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Like an (acting) virgin: five terrible (and one terribly good) Madonna performances

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You don’t just become the Worst Actress of the Century overnight. It takes years of hard work and crummy performances. That’s why Madonna is the Queen of Pop and the Queen of Razzies, where she’s been nominated a staggering sixteen times, taking home nine different Golden Raspberry Awards — NINE!! — including five Worst Actress trophies– FIVE!! — and the dubious title of Worst Actress of the Century. Yikes. The poor woman has more raspberries than an Ocean Spray bottling plant.

Whatever you think of her as an actress, Madonna clearly loves movies. Why else would she put up with the abuse? She sure as hell doesn’t need the money. In recent years, she’s moved away from acting and tried her hand behind the camera, where she expressed herself directing 2008’s “Filth and Wisdom” and the brand-new romantic drama “W.E.” starring Abbie Cornish and James D’Arcy. Though the film has received mixed reviews from critics, it also played the prestigious Venice and Toronto Film Festivals last fall.

With “W.E.” opening in limited release, a reconsideration of Madonna’s life onscreen felt very in vogue this week. So we watched a bunch of her movies and found that some, but not all, of the Madonna-bashing was justified. Yes, she’s made some terrible movies. But she’s also made some good ones, including “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Dick Tracy,” “A League of Their Own,” and one obscure title that might be both her best film and her best performance. Watching Madonna act is like watching Michael Jordan play baseball — you’re witnessing one of the most naturally gifted people in history in one field willfully discard that talent to do something they’re clearly not naturally gifted at. It can be frustrating, it can be pitiful, but it can also be inspiring. With that in mind, let’s run through the Madonna movies you should probably avoid, and the one you should definitely check out.


Five Terrible…

“Shanghai Surprise” (1986)
Directed by Jim Goddard
Sample Dialogue:
“Guns cause pain. Opium eases pain.”

After scoring her first cinematic hit as a woman who acted, talked, and dressed like Madonna (in 1985’s “Desperately Seeking Susan”), the Material Girl decided to try something new in her next film. In 1986’s “Shanghai Surprise” she shifted gears and played a missionary living in China in the 1930s. SPOILER ALERT: it was a disaster. Madonna’s Gloria is ordered by her boss to team with a shifty American ex-pat (Sean Penn) and find a lost stash of opium, supposedly so it can be used to help injured soldiers. Because that’s what priests do, right? They try to find enormous quantities of the most dangerously addictive drug on the planet so they can give it to sick people. As you can see, “Shanghai Surprise”‘s problems extend well beyond Madonna’s performance, but she doesn’t help matters with her tedious and altogether unconvincing good girl routine. Penn and Madonna were newly married at the time of shooting, yet the pair display a remarkable lack of chemistry, even during their one sex scene. If you can’t believably play attracted to your actual husband, that doesn’t bode well for your future as an actress.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIApchGSWTY


“Who’s That Girl” (1987)
Directed by James Foley
Sample Dialogue:
“Explain what, Trott? That we were buyin’ four stolen semi-automatic weapons on your gold card?”

“Who are you?” Griffin Dunne’s Louden Trott asks rhetorically moments into 1987’s “Who’s That Girl.” It’s a fair question; Madonna’s not playing Madonnna here, but she’s not playing a recognizable human being, either. Her Nikki Finn appears in the opening credits as a Betty Boop-style bombshell cartoon — and that’s basically how she’s portrayed during the live-action port of the movie too, up to and including Madonna’s nails-on-a-chalkboard high-pitched cutesy voice. The plot of “Who’s That Girl” is a riff on classic ’30s screwball comedies like “Bringing Up Baby” — Madonna’s Nikki is the irrepressible spitfire who livens up Dunn’s ultra-square tax attorney. But that brings up comparisons to “Baby” star Katharine Hepburn. Said comparisons are not kind.


“Body of Evidence” (1993)
Directed by Uli Edel
Sample Dialogue:
“Don’t look so hurt, Alan. I fucked you, I fucked Andrew, I fucked Frank. That’s what I do; I fuck. And it made me 8 million dollars!”

This 1993 erotic thriller was pretty clearly made as a knock-off of “Basic Instinct,” with Madonna in the Sharon Stone role of blonde femme fatale. Madonna, I know Sharon Stone (not personally, obviously; like, in her movies) and you, madam, are no Sharon Stone. But why should she want to be? She’s Madonna. Becoming — and staying — one of the biggest pop stars in the world for decades takes more than luck and looks, it takes talent, dedication, authenticity, and originality. In the world of music, Madonna has all that — and as a result, she inspired countless imitators (and still does; see Lady Gaga). In movies, though, she was too often the imitator, as in “Body of Evidence,” where she plays a blatantly Stone-esque seductress who puts the moves on her lawyer in a murder trial (where she is accused of literally sexing someone to death). She’s faking it here on more than one level.


“Four Rooms” (1995)
Directed by Allison Anders, et. al.
Sample Dialogue:
“To reverse this evil which has been done, I make this offering to the Divine One. A whore not, an innocent was, for whom I seized a virgin’s blood.”

In fairness to Madonna, everyone in her segment of the anthology film “Four Rooms” gives a bad performance, including respected actors like Tim Roth, Lili Taylor, and Ione Skye. But she’s still the worst of the bunch as a member of weird coven of witches attempting to resurrect a goddess via a ritual that involves rhymed chants, awkward dances, and just a pinch of semen (that’s where Roth comes in). Madonna is usually at her best onscreen playing Madonna (see: “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Truth or Dare,” etc.). Here, glammed out in a leather mermaid gown, with huge rock star sunglasses, she’s too much Madonna in a role that could use about 70% less glitz (and about 40% more rhymes about semen).


“Swept Away” (2002)
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Sample Dialogue:
“Are we being punished because we’re rich?”

In this infamous bomb, Madge plays a spoiled woman who sadistically tortures a crewman on a private cruise from Greece to Italy, then gets stranded with him on a deserted island. Madonna’s Amber is so repulsive that every insanely cruel line — “You don’t need eyes to bake cakes!” or “Your t-shirt offends me. It’s revolting. Change it.”– just makes you want to turn the movie off and watch something else. So, um, good job, I guess! The film, directed by Madonna’s then-husband Guy Ritchie (notice how things don’t turn out well for poor Madonna when the phrase “then-husband” is involved), does such a brutally effective job of making Amber unlikable that when the time comes for her characters’ reversal and repentance, it feels totally implausible. If her performance, particularly in the second half of the movie, was half as carefully crafted as her admittedly impressive biceps, Madonna would have won an Oscar instead of a Razzie. If you were stranded on a desert island with nothing but this movie to watch you’d probably look for the nearest cliff to throw yourself off of it.


And One Impressive Performance…

“Dangerous Game” (1993)

Directed by Abel Ferrara
Sample Dialogue:
“Why did God create men? Because vibrators can’t mow the lawn.”

Interestingly, immediately after Madonna gave after maybe her worst performance in “Body of Evidence” she gave maybe her best in “Dangerous Game.” Any tentativeness or artificiality — and there isn’t much, actually — works for the character, an out-of-her-depth TV actress brought in to secure financing for a director’s uncommercial project. Harvey Keitel plays the director, Eddie Israel, a man making a movie about a marriage falling apart as a way to express his ambivalence about his own crumbling marriage. His film within the film is called “Mother of Mirrors,” and there are mirrors everywhere in this story, both literally and figuratively (Keitel’s wife, for example, is played by Nancy Ferrara, Abel Ferrara’s actual wife). Some of Keitel’s lengthy meditations on God and morality (rendered on video as “Mother of Mirrors” — or is that “Dangerous Game?” — rehearsal footage) are a tad too ponderous, but when his character is on the set, working with his actors, things get really interesting. Trying to draw an authentic performance out of Ms. Ciccone, Israel berates and belittles her from off camera (“Do the lines, you commercial piece of shit!”). It works — the attitude, the posturing, the bombshell character all fades away, revealing a bruised, vulnerable woman underneath. Interestingly, Madonna bashed the movie before its release and essentially sank it at the box office, even though her own company had produced it. Ferrara told the A.V. Club he thought she was trying to “beat the critics to the punch” — badmouthing it before they could. It’s possible. Or maybe she saw the finished product — where characters say things like “we both know she can’t act!” — and felt like it hit just a wee bit too close to home. In that same interview Ferrara, who was still clearly holding a grudge, explained how he was able to pull a career-best performance from Madonna. “That’s because she plays an actress who’s so bad,” he said, “the director commits suicide. Who else would be better for the part?” Hey, he said it, not me.


What’s your favorite Madonna performance? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.