, May 19, 2006

Over The Hedge, Under The Radar

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Dreamworks' Over The Hedge opens this weekend, and it may be lost in the rush as crowds flock to "The Da Vinci Code" instead of taking in a fine family flick. Based on the comic strip, which has been running in the Sunday Gazette-Mail lately, all indications are that this is a fun, well-made little cartoon, but it may not be "flashy" enough to compete against summer blockbusters.

Initial reviews are generally positive, but not enthusiastically so. "Over The Hedge" just doesn't seem to be a big summer movie, despite an all-star cast that features Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell and William Shatner, among others. It's an indication of how far computer animation has come that the novelty has worn off. It's not special any longer, and it's going to take more than computer-animated cute little animals to stand out. The ad campaign for this film hasn't been as ubiquitous as those for CGI cartoons usually are. Those ads that have run don't make the film look much different from all the other CGI animal cartoons that are out there. Does anyone remember Disney's "The Wild?"

With Ice Age 2 closing in on 200 million dollars, and Pixar's Cars due out next month, it's possible that "Over The Hedge" could wind up lost in the glut. With the low-budget but heavily marketed Hoodwinked out on DVD this week, this could be a case of really bad timing for Dreamworks.

And that would be a shame. "Over The Hedge" is a sweet little cartoon that acts as sort of an origin story for the comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis. The writers and directors of the movie actually treated the source material with respect, which is rare for adaptations of comic strips or comic books. The designs had to be tweaked somewhat to be translated into 3D modeling, but they really seem to have stayed true to the spirit of the comic strip. Let's hope that "Over The Hedge" doesn't wind up as box-office roadkill.

Cool Toy Of The Week: Bush Bop Bag

It's never good to kick a man while he's down, but with the Bush Bop Bag, you can at least punch the president in the nose, while his poll numbers are at rock bottom. This is a fresh take on the old inflatable bop bag, only instead of featuring Bozo the Clown, it features a different bozo.

Produced by Rocket USA, a company that's also cool enough to make toys based on Futurama and Family Guy, this punching bag of the punching bag in chief can be found online at Cool Cheap Stuff and Amazon. You can usually find this particular bag of hot air for less than 20 bucks.

Think of this as a less risky way of expressing your true feelings over the war in Iraq, the price of gas, the erosion of our civil liberties, or the way he pronounces "nuke-yoo-ler." You can wail away at will without the fear of being dragged to the ground by the Secret Service and then whisked away to a secret prison where you'll be tortured and forced to listen to Dick Cheney croon "Volare."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Day At The Races/ A Night At The Opera

It's a stretch, but any tenuous link that lets me work in a cheap Marx Brothers reference in the headline is worth making.

Saturday, the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in horse racing's famed Triple Crown, takes place at Pimlico, which is a fun word to say, wherever the hell it is. This is a very big deal for some people. Not as big a deal as the Kentucky Derby, because there seems to be less alcohol involved, but it's a big deal nonetheless. NBC will be showing the big race at 6:14 PM, which means that you can watch it, then get dressed and head on over to the Clay Center.

Because at 8 PM, for one night only, the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra presents Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro, which has a plot worthy of the aforementioned brothers Marx. It's a race to the altar, as Figaro tries to wed his bride-to-be before she's bedded by a philandering Count. This will be an elaborate version of the opera, with the Symphony at full strength under the baton of Maestro Grant Cooper. Director Richard McKee brings us a full staging, bolstered by the West Virginia Symphony Chorus, and several guest soloists.

If You Go: The Marriage Of Figaro kicks off at 8 PM at the Clay Center, Saturday May 20. Tickets start at $12 for the general public, with discounts for students. Call 561-3570 or visit the Symphony's website for more details.

A Flashback To The 60s

Friday night, West Virginia Patriots For Peace presents a benefit concert Celebrating The Fabulous 60s at Christ Church United Methodist on Quarrier Street in Charleston. This promises to be an incredible evening that rekindles the spirit of protest music from the turbulent Vietnam era.

Songs And Words Of Protest features Julie Adams and Colleen Anderson, along with the Carpenter Ants, Larry Groce, John Lilly, Kate Long, Ron Sowell and more. It kicks off at 7:30 PM, but the doors open at 7 for pre-show face painting. Bell bottoms and tie dye are the recommended attire as our loyal protest group aims to take us back to the days when more people had the energy to be passionate about government outrages.

You've probably seen the Patriots for Peace holding their weekly vigil outside the Library downtown, protesting the Iraq war. Now that the vast majority of the country agrees with their position, maybe a good crowd will come out and enjoy an evening of great music and free speech.

If You Go: The concert kicks off at 7:30 PM at Christ Church United Methodist, 1221 Quarrier Street, Charleston. Suggested donation is $10, for more information call 345-0427.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Song Of The Week: Caravader

This week's SOTW is not really a song, it's an instrumental -- but it's a good one! Caravader is a big band blending of Duke Ellington's "Caravan" with music from Star Wars. It's by The New Morty Show, one of the more enduring of the mid-90s swing revival bands.

While bands like The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Royal Crown Revue, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were garnering critical acclaim and decent record sales, The New Morty Show worked the live circuit, not releasing their first CD until 1998, after the boom went bust for new swing music. However, they are still plugging away, and have released three fine albums with a mix of traditional big band swing and oddball swing-styled covers of tunes like "Enter Sandman," and "White Wedding."

You can buy New Morty Show CDs here, and for booking information, go here. Meanwhile, check out the swingin' tune!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday Morning Art: The Shadow

We kick off this week with a self portrait in shadows. "A Man Called Rudy" looks like the title card, if there were a detective show with that name produced by Quinn Martin back in the early 70s. Shot on Washington street, outside the post office back in January, and colorized a few weeks ago, this is just an exercise in color composition. Click to enlarge.