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.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Comic Critic Reviews "V for Vendetta"


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“Divide et impera” is Latin for “divide and conquer,” which gives you an idea of just how old and how long this political tactic has been in use. In its simplest form, you might think of using it to dilute the effectiveness of your enemy on the battlefield. But what if you think of the general population as the enemy? The same tactic could be applied. And one of the best ways to implement this is to convince one sector of the population that it does not have the same merit or worth as another sector. By installing a sense of superiority into another part of the population, you can then easily create a class system. To reinforce this false superiority, you spread lies and monger fear. They’re told that unless you back the system, what little you have will be taken away from you. And if you are fed this diet consistently, you might believe that it is true. And next, you’re fighting to defend lies and ignorance. Take a look at the history of slavery in the United States. The white sharecroppers of the south were led to believe that what little they had would be taken away from them if slaves were to be given freedom. This instilled such a deep, irrational fear that the country is still trying to battle back to sanity. Look anywhere in history and you will find the seeds of mistrust, fear, hate, and ignorance being sown so that a few can more easily reign over the many. V for Vendetta pulls the viewer into looking at what defines Fascism, Totalitarianism, Anarchy, and Rebellion. The movie’s core message is only true fights should be towards an equal and just society for all. Is it then so surprising to see the mask that character V wore to suddenly spring up and be seen at protest rallies, or worn by the representatives of the hacking group Anonymous? V for Vendetta will retain its legs long into the future as its message is one that counters those who seek to reign unchecked, that is “United we stand.”

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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Comic Critic's Movie Review "The Stranger" (1946)



The crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis during WWII were so heinous that some Americans didn’t believe the reports. That is why it was so important that the Allied War Crimes Commission collected and presented as much audio and visual documentation as possible. The reels of footage showing the horror of the Final Solution at concentration camps were instrumental in pulling back the veil of disbelief. The Stranger was the first commercial movie to show it. The Stranger was a success at the box office, pulling in over double its production costs. Film historians in the know decry the heavy editing at the beginning of the film. Gone is most of the footage establishing the ruthlessness of a lead Nazi as he escapes the continent and embeds himself in the heart of America. Some say that after such hacking, The Stranger was reduced to a small town murder movie and that it was less of a movie as a result. I like to see the editing as having left a clearer message for the audience of the time: That your preconceived notions of how things were—were wrong. That any person with an understanding of what is right and just would have to admit —by the horrific evidence before them—that truly evil people exist in the world. And that, as difficult as it must be to admit, you need to acknowledge such evil and stand against it. Yes, I would have loved to have seen the additional footage. It would have made The Stranger a truly grand Nazi-hunting movie. But its role in opening the eyes of 1940s America should not be disregarded.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Comic Critic's Review of "The French Connection"

The French Connection has one of the most famous car chases in movie history. Featuring a 1971 Pontiac LeMans, it was carefully choreographed stunt. Part of the reason for this choreography was because the chase was being conducted without the proper permits. That means the streets in which the scene was shot was not cleared of normal traffic. Off duty police and stunt cars were poised to stop traffic, and other stunt cars were arrange to provide the near misses. Some of the shots were angle was set low with a bumper mounted camera capturing all the trash and dirt of the street and as the car raced along. Even with precautions in place some of the near misses became crashes. An one crash was completely unpredicted as a fellow leaving his house didn’t realize that a car chase was being filmed. His vehicle was paid for and all of these lucky accidents went into the final cut of the movie. What you get is a true to life reckless car race lasting five minutes and leaving you shaky at the end of it. The French Connection is also ground zero for numerous cop show tropes used so heavily since then they are considered trite. It was also the first movie that did an excellent job showing the city’s true gritty underbelly and the real nature of police work. All of which have become a genre of entertainment in itself.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards it won five including Best Picture. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Comic Critic's Movie Review of "Harry In Your Pocket"



Harry in Your Pocket is an action comedy with an antihero, something new and very popular in the Seventies. While the gathering of this interesting crew is cordial, tension builds between the characters because despite all their smiles and camaraderie, they are all thieves at heart. The tension has us carefully watching to see if it will disrupt their movements. The action in Harry in Your Pocket comes from the audience  actively following the “poke.’’ There are few staged gags to induce laughter. The comedy comes from us chuckling as they get away with it with the finely tuned choreography of a ballet. If both the action and the humor are subdued, we don’t care. The charisma of James Coburn has us smirking every time he flashes his teeth. Coburn built his career playing the stylish rogue in the Sixties. This film is smooth sailing for him and veteran actor Walter Pidgeon. Pidgeon’s role as mentor is great fun to watch. His character reflects an illusion of an older, more elegant era in crime. The timing of his career with this movie is perfect and he very nearly steals the show from Coburn. Harry in Your Pocket is not holding up very well with age. The chaotic fashions and lifestyle of the Seventies are pervasive on the screen and look a bit dated. It’s rather fun for me as I grew up near Seattle, and most of the movie is set in that locale. I recognized buildings and restaurants that have long since have been torn down and replaced with high-rises. Harry in Your Pocket is a movie of the Seventies, when the studios were experimenting with what makes movie relevant. It both hits and misses the mark. But if you’re looking for a movie with some hustle and a dash of time capsule, you will find it a good time.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Comic Critic Reviews "Woman in the Window"


The Woman in the Window is a classic Noir film. You have the hero, who is also the anti-hero because his actions press against the rules of society. You have the femme fatale, whose appearance apparently dooms the hero. You have no-nonsense dialogue that’s sometimes slangy but always has an edge of flirtation. And lastly, you have cinematography that is consistently clever in its use of stark, contrasting lighting and shadows. The Woman in the Window meets all of those qualifications. It also delves into a premise, set forth at the beginning of the film, on the moral selection that defines a killing as murder. From that point on, it’s easy for the story to bring down a wrath-from-god judgment on the offender of the commandment: Thou shall not kill. The femme fatale can be seen as the alluring Eve offering the forbidden fruit that would lead to the breaking of yet more commandments. Our would-be-innocent hero is stepping along the edge of propriety and suddenly finds himself entangled in more than an academic exercise. Now, all that he is is at stake. The actors and actresses in this film provide all that is desired. The in-the-know audience sees beneath the poker face of Edward G. Robinson’s character, and gets to enjoy the superb micro-gestures of his eyes and breath showing the stress his character is under. The Woman in the Window was directed by Fritz Lang, and he masterfully provides a double ending to the film.  Lang admits the old trick. He argued that it was a compromise to the studio to comply with the Hayes Code, and still have a way for him to show one of the endings he wanted. He was proud that its construction was not just palatable, but entertaining, too. Certainly a laugh is generated when another potential femme fatale is introduced. Such an occurrence is highly unusual in Noir.
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Monday, March 11, 2019

The Comic Critic Reviews "The Comedians"


Fran├žois Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc, was the president of Haiti when this movie came out. His was an extremely oppressive totalitarian regime. The Comedians had to be filmed in The Republic of Benin, then known as Dahomey, because filming it on Haiti would have been impossible. The Comedians is a political drama meant to illuminate the ever-increasing desperate conditions imposed upon the Haitian people. It was also meant to poke at the inadequacies of embassy relationships with a dictatorship. And it also has a rocky love story woven into its tapestry. The movie was filled out with an all-star cast, including the legendary Lillian Gish. Amongst the cast were several African-American actors whose careers would only get larger. The title The Comedians comes from the concept that everybody is on a world stage where lines are being crossed not so much for the humor of those involved but for the gods. The theme of everybody’s life as a dark and ridiculous joke is a harsh sentiment that makes for a great novel, but it might have made it a challenge for a wider film audience. Critics might have found mild grievances with the story, but nearly everyone agrees the performances were superb. A short documentary titled The Comedians in Africa, chronicles the difficulties the cast and crew faced shooting a politically charged film in an alternative location. Watching both the movie and the documentary on DVD made up for my original experience, years before, of watching a heavily edited television version.