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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.

“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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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