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Actors You Don’t Expect to See in a Hollywood Musical

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Later this year, we’ll see dramatic tough guy Russell Crowe singing his way through a role in the movie version of “Les Miserables.” That got the staff here at The Jimbo List thinking: how many other unexpected actors have popped up in Hollywood musicals? See what you think.

ALBERT FINNEY IN “ANNIE”

Who could forget Finney as Daddy Warbucks? As I recall, it was something of a shocking choice back in 1982. The movie did okay at the box office, and I thought Finney brought a full-bodied energy to the character – even if he wasn’t necessarily a gifted singer or dancer. And he looked good with the chrome dome.

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN IN “HAIRSPRAY”

Here was some inspired casting, having the sublimely strange Walken play the husband of John Travolta-in-drag. Walken’s warbling isn’t great, but it works fine in this situation. He’s being ironic, sarcastic and yet somehow real, all at once.

CLINT EASTWOOD AND LEE MARVIN IN “PAINT YOUR WAGON”

This casting, on the other hand, did not work. Listen, I love Clint, but his singing sounds like a guy with a mouth full of Saltines trying to hail a cab. Marvin, meanwhile, has a voice so rumbling it needs to be measured by a seismograph. Luckily, the story is funny and bawdy enough to make the singing seem like comic relief.

RICHARD GERE IN “CHICAGO”

Gere deserves plenty of credit for his terrific work in the terrific movie version of “Chicago.” He can’t dance and can’t sing, yet he’s very effective as shady lawyer Billy Flynn. How is this possible? Movie magic, I tell ya.

SUSAN SARANDON IN “ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW”

It’s easy to forget how daring Sarandon’s performance was in “Rocky Horror” in 1975. She played Janet, who went from demure to devilishly sexy during the course of the movie. “Rocky Horror,” of course, became one of the greatest cult films of all time, while Sarandon went on to fame as a dramatic actress.

ROD STEIGER IN “OKLAHOMA”

Hard to picture, isn’t it? Steiger, the sturdy, intense dude from “The Pawnbroker,” as bad guy cowpoke Judd in “Oklahoma”? It’s true, though. Surrey with the fringe on top, indeed.

THE CAST OF “EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU”

Woody Allen assembled perhaps the most unlikely cast for any musical of any era: Edward Norton, Tim Roth, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Alan Alda, Goldie Hawn and Allen himself. That was the gimmick, actually – the absurdity of these serious people just breaking into song.

JIMMY STEWART IN “BORN TO DANCE”

Later in his career, Mr. Stewart got a lot of mileage out of his crummy crooning in 1936’s “Born to Dance.” He sang a song called “Easy to Love,” and it’s so bad it’s sort of cute.

CHRIS COOPER IN “THE MUPPET MOVIE”

Oh, this is a bad bit of rap. Cooper is a wonderful actor, and he gets props for attempting this, but it’s painful. He plays a bad guy who expresses his greed and low-down ways in a rap song that is best experienced via the fast-forward button.

TREAT WILLIAMS IN “HAIR”

Williams gives this one his all, and I liked his performance. My gripe with the movie is that although it is well made, it was oddly dated by 1979, when it played in theaters. It was a story rooted deeply in the anti-war, hippie culture of the late 1960s; it seemed like a period piece a decade later.

JOHNNY DEPP IN “SWEENEY TODD”

In a movie that surprised audiences with its stylized, graphic violence, Depp does some amazing work. He plays a deranged barber who takes out his grievances with a straight-edged razor. He also does one hell of a lot of singing. Depp doesn’t shy away from a single note.

PIERCE BROSNAN, COLIN FIRTH AND STELLAN SKARSGARD IN “MAMMA MIA!”

I know this was Meryl Streep’s movie, but who in the world gave the green light to Brosnan, Firth & Skarsgard? That trio couldn’t carry a tune even if you spotted them the first two verses and the melody. They’re so bad, in fact, that I developed a new respect for their bravery as performers. We’ve all got to hope there’s never a “Mamma Mia II.”

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Crowe.

11 Movie & TV Precursors to ‘The Hunger Games’

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With the movie version of “The Hunger Games” poised to take the nation by storm, here are some notable film and TV examples of people fighting to the death for sport. Let the games begin.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

Richard Connell’s classic short story about a crazy hunter on a Caribbean island who stalks human visitors has been filmed numerous times. The best version came in 1932, with Joel McCrea as the young guy being hunted by loony Leslie Banks. It’s a story that works in any era.

MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME

Welcome to Bartertown. In this 1985 installment of the “Mad Max” series, Mel Gibson finds himself battling assorted psychos in a freaky fight cage called Thunderdome. As wild as the action is, Tina Turner’s striking villain is even more wild.

SPARTACUS

Amid the spectacle of 1960’s “Spartacus,” there’s a fantastic sequence of Kirk Douglas in the Roman arena versus the great Woody Strode. I won’t give away the ending of this fight, which is stirring.

GLADIATOR

Of course, “Gladiator” (2000) owes some of its imagery to “Spartacus,” but Russell Crowe can hold his head high. He’s a commanding presence here, especially in forced fighting scenes in the arena. Careful of those tigers, dude.

STAR TREK

TV’s original “Star Trek” used the combat-as-sport concept several times. Most memorable was Capt. Kirk’s epic rumble against the lizard-headed Gorn. How did Shatner not get an Emmy for this? Side note: I love the Gorn in those Geico commercials.

THE RUNNING MAN

As time has gone by, I think this 1987 film stands out less because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heroics and more for Richard Dawson’s smarmy host of a televised hunt for criminals on the run. Side note: This may well be the only Hollywood project ever to combine the talents of Dawson, Jim Brown and Jesse Ventura.

DEATH RACE 2000

Let’s stay in the realm of violent campiness with 1975’s “Death Race 2000.” This one starred David Carradine and involved – I kid you not – a car race in which the point was to mow down pedestrians. My GPS navigation lady would not put up with that sort of thing.

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD

This high-octane western from 1995 is mainly just an excuse to stage a whole mess of gunslinger duels. They’re done stylishly, with a cast that includes Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen and Keith David.

THE NAKED PREY

A strangely engrossing movie, this one. Cornel Wilde is a guide in Africa, being hunted by a determined group of warriors. There are long stretches without dialogue and the characters’ exhaustion is palpable. From 1966.

GAMER

The plot for this 2009 flick has to do with using mind-control to play deadly games with real people. Gerard Butler is certainly game as the lead character, but the real draw is the always-interesting Michael C. Hall as the bad guy.

TRON

I’m partial to the 1982 original, but I have no beef with the 2010 sequel. Both films are dazzling in their own ways, visually. Of interest here, in the virtual world inside a video game, are jaw-dropping battles with flying discs and the coolest motorcycles ever. They have to be seen to be believed.

Now let’s see how “The Hunger Games” fares.