Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Month: February 2006 (Page 2 of 2)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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