Possessing one of the most distinctive voices in pop music and one of the most distressing résumés on the big screen, Madonna has proven that whatever the role -- screwball seductress, martyred Argentinian first lady, embittered single mom-cum-yoga instructrix -- her abilities as a performer will manage to undermine any production whose credits bear her name. Like Elvis before her, Madonna has proven that no matter how sterling a pop reputation an artist may have, success on the Billboard Top 100 does not translate into similar plaudits at the box office.
Born Madonna Ciccone in Bay City, MI, in 1958, Madonna was raised in a strict Roman Catholic household. She attended the University of Michigan as a dance student for a brief period before dropping out to move to New York City in 1977. There, she quickly became a habitué of various downtown gay discos; spurred on by her dance teacher and her deejay pals, she embarked on a singing career. Before releasing her debut album, however, she made a debut of another kind in an all-but-forgotten, micro-budgeted date-rape melodrama entitled A Certain Sacrifice (1979). In an omen of things to come, Madonna later tried to halt the theatrical release of the film after her musical career took off.
The artist's proper screen debut came courtesy of Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan. The 1985 release featured Madonna in a supporting role as a funky girl/object of desire around which the film's screwball plot revolved. Her rising star helped to make Susan
a minor hit; aided by Seidelman, she was able to capitalize on her effervescent comic charm and her kooky, uber-Soho, Material Girl persona.
Unfortunately, Madonna's relationship with volatile young actor Sean Penn led her to accept a role opposite him, both in real life as well as onscreen in Shanghai Surprise (1986). The retro-styled, George Harrison-produced debacle endured a brief and mercilessly lambasted life at the box office; Madonna's marriage to Penn didn't last much longer. Next up for the indefatigable entertainer was Who's That Girl? (1987), a stillborn, flimsy imitation of the Melanie Griffith/Jeff Daniels vehicle Something Wild, released just one year prior. Notable only for its hit title track, the ostensible homage to Howard Hawks starred a pained Griffin Dunne opposite a bubbly, impetuous Madonna, apparently performing in the style of her semi-controversial "Open Your Heart" video. Needless to say, their chemistry did little to ignite box-office fireworks.
Madonna's next vehicle was undoubtedly her most high profile to date; cast opposite Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy (1990), she received lavish amounts of pre-film hype, particularly as she was involved at the time with long-in-the-tooth, alpha-stud Beatty. However, the much-anticipated feature failed to make good on the promise that surrounded its production, and Madonna herself came away with only a few choice Steven Sondheim production numbers to her credit. However, the "inspired by the motion picture" soundtrack album did help spark one of the singer's most enduring cause celebres
It took director Alex Keshishian to (literally) strip some of the veneer from the Madonna mystique with his tell-all documentary Truth or Dare the following year. The feature's risqué subject matter -- including the songstress' unabashed fellating of an Evian bottle -- created a ratings stink with the MPAA and revealed some previously unexposed dimensions of Madonna's relationship with Beatty, such as his incessant ridicule of her.
Madonna next courted the best reviews of her film career to date playing a feisty baseball player in the 1992 A League of Their Own, in which she starred amongst a talented ensemble cast that included Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, and offscreen gal-pal Rosie O'Donnell. Those favorable reviews were soon overshadowed, however, by the maelstrom of negative publicity just a few months later, when she formed a troika of artistic shame with her starring role in the pseudo-S&M thriller Body of Evidence (1993), her show-and-tell photo book Sex, and her subpar dance album Erotica.
Madonna kept a relatively low profile during the next three years, popping up occasionally for cameos in Blue in the Face and Four Rooms as well as a leading part in Abel Ferrera's barely-released Dangerous Game, co-starring Harvey Keitel. Instead, she spent much of her free time hounding director Alan Parker to cast her in the title role of the long-gestating film version of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Evita. Madonna's efforts eventually paid off when she won the part in the Christmas 1996 release; although critics responded with mixed opinions, the singer/actress managed to garner a Golden Globe for her performance.
Just when it seemed the actress had written off Hollywood for good, fate came calling in the form of boy-toy gal pal Rupert Everett and his script idea titled The Next Best Thing. Billed as a romantic comedy, the John Schlesinger-helmed vehicle was in actuality an uneasy melange of The Object of My Affection, My Best Friend's Wedding, and, improbably, Kramer vs. Kramer. Critics responded to the film with primal screams of derision, many of which were aimed at Madonna's balsa wood-inspired and deeply schizophrenic performance. Around this time, insult was indeed added to injury when, in early 2000, the erstwhile thespian was dubbed the Worst Actress of the Century at the Razzie Awards, beating out such notables as Bo Derek, Pia Zadora, and Elizabeth Berkley.
The stage was set for another of the actress' many career reinventions, and it seemed as though she might do just that with her marriage to film director Guy Ritchie
, the father of her second child, Rocco. Though she had not yet appeared in one of the Brit's testosterone-laden heist films (including 1998's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000's Snatch) she did play a starring role in their lavish Scottish Highlands' nuptials in December of 2000.
It wouldn't be long before Madonna collaborated artistically with her new beau. Subscribing to the age-old Hollywood dictum that a couple can't truly be in love without an accompanying vanity project, the Material Girl and Ritchie dusted off Italian director Lina Wertmuller's 1974 post-feminist chestnut Swept Away... By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August for a lavish remake, albeit one without the original film's rape scene and communist subtext. Though many reviewers pointed out Madonna's natural adeptness at portraying a spoiled, shrewish heiress who engages in dominant/submissive sex games with a lusty Italian seaman, they were less convinced of the positive emotional "transformation" her character underwent over the course of the film. True to form, audiences avoided Swept Away like the plague, as it struggled to crack seven digits at the box office, making it one of the least-profitable films of 2002. In March of 2003, the Razzie Awards responded in kind, showering Swept Away and its star with 5 wins including Worst Picture of the year. Unfortunately, Madonna had to share her award for Worst Actress with her acolyte, another pop star trying to segue into film, Britney Spears.
Madonna would continue to work in film, making her directorial debut 2008 with the indie film Filth and Wisdom and following this up with the period biopic W.E. in 2012. ~ Phineas Topollino, Rovi
Artist and designer Keith Haring created work that bridged the gap between high art and pop culture during his short but influential career. Haring's simple outline drawings of characters without features were often loaded with meaning even if they seemed outwardly naïve, and while his canvases hung in major art galleries, his work was also embraced by pop musicians such as Grace Jones and Duran Duran, he created murals for public installations, and his illustrations adorned T-shirts and watches. Haring also created images for charitable and political groups, and he was at the peak of his fame when he succumbed to AIDS-related illness in 1990, at the age of 32. The Universe of Keith Haring is a documentary which examines the life and career of this influential figure in contemporary pop art, and features interviews with his friends, family, and colleagues, including Yoko Ono, David LaChapelle, Fab Five Freddy, Hans Meyer, Junior Vasquez, and many more. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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In the African nation of Malawi, disease, poverty and famine have taken a horrible toll, especially on young people -- in a country of twelve million people, one million are orphaned children. In 2006, pop singer Madonna began studying the crisis in Malawi, and decided to use her wealth and celebrity to help; she helped finance the construction of a home for orphans, founded a relief organization called the Raising Malawi Orphan Care Initiative, and as a personal example she and her husband adopted a boy from Malawi, David Banda Mwale, whose mother had died. Now Madonna has written and produced I Am Because We Are, a documentary about Malawi that attempts to demonstrate at the need for action by profiling eight children growing up without parents; these youngsters long for a better life and strive to remain optimistic about the future despite the long odds fate has set against them. I Am Because We Are also features interviews with a number of people working to alleviate the ongoing tragedy in Malawi, including Bill Clinton, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs, and leaders of a number of leading relief and charitable organizations. I Am Because We Are received its North American premiere at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
This musical release from pop icon Madonna captures highlights from her 2008 Sticky and Sweet tour, with footage of her performing songs like "You Must Love Me," "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You," "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," and more. The release also features special behind-the-scenes footage. ~ Cammila Collar, Rovi
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After more than two decades as one of the world's most recognizable stars, Madonna steps behind the camera for the first time with this comedy drama about a handful of bohemians struggling to make a name for themselves in London, which she both wrote and directed. A.K. (Eugene Hutz) is a Ukrainian émigré and struggling musician who fronts a band blending gypsy music with punk rock. Still coming to terms with a childhood pock-marked by abuse, A.K. believes that one has to confront the seamy side of life to find enlightenment, and with this in mind he supports himself by torturing masochists for money while dressed in military gear. Living in the same decaying apartment block as A.K. is Holly (Holly Weston), a gifted dancer who dreams of becoming a ballet star, though now she's forced to degrade herself as a stripper at a "gentleman's nightclub." A.K. is enamored of Holly, but can't work up the nerve to make a move. Elsewhere in the building, Juliette (Vicky McClure) wants to help children in the Third World, but is biding her time working at a pharmacy, where she swipes medicine for charity when she isn't pocketing recreational material for herself, and Professor Flynn (Richard E. Grant) is a blind poet who is surrounded by a personal library of books he can no longer read. Filth and Wisdom also features several performances by Gogol Bordello, the band Eugene Hutz leads in real life; the film received its world premiere at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
- Eugene Hutz, Holly Weston, (more)
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Pop icon Madonna returns to the director's seat for the first time since her 2008 feature debut, Filth and Wisdom, for this ambitious romance detailing one lonely woman's obsession with the relationship between King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) and American divorcée Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough). To Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), no act of devotion in history is more romantic than King Edward VIII abdicating the throne to be with his one true love. But the deeper Wally dives into the background of this controversial love affair, the more apparent it becomes that their relationship was no bed of roses. Now, as each new discovery paints an increasingly dire picture for the once-happy couple, Wally begins to grow disillusioned about the prospect of true love. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
- Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, (more)