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Capone Looks at Two of Bernie Mac's last films--SOUL MEN and MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Before I get started this week, I want to pay tribute to a man who actually has two films opening nationwide today--the late and truly great Chicagoan Bernie Mac, who has a starring role (one of the far too few of his career) in SOUL MEN and does the voice of a lion king in MADAGASCAR: BACK 2 AFRICA. Although I never had the chance to sit down and interview Mac, I did run into him around the city on more than one occasion over the many years since I really took notice of him in Spike's Lee's groundbreaking concert documentary, THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY. There's a reason the Mac-man is the last comic featured in the film, because Spike knew to save the best for last. I feel confident in saying that Bernie Mac had no idea who I was and had never heard of any of the modest little sites for which I write, but when a true fan expressed his/her appreciation for Mac's great work as both a stand-up comedian and an actor, Bernie Mac always took the time to listen and express appreciation right back. Mac the comic, which is the Bernie I'll know and love best, could be vulgar, sensitive, vicious, touching, and above all else funny. In fact, if it wasn't funny, it wasn't worth uttering, according to Mac. As an actor, I still believe that the best work Mac ever did was in a lesser-known Ted Demme-directed work called LIFE, opposite Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. As a comic actor, it's hard to beat BAD SANTA, although I have a great deal of affection for MR. 3000. I never missed an episode of "The Bernie Mac Show," despite Fox's constant moving around the show's timeslot. Boy, will I miss Bernie Mac, one of the few men in the world who can do entire routine about beating children so hard "you can see the white meat." I wish he could have gone out with better films as two of his final works (his last film, OLD DOGS, will come out late in 2009), but I'll take Bernie where I can get him. If you don't find yourself honoring his memory by catching his latest films, remember Mac this weekend in some of his older, better works.
SOUL MEN Not a great movie befitting Bernie Mac but not a complete bust either, SOUL MEN is the fictional account of two back-up singers Floyd and Louis (Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively) for megastar Marcus Hooks (a funny, non-speaking cameo by singer John Legend). When Hooks broke out as a highly successful solo act, Louis and Floyd started their own group called The Real Deal; they even had a hit. But internal strife broke up the band some 30 years prior to the real story being told in the film, which involved the death of Hooks and a tribute concert being organized at the Apollo Theatre during which The Real Deal might possibly reunite. Floyd is now a successful car salesman, while Louis is a mechanic who has had one hard time after another. SOUL MEN is really a road movie disguised as some sort of musical tribute to great soul tunes. Certainly, the film features a handful of great old music sung by Legend, Mac, and Jackson (with varying degrees of success). The one thing this movie is not is a male version of DREAMGIRLS (I wish). The saving grace of SOUL MEN (and there aren't many) is that the film allows Mac and Jackson to swear up a storm. I realize that relying on four-letter words for your comedy is something of a crutch, but when Bernie Mac curses, it's music to my ears. Hearing "motherfucker" come out of his mouth makes me tear up just thinking about it. Nobody swears like Bernie Mac, except maybe Dennis Farina. Even when they are pretending to despise each other, Mac and Jackson have a great familiarity on screen, like they've worked together for decades before the cameras ever started rolling. And if the film had just been about them being cantankerous, I think I would have loved it. But director Malcolm D. Lee (UNDERCOVER BROTHER, ROLL BOUNCE) clutters his film with sentimentality in its back half. One of the pair may or may not have fathered a child with a woman they both had a relationship with at different points in their lives. There's a domestic abuse scenario that is played for laughs, and it really doesn't feel right. There are a couple of supporting characters (in particular, Affion Crockett and Adam Herschman) that completely break the mood of the film by behaving like cartoon version of real people. There are also a handful of cameos (by the likes of Jennifer Coolidge, Ken Davitian, Sean Hayes and Vanessa del Rio) who don't add anything to the film except time. Despite my feelings on this movie being decidedly mixed, I'm forced to recommend it slightly just to watch Bernie Mac give a role (even one as underwritten as this one) his best. There's a great collection of scenes during the end credits that really got me choked up. They combine outtakes, on-set interviews with Mac, and footage of him warming up a crowd of extras during the film's climactic music number at the Apollo. My god, did he love being in front of an audience. Mac was a master storyteller, more than a joke teller. He told the funniest, dirtiest stories I've ever heard, and I will miss knowing that he will never again show up at a Cubs game to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," or that I will not run into him at a restaurant or store in Chicago. SOUL MEN isn't the best Mac has to offer, but for us completists, it holds the place just fine.
MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA I bet most of you don't remember that the original MADAGASCAR opened the same day as Revenge of the Sith. I'm guessing even fewer of you care. I guess my point is that MADAGASCAR did remarkably strong business against a juggernaut of a film, and I actually thought it wasn't half bad. For those of you who relished in the idea that this kids animated work still featured a fair number of adult gags for parents to giggle at, here's more of the same. Looking a little better than I remember the first film looking, MADAGASCAR 2 concerns the animals from the Central Park Zoo picking up right where they left off at the end of the first movie. Attempting to get back to New York on a refurbished airplane (refurbished by penguins, I should add), Alex the performing lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) end up crashing down somewhere in Africa where Alex ends up meeting his parents, (Bernie Mac and Sherri Shepherd), the king and queen of the lion pride. Marty meets a massive herd of zebras (all of which have Rock's voice), and starts to feel not so unique in the eyes of his friends, while the Melman-Gloria romance heats up when she starts seeing another hippo (voiced by will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas and CNN Holograph Central). MADAGASCAR 2 is standard-issue simple plots and subplots with easy-to-solve problems for all of our heroes. But it's the small touches that make the film work a bit better than standard-issue animated fare. Sacha Baron Cohen blessedly returns as King Julien, the borderline psychotic lemur, as is Cedric the Entertainer as his buddy Maurice. Cohen can make me laugh harder with a cast-off line than most people can spending hours crafting a single joke. One welcome addition to the lineup is Alec Baldwin as Mac's rival lion Makunga, who even has a variation of Baldwin's slicked back hairstyle. Makunga is basically Scar from The Lion King, but he has way more fun with the role than Jeremy Irons did. He's a prancing, preening force of evil who would rather let his people die of thirst when the local watering hole dries up than give up power. Baldwin can do very little wrong in the world right now. MADAGASCAR 2 is probably about as lovable and entertaining as the first film. Take that for what it's worth. If you never saw the original film, the addition of Baldwin to the cast as well as more lemurs and penguins might be enough to get your butt in the seats this time around. I think I chuckled a bit more three years later. Rock and Stiller have a better chemistry this time around, and even Schwimmer's moody giraffe made me laugh quite a bit. It's no WALL*E or even KUNG FU PANDA, but this one's not too bad. And it beats the shit out of CLONE WARS! (Feel free to use that on your posters, Dreamworks.) -- Capone capone@aintitcoolmail.com



Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 7, 2008, 5:19 p.m. CST

    When will the Madagascar Penguin show air?

    by DerLanghaarige

    Is there a date yet? It's produced by Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle, so it's a must see on my list.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 5:20 p.m. CST

    Damn 2nd

    by Turd Furgeson

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 5:42 p.m. CST

    Madagascar came out the 27th

    by Agent Michael Scarn

    Sith came out the 19th.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 6:12 p.m. CST

    Having my big toenails pulled out

    by hobsnobber

    four times because they were ingrown beat the shit out of Clone Wars

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 7:10 p.m. CST

    The first Madagascar had a few dark jokes

    by drewlicious

    Most notably the penguins, especilaly at the South Pole (Well this sucks.) The American Beauty joke was unexpected.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 7:17 p.m. CST

    Over-rated, medeocre movie. So what if it did box office?

    by zekmoe

    Left me cold. I have over 100 animated classics, and have watched many dozens of times. That one was just nothing. Dull drawings, silly "plot" and few funny jokes. Kids liked it but didn't love it. B- or C+ at best. Way below any Pixar anything.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 7:23 p.m. CST

    this article has been up for a few hours

    by the milf lover

    and only 6 replies to it? That doesnt bode well for these movies if nobody cares enough to come here and bash them!

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 7:31 p.m. CST

    I never gave it a chance

    by Gelatinousman

    until my kid got it as a gift. Now I really like it. It grows on you. It has a good rewatchability value. It has stuff for grown-up and tons for kids. Of course it is not Pixar, but I give it a good B-. It is not gross, vulgar or violent. I'll go see the second one with my kids for sure.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 10:07 p.m. CST

    milf lover

    by moviemenace

    The reason no one is posting is no one wants to disparage a dead guy. Like I'm going to write right here, "I love Bernie Mac" and "His set on 'Kings of Comedy' is one of the best stand-up acts I have ever seen". But no one is going to shit on these movies; not when the heading reads "Two of Bernie Mac's last films". That would even be lowdown for this group of talkbackers.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 11:09 p.m. CST

    good point moviemenace

    by the milf lover

    I didnt consider that, there's always idiots bashing the dead in the obit threads.

  • Nov. 8, 2008, 2:53 a.m. CST

    zekmoe...

    by BiggusDickus

    No, sorry, but you're wrong.<p>Madagascar is twenty times the movie Cars was. Whichever way you approach it, funny, well-written, fun for kids, fun for adults - whatever. Madagascar worked and Cars didn't. End of.

  • Nov. 8, 2008, 4:07 a.m. CST

    biggusdickus

    by Gelatinousman

    You are right. I forgot about Cars. What a boring movie. Only Pixar I don't have and will never buy. Saw the DVD for 2$ this summer in a garage sale and I didn't pick it up.

  • Nov. 8, 2008, 9:52 a.m. CST

    Baldwin in it? Awww, Crap...

    by KosherWookie

    ...I really wanted to go see this, too! Well, then, I guess it's "Wait Until It Comes Out On DVD And Buy A Used Copy From The Local Video Store" time...

  • Nov. 8, 2008, 10:37 a.m. CST

    His Def Jam comedy special

    by most excellent ninja

    killed me, fuck that was funny. The hip hop breaks in between after he screams "kickass!" and then starts dancing. Fuck. I miss the Mac.

  • Nov. 8, 2008, 11:01 a.m. CST

    Madagascar was better than Revenge of the Sith

    by Supermans

    Sacha Baron Cohen singing "I like to move it move it" had to be the funniest bit in a cartoon ever.. The penguins were hilarious..

  • Nov. 8, 2008, 2:11 p.m. CST

    Saw this last night in IMAX

    by Darth Mulder

    IT SUCKS!!!

  • Nov. 10, 2008, 2:26 p.m. CST

    Madagascar 2: I liked it

    by drewlicious

    There were actually a lot of good laughs, some of it was surprisingly violent. Let's just say a penguin wielding a switchblade is a hysterical image.