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, August 13, 2019

The Comic Critic Reviews "Ninotchka"




Ninotchka hit the theaters shortly before the start of World War II. The Soviet Union was still relatively young, having finished a civil war only two decades before. Ninotchka was one of the few films that depicted the newly formed idealistic communist society as a rather glum, gray, stern place to live. But the portrayal is done in a kind and gentle teasing manner, almost as an inside joke between friends. One of the key points of the film is how, with simple pleasures, the Soviet agents are seduced into decadent folly. Ninotchka is a romance comedy. As with so many romantic comedies having the man and the woman come from not only different backgrounds but also different ideologies makes for merriment as the two seek to understand each other. In this case, we have the no-nonsense party member and the warm-hearted aristocrat. The audience laughs at human failings and being caught committing a sin. The rude arbitrariness of whether it is considered a passable sin or a life-forfeiting error makes for some rather enjoyable bits of dark humor. But all of this dark humor and glum Soviet stereotypes were treated with light-hearted humor, almost innocent in its optimism and hope for a struggling country finding its footing. Ninotchka was released two months after the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany.  It would be another two years before Germany would invade the Soviet Union. During the war years that immediately followed, the Soviets were our allies and the portrayal of them on the big screen was still mostly positive. It wouldn’t be until after WWII, when the fear of communism would be used as a political tool that the Red Scare would leave an ugly scar on Hollywood. Ninotchka then has a unique place in cinematic history. It’s a light and fluffy film that carries none of the foreboding and direness which later films would inherently imply by the weight of history.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Comic Critic's Review of "A Fool There Was"




Theda Bara quickly received the name The Vamp as she was often listed as The Vampire in the credits for A Fool There Was. In an age when Victorian dress was giving way to the era of the slim-girl-look known as the Flappers, Theda Bara’s natural curves and mane of long black hair stood out. Her eyes were offset with heavy kohl makeup, her body with exotic clothing, and she was adorned with mysterious jewelry filled with symbolism. It’s no wonder she’s often seen as the prototype for the Goth look. Studios were new to publicity campaigns. Theda’s background and personality were fabricated to the extent that both the studio and the reporters couldn’t keep them straight. She was at times the daughter of a mistress of politicians, the descendant of pharaohs, or priestess to a forgotten cult. The spew of fabrication added only more fuel to the publicity fire, and soon, in a time when many silent actors didn’t even receive credit, Theda Bara became a household name. Her roles showed her as a strong-willed female using her sex as a weapon, a tool, to get what she wanted. Keep in mind, this is during the suffragette movement. Women still didn’t have the right to vote, and men usually dictated their standing in society. Most of society viewed Bara’s representation of the strong female as laden with scandal and perversity. Bara’s interviews showed her as a strong feminist. But since the characters she portrayed on screen were seen as evil, it didn’t take detractors long to imply that feminism was also evil. Bara made over forty films, and sadly the master prints to all of these were lost in the 1937 Fox vault fire. What few films that remain are the result of copies that were in outside circulation or forgotten storage. Thankfully, A Fool There Was is one of four of her films known to still exist. It’s story of a woman unashamedly manipulating men for her own gain. It’s also a story of the hypocrisy society allows, saying that a man’s poor decisions are the fault of a woman.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Comic Critic's review of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"


The viewing public’s reaction to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein took Universal Studio by surprise. It was the second cheapest movie they produced that year, but was by far their biggest earner. Abbott and Costello were a known draw; they did over a dozen movies for Universal before the script for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein came around. WWII was over, and horror movies were selecting themes suited for the Atomic Age. Universal’s collection of monsters created prior to the war years were seen as old and hokey, their franchises tired and depleted. So the studio thought they might as well squeeze the last juices out of them through a comedy farce. Not everybody liked the idea. Lou Costello was less than impressed with the writing and remarked his five-year-old daughter could write a better script. Still, the plan went ahead with the actors returning to play their original roles. All except for  Karloff, who said he would help promote the movie if he didn’t have to see it. But Universal forgot about the one thing studios always forget, the love the fans held for these old ghouls. The story was thin, the laughs were easy, but the audience loved the farce and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein went on to be one of the studio’s best grossing films of 1948, ranking 27th amongst all films that came out that year. While the movie might have been a swan song for Universal’s Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Werewolf, the studio learned their lesson and the creatures are far from retired. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, while definitely a Universal picture, is considered to be outside the franchise canon. It reinforced in the public mind that a franchise-derivative film could still be considered a stand-alone. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein would go on to influence movies and television by providing a wealth of material and inspiration for crossover and self-parody.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Comic Critic Reviews "Innocence" (2000)



Innocence is an Australian film. I was intrigued by the premise of a widower taking it into his head to call his first love. Social media has made reconnecting with old friends extremely easy and commonplace. But at the time this movie was made, MySpace had yet to start. The way you got in touch with people was by tracking them down with a phone book, and by reaching out to mutual friends to see if they had a valid phone number. Perhaps Innocence caught my attention because I would do this quite a bit. Most of the time, I had no success. I empathized with the desire to reconnect with people who meant something to me. I wanted to reassure myself that they went on to lead happy lives. There was always that hope that a rekindled friendship would bring more into my life than melancholy remembrances. Innocence takes that silent hope and explores how invigorating the world can be when old love is renewed and set ablaze. The first time around, you have no idea of what you are doing, what commitment means, or what changes will take place within your life as a result. The second time around, you have no idea of what you are doing because you do know what commitment means, and you do know what will take place in your life. The measurement of how to live is seen from a different perspective as a future might consist of only a few good years, if that. And that is only the start as there is a ripple effect that travels through the very foundations of not only yourself, but your family members as well. I found Innocence extremely engrossing, its explorations of these concerns touching, and its writing superior. It’s not the last grasp at romance movie you would expect.

The Comic Critic Reviews "Innocence"



Innocence is an Australian film. I was intrigued by the premise of a widower taking it into his head to call his first love. Social media has made reconnecting with old friends extremely easy and commonplace. But at the time this movie was made, MySpace had yet to start. The way you got in touch with people was by tracking them down with a phone book, and by reaching out to mutual friends to see if they had a valid phone number. Perhaps Innocence caught my attention because I would do this quite a bit. Most of the time, I had no success. I empathized with the desire to reconnect with people who meant something to me. I wanted to reassure myself that they went on to lead happy lives. There was always that hope that a rekindled friendship would bring more into my life than melancholy remembrances. Innocence takes that silent hope and explores how invigorating the world can be when old love is renewed and set ablaze. The first time around, you have no idea of what you are doing, what commitment means, or what changes will take place within your life as a result. The second time around, you have no idea of what you are doing because you do know what commitment means, and you do know what will take place in your life. The measurement of how to live is seen from a different perspective as a future might consist of only a few good years, if that. And that is only the start as there is a ripple effect that travels through the very foundations of not only yourself, but your family members as well. I found Innocence extremely engrossing, its explorations of these concerns touching, and its writing superior. It’s not the last grasp at romance movie you would expect.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Comic Critic Reviews "Poppy"



Poppy was brought the screen after a successful run as a three-part stage musical. W.C. Fields played the role of a colorful carnival barker, con man, and father to “Poppy.” Poppy was a “revue,” containing elements of songs, skits, and comedy routines. The production ran in New York and then moved over to England. Perhaps it was there that Fields was inspired by a cartoon character named Ally Sloper; a red-nosed, blustery, lazy schemer constantly dodging creditors. Fields' attire certainly resembles Sloper’s: a tall white top hat with a wide band, an upturned white collar, tailcoat, and spats. Much of the ensemble would come to create what we now consider to be the iconic image of W.C. Fields. Considered one of the world’s best jugglers at an early age, his ability to manipulate the objects about him is as gracefully choreographed as a ballet dancer, all the while looking like he’s bumbling in the attempt. His role as Prof. Eustace P. McGargle in Poppy would take him from the stage to the movies, where he would become one of the world’s best-known comedians. His trademark raspy drawl with a flowery vocabulary would make him instantly recognizable. Fields’ characters in films would often show him as a drunk, con-man, and henpecked. Field’s ability to play the downtrodden everyday man seeking to find a moment of solace or a sip of drink endeared him to audiences. His self-talking mutterings were imbued with wit and guile. Several of these mutterings have been added to the long lexicon of lines attributed to Fields. One of the most famous of his lines came near the end of Poppy when he advises his daughter, “Never give a sucker an even break.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Comic Critic Reviews "Charlie Chan Carries On"


Charlie Chan Carries On is not the first movie in which Charlie Chan appears. There was a ten-part serial and a couple of other movies where Chan was a secondary character. Charlie Chan Carries On is the first film where he played the main role and audiences responded well to the film. Warner Oland, a Swedish actor, was brought in to play Chan. Whitewashing was a film industry practice, casting white actors in non-white roles. Oland would be one of a series of non-Asian actors to play Chan. This is more than a little ironic as Earl Derr Biggers, the writer who created Charlie Chan, had a great dislike for the prevalent Yellow Peril stereotype. He was inspired to create Chan after reading about two detectives of Chinese heritage working on the Honolulu police force. He wanted to create a character opposite the Yellow Terror stereotype, an honorable Asian working on the side of the law, not against it. The irony of whitewashing would become nearly embedded in the Charlie Chan character as the overly prolific use of ancient proverbs. Chan became a stereotype of the slow acceptance of the Asians by the hypocritical practice of social representation. It wasn’t a perfect process, but it did prove to be highly successful. There are over forty Charlie Chan movies. There was a prolific period when comics, radio, and television shows featured this popular detective. There were even other Asian detective movies that resulted. Mr. Moto and Mr. Wong each supplied a series of mystery movies. And while the implementation of these movies, featuring clever heroes from Asian countries, was far from perfect, they did broaden the American psyche, even through and after WWII that the only true threatening peril is that of racism. As to Charlie Chan Carries On, it is sadly a lost film: well, sort of. Studios would often create a Spanish version of the same movie using the same sets and many of the same leads, but instead of dubbing, they would cast Spanish-speaking actors. Irony rears its head again—the only way you can watch one of the earliest whitewashed Charlie Chan films is via the Spanish version, reading English subtitles.