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.


“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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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