The Home of the Creative Mind

Welcome to PooBahSpiel, the online voice and home of the creative mind of Mark Monlux, Illustrator Extraordinaire. Prepare yourself for an endless regaling of art directly from the hand of this stellar artist. And brace yourself against his mighty wind of pontification. Updates are kinda weekly and show daily sketches, current projects, and other really nifty stuff.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Comic Critic's Review of "Topkapi"

If I were to approach a layman on the street and ask if Topkapi was a people, a country, or a skin condition, they would struggle at guessing the correct answer. And they would be wrong if they guessed among the options presented, as Topkapi is the name of a palace in Istanbul, Turkey. I don’t know how many people in the States knew this little fact back in 1964, but they certainly became familiar with it once Topkapi took off at the box office. The words “caper” and “heist” are often used to describe a sub-genre of crime films that focus on the planning, execution, and aftermath of a theft. I think there is a distinction to be had between “caper” and “heist.” The former has a more comedic air while the latter has more lethal connotation. Topkapi definitely uses humor as a primary driver. We are left wondering what events are planned and which ones will turn out to be a comedy-of-errors. Our hero walking this tightwire of doubt and confusion is a minor league grifter played by Peter Ustinov. He’s pulled in as an unwitting accomplice and finds himself embroiled with both police and criminals far above his pay grade. Ustinov captures audiences’ empathy so superbly that this film brought him his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Topkapi is a fun movie that will keep you guessing. It also has been the inspiration to many other caper, heist, and spy films with its use of acrobatic ropes and pulleys.

Won an Academy Award.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Comic Critic Reviews "Buddy Buddy"

The chemistry of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon was first discovered in The Fortune Cookie. With The Odd Couple a few years later, they were solidified as a marketable buddy team. Lemmon and Matthau would go on to do eleven films together. I have a soft spot for Buddy Buddy. For whatever reason, it’s a film I’ve seen many times. Buddy Buddy has that comfortable feel that lets you settle in to watch instead of clicking over to the next channel. I’ve always enjoyed its premise and story. Matthau plays a highly tuned, cool-headed professional hit man; Lemmon is a blindingly over-reactive husband whose world is turned upside down when his wife leaves him for a sex guru. I find Buddy Buddy visually unique in that while it was created in 1980 it has the look and feel of a movie from the 1960s. There’s a lot of 1970’s New-Age-hippie-pseudo-psychology that spills into the script and comes across as a little dated. The movie is cluttered with stereotypes offered up as comedic elements. Just another indicator that this movie was a vehicle for two things: Ham and Cash. But even with its faults, I still can’t help enjoying this movie.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Comic Critic's Review of "A New Leaf"

A New Leaf has always been one of my favorite films. I first saw it when I was a tween in the early seventies. The summer of love was in the past but the social effects of the ‘revolution’ were leaving their mark on all levels of society. Long hard was being accepted in the mainstream, as was the environment and social responsibility. In this atmosphere of steps being taken to the obvious change required, I was becoming aware that society had never been in a fixed state, it had always been fluid. This breaking away from the mindset that everything is as it always was provided me with a new lens to observe the world. I began to enjoy dark comedy. Hypocrisy delivered straight on levels both low and high, subtle and obvious. It might have been this new mindset that led to my viewing of A New Leaf remaining so fixed in my mind. I remember smiling all the way through the picture. What I especially love is the levelness of delivery by the actors, the sets, and the unhurried speed of the storyline’s movements. The slapstick that occurs isn’t merely for slapstick sake. The hidden social commentary isn’t working on an obvious agenda so much as it was merely peeling back a veneer to reveal what was underneath. There is an interesting story that is occurring underneath the obvious storyline. There’s another hidden layer of commentary underneath the obvious hidden social commentary. A New Leaf starts off with a character as shallow as a plate. He’s aware of his shallowness and is in no way offended or disturbed by it. What does disturb him is that he must stop being idle if he is to have any hope of retaining a lifestyle of idleness. Walter Matthew is cast as a young wealthy playboy. His lumpy mug hardly fits the stereotype of a rich playboy. But apparently, that doesn’t matter in the circles in which he travels. Raised rich and well groomed he knows the rules etiquette of those born into money. Being rich is ingrained in his identity that the concept of his being broke takes more than a little while to sink in. Again, it’s the pacing that is wonderful. He doesn’t flap around like a fish out of water. His movement into action is one of calm as if his circumstance never required the need to learn how to act frantically. It’s a brilliant portrayal of the character. Elaine May’s character is an extremely shy, clumsy and awkward rich heiress who is naively being taken advantage of by her lawyer and household staff. While her fortune might be vast the audience sees her true riches are innocence and kindness. She’s also a walking catastrophe. Elaine May directed and was one of the writers of the story. She knew her character was the pivoting point for the whole movie. She also knew that the introduction of her character should not disrupt the pace of the story. Again, we have some masterly conducted acting. When A New Leaf was released it won high praise from critics and the audience. It received various award nominations. But it’s performance at the box office wasn’t extraordinary and it didn’t walk away with any of those awards. It briefly was out of the public’s eye once it left the theater. Thankfully, its quality made it an easy selection for television and cable viewing. That’s where I discovered it. Now A New Leaf is considered a classic film gem deserving of viewing by cinephiles.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Comic Critic Reviews "That Hamilton Woman"

By all accounts, Emma Hamilton was quite an interesting person. A daughter of a blacksmith who died when she was two, she was a girl of the 1700s who had limited options. So she pushed past these limitations by pushing aside convention. At the start of That Hamilton Woman, the audience is teased with her history, a history presented so colorfully and cheerfully that we think it must be a tall tale or outlandish gossip. In reality, it barely touched on the truth. This whole movie barely touches on the truth. But it does a good job of providing the audience a sense of the deep, unrelenting love between two people whose combined remarkable talents were drawn upon by their country, and feel the sorrow of the tragedy that befalls even the most common of people. While the movie may not accurately reflect what actually happened, viewers can empathize with its dramatization as well as they can empathize with the secret lives unknown to history.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Comic Critic Reviews "Northwest Passage"

Northwest Passage is one of the lesser-known great Epic pictures. Its budget was larger than the previously more costly epic, Ben-Hur. They would have spent more money, but the studio pulled in the reins. Northwest Passage was based on the book written by Kenneth Roberts in the ‘30s. It competed strongly with “Gone with the Wind” for the best-seller slot, but never managed to dethrone “Gone with the Wind.” MGM decided to cash in on the book’s popularity. Originally two movies were planned. The first movie, or “Book 1,” would cover Rogers’ Rangers’ various skirmishes at the time of the French and Indian war. “Book 2” would cover Rogers’ Rangers as they searched for the Northwest Passage. Kenneth Roberts accurately portrayed the thoughts and feelings of the settlers towards the Indians. It’s not pretty in the book and it’s not pretty on the screen. Even by 1940s’ standards, the racist stereotypes in Northwest Passage were a bit over the top. Roberts thought the fix was in for not making a sequel because one key character to both stories was left out of the movie. He was also very unhappy with how the movie was adapted. Maybe the fix was in, or maybe it became clear to MGM that Northwest Passage was not going to have a strong enough return to merit a second movie. Regardless, what we have is a grand epic that is an embarrassment to the populace that would like to think of itself as culturally sensitive—and a misleading title because the only mention of the Northwest Passage is at the end of the movie. So, if you can stand a grand Hollywood epic which depicts a massacre of Indians in outrageous Technicolor, this is the film for you.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Comic Critic's review of "Stage Fright"

When I watched Stage Fright, I was immediately struck that Alfred Hitchcock started the story with exposition dialogue. Immediate exposition is not something you present unless you are trying to set a tone. Think of the running paragraph of words that fade into the universe at the beginning of Star Wars, or fairy tales that begin, “Once upon a time, in a land, far, far away…” But the start of Stage Fright wasn’t like that. So I’m wondering just what Hitchcock is up to, and that thought nags at me throughout the film until, of course, Hitchcock does his reveal. That nagging little feeling keeps you unsettled all through the movie, and it makes you suspicious of all the characters. And some of the characters are put in the film for sheer fun. A good example is the “Lovely Ducks” lady. There’s really no reason to have her in the movie at all, except that the audience is treated to a wonderfully orchestrated moment of humor and setting that backhandedly builds suspense. Another lovely character in the movie is the father. Played by one of my favorite character actors, Alastair Sim, is so quirky and comfortable with being himself that the mother, played by Sybil Thorndyke, and he obviously live separate lives, but remain married. Hitchcock provides richness to even casual characters, which with the level of suspicion he’s introduced into Stage Fright, has you questioning whom he going to go deeper with, and what clues you will discover along the way. Once you get to the end of the movie, you realize it has been filled with Easter Eggs and clues throughout, and you want to go back and count them all as you view Stage Fright again.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Comic Critic Reviews "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was the first of David John Moore Cornwell’s novels to be made into a movie. When he began writing, he was still working with the Secret Intelligence Service and wrote under the pen name of John le Carré. Then there was a huge political scandal when a spy revealed the identities of British operatives to the Russians. David John Moore Cornwall was “outed” along with many others. He kept writing under his pen name. Anyway, the author was more than a little familiar with the inner working of how intelligence is gathered in the real world. His approach was to focus on the art of deception. The John le Carré novels do have sex and violence in them, with even the occasional explosion. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was released in an era when film censorship was still a concern. The writer had more than enough excellent cerebral material to create a high level of suspense to keep the audience entranced and without too much risk of the film not receiving the rating for which it was shooting. Le Carré commented that he was pleased with how well the film’s story kept to the book, and his presence on set was more of a sign-off as it involved only a modest amount of work. When The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was released, television was filled with secret-agent-themed programming. The Berlin Wall had only recently been built, and the Cold War had a very public face. Spy-themed television shows and movies provided an outlet for the high nervous tension of potential nuclear war to be released through escapism. The mood of the day leaned heavily to why The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was so popular. While The Spy Who Came in from the Cold received a few Oscar nominations, it didn’t win any. However, in England, a little closer to the front lines of the Cold War, it won four of the six British Academy of Film and Television Awards for which it was nominated. The age-old story remains of how transgressions with deception and lies affect the human spirit and explains, even now, long after the Wall has fallen, why this movie still holds up.