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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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