Madonna Wails on Sarah Palin | Russell, Leo Strike Out | Julia Fordham's Sweet Song; Public Cheating

Madonna Wails on Sarah Palin

Madonna’s final show at Madison Square Garden Sunday night — her last of four for the "Sweet and Sticky Tour" — was nothing if not wild and controversial. Madonna knows how to get a crowd talking and how to get attention. Having already taken shots at Sarah Palin earlier in the weekend, she came roaring back again.

Muscularly worked out to look like a female Jack LaLanne with a face lift, Madonna took an electric guitar, put it on a low rumble, and announced, "This is what Sarah Palin’s husband’s snowmobile sounds like when it won’t start up in the wintertime."

Earlier, she mock yelled at the crowd for its apathy during a song: "Are you friends with Sarah Palin or something?" she shouted. The crowd roared with delight. Madonna knew it would wake them up.

A couple of days earlier, she’d said something similar, telling her New York audience: "Sarah Palin can’t come to my show!"

Palin didn’t come to the last show, but Kelly Ripa sure did. If she’s not on "Live with Regis and Kelly" Monday morning, it’s because she's still singing at the top of her lungs to Madonna’s music in the front row. Around 11 p.m., Madonna briefly let her sing into her mike, too.

Also in the audience: Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson, who sat still for most of the night. Chelsea Clinton arrived a few minutes before the show began, to cheers of "They should have elected your mother!"

How Kelly made it to the end will be interesting to hear, too, since the two-hour show, called for 8 p.m., didn’t begin until 9:45 p.m. When the show ended at 11:45 p.m., it meant all the union workers at the Garden received time-and-a-half pay for the extra time. This is why shows at MSG always end by 11 p.m. For Madonna, it was the fourth night in a row.

"We’re happy about it," one of the regular security people told me with a big smile.

So what is "Sticky and Sweet" all about? It’s part gypsy caravan ("Isla Bonita"), animated Keith Haring cartoon (let’s hope his estate is paid for that), a little Kabbalah and light religious overview, plus Madonna stages a tribute to her own career as a faux Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute.

It’s also Madonna as a fashion designer, with a very complex stage set comprising a runway with moving walkway and a second "floating" stage that juts into the audience complete with a revolving turntable and 360 degree video screen hovering over it.

Yes, you see, money has been spent like crazy everywhere. The costumes, the lighting, the videos themselves — they’re all spectacular. And you get to see so many Madonnas — the one from "Evita," another as Courtney Love, physical fitness trainer (she jumps rope wearing Linda Ronstadt’s hot pants from 1976) and so on. She even sings "Borderline" as it has been interpreted by Rob Thomas on tour. It’s the endless presentation of a chameleon at work.

But what starts out as exciting and provocative becomes numbing after a while. For one thing, Madonna cannot sing. The whole show is done to complicated tracks, with hard-working backup singers really earning their pay. When she does take a chance, Madonna’s unprocessed voice is a helium confection right out of "Singing in the Rain." Luckily, she only tries to "Sing" one song, "You Must Love Me," from "Evita," It was the one real moment of poignancy from the whole evening. And whoever mixes it live deserves a Nobel prize.

Still, you can’t help but admire her tenacity, her work ethic and stamina. On the video screens you can see the toll it’s taken on her body: she is zero percent body fat, with muscles pulsating out of other muscles. Her arms are roped with veins from weight lifting. Madonna wasn’t much appreciated by her dance instructors in school. Well, she’s taught them! Look at her now. She’s outdone everyone. No one else puts on this kind of spectacle.

By the way: Live Nation should have no trouble recouping their $120 million investment in her. It’s clear that Madonna’s future is live performance. And she’s evolving. Much of the show is about her body covered up in costume. Even she knows that it’s time to pass the torch. She should be able to do three or four more tours like this in this decade, with CDs as loss leaders. The audience is never going to leave her if Sunday night was any indication.

Russell, Leo Strike Out

There are no guarantees in this life, and certainly none in the movie business. Warner Bros. found that out the hard way this weekend when Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio -- two supposedly bankable movie stars — failed to sell many tickets to "Body of Lies." The confusing Ridley Scott thriller yielded less than $14 million in ticket sales.

Fingers may be pointed everywhere, but here’s the main problem. It’s enough already for Scott and Crowe. Same for DiCaprio and Scorsese. What was once novel — a director making lots of pictures with one star — is now worn out. This is particularly true for Scott and Crowe. "Gladiator" would have been enough. But to continue in this direction is just career suicide.

"Body of Lies" carries a $100 million price tag. Obviously, U.S. domestic ticket sales are not going to offset that very much. If Scott et al are lucky, foreign customers won’t sweat the logic or politics, and will plunk down their currencies anyway. If they don’t, then Warners may be stuck with yet another huge write-off. I’m sure they’re even more unhappy now that "Harry Potter 6" had to be moved to July ‘09.

By the way, since relatively few people have seen "Body of Lies," it’s ironic that Crowe cracks wise in the movie about having just seen a movie. It’s "Poseidon," the huge Warners flop of a couple of years ago. It was a good inside joke at the "BoL" premiere. Not so funny now. "Poseidon" cost $160 million plus extras, maybe $200 million all in. In the U.S., it took in $60 million, abroad $120 million. It actually fared better than "BoL" with a first weekend take of $22.1 mil. Ouch!

Julia Fordham's Sweet Song; Public Cheating

She may not put on a Madonna-type show, but if you want to hear one of the great voices of this generation, try and catch Julia Fordham’s swing down the East Coast this week. She finishes up in New York on Friday. All the dates are at www.juliafordham.com. ...

Here’s a little scenario from Sunday night. Sitting next to me at the Garden, a married woman. Her husband, she tells me, got her the tickets. Man sitting next to her appears then to be a friend, since we’ve made it clear I know the husband. Alas, the friend is a little bit more. Once Madonna starts, and lights are low, friend begins caressing woman’s inner thigh. Trouble with a capital T, she responds. Me, I am not invisible. As Cindy Adams would say, "Only in New York, kids. Only in New York." ...