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Great Cast, Terrible Movie

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Sometimes, a movie’s casting math just doesn’t add up. You get a couple of terrific leads, surround them with dynamite supporting players and you end up with – a great big mess. It’s quite amazing, actually. Here are some of my favorite, star-studded disasters.

MIXED NUTS (1994)

Get a load of this cast: Steve Martin, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling, Robert Klein and Rob Reiner, plus Liev Schreiber, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis and Anthony LaPaglia. Its a comedy juggernaut, except it’s really, really not. This royal stinker, about a suicide hotline at Christmas, is stunningly bad.

AIRPORT ’77

I could have chosen just about any disaster flick of the 1970s, such as “Earthquake,” or “The Towering Inferno,” but this is the one I always found particularly annoying. You had heavyweights such as Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, M. Emmet Walsh, Christopher Lee and, of course, George Kennedy, all pretending they were in a better movie.

AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (2001)

This one is inexplicable. The cast included John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christopher Walken, Stanley Tucci, Alan Arkin, Seth Green and Rainn Wilson. To say this romantic comedy didn’t gel is a vast understatement.

LOVE AFFAIR (1994)

Speaking of bad romantic comedies, this Warren Beatty-Annette Bening picture is one of the worst ever. It’s stultifyingly bad. The thing is, it also dragged down the great Katharine Hepburn, Garry Shandling, Pierce Brosnan, Harold Ramis and Lisa Edelstein with it. This was no way to treat Hollywood royalty.

SHADOWS AND FOG (1991)

I’m using one example here to represent the many, later-period Woody Allen films that wasted great casts. “Shadows and Fog,” an ode to German expressionist films, was a boring movie that seemed to taunt audiences with all the talent going underutilized: Woody, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin, Kathy Bates, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Wallace Shawn and Madonna. And that’s just a partial list.

EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)

Underneath all that colorful fur are Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Jeff Goldblum. It’s a shame, really. The movie makes a great effort to be fun and funky – but that fur!? Come on. Also along for the ride are Geena Davis and Michael McKean.

DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002)

Dark, dark comedy here that might have been too caustic for its own good. It’s a story about egos gone amok in the children’s entertainment industry, with valiant efforts by Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart and Danny DeVito. No sale.

SPHERE (1998)

Sorry, but Dustin Hoffman in space does not work for me. When I see Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone and Liev Schreiber on a cast list together, I want a feisty, gritty urban drama – not a cold, slow-moving space thriller.

THE AVENGERS (1998)

This update on the stylish Brit TV series is a bit of a steaming pile, wot wot. It’s like some horrible hallucination in which Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent and Eddie Izzard recite gibberish and run around in odd clothing. As I mentioned in a previous list, Connery actually dons a teddy bear costume in this one. Yikes.

BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990)

Tom Wolfe’s famous novel about class collisions in New York City made for a glorious train wreck of a film. There was absolutely no chemistry, and often the actors seemed to be taking wild stabs at how to play the material. We may never see Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Kirsten Dunst in another movie together.

That should get us started. Add to The List!

8 Great Cinema Sword Fights

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For all the wonders of computer graphics and special effects in modern movies, few things compare with the excitement of a great sword fight. Two combatants (in most cases), two swords and a lot of action. In honor of the great movie sword fight master Bob Anderson, who passed away recently after a career that started with Errol Flynn and went right up to “The Lord of the Rings,” here are some sword fighting gems.

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940)


We’re starting strong here. This is an incredible fight to the death between Tyrone Power as Zorro and Basil Rathbone as the bad guy. Don’t be fooled by the stilted dialogue. This is straightforward, no-frills action, where the fighters are confined to a single room.

KILL BILL: VOL. I (2003)

Uma Thurman is dazzling as The Bride, who seeks revenge on some former associates who did her wrong. Her epic battle against an army of Japanese gangsters, The Crazy 88’s, is the stuff of gory greatness.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)


Here’s one that’s not gory, but still great. Cary Elwes is The Dread Pirate Roberts and Mandy Patinkin is Inigo Montoya. Their duel is playful, inventive and sharp – just like the rest of this one-of-a-kind movie. And guess who choreographed this fight? Mr. Anderson, naturally.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948)

You can’t very well have a list of movie sword fights without including one Three Musketeers flick. This one, with Gene Kelly, is my favorite (probably because it’s the first one I ever saw). Kelly plays D’Artagnan, and his joyful athleticism is on full display. His sword fights are filled with jumps, tumbles, taunts and vaults. They’re terrific fun to watch.

ROB ROY (1995)

Liam Neeson and Tim Roth engage in one of the most brutal, realistic looking sword battles in movie history. Part of the reason it works so well is because they give the fight time to evolve. There are bursts of effort and there are moments of mind games. And lots of tension.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON

It’s a sword fight AND a wire fight! Ang Lee’s masterpiece is a stunning blend of beauty and violence, with visuals you’ll never forget, such as warriors balancing on tree limbs.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938)

Rathbone is the bad guy again, going up against the one and only Errol Flynn as Robin Hood. What you have here is a sprawling, iconic sword fight that was copied to some degree by dozens of films in later years. Movie historians have noted that Rathbone was an excellent fencer in real life, making his work here all the more believable.

STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)

I love, love, love this lightsaber fight. Some “Star Wars” fans will prefer the Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker fight (which Mr. Anderson worked on), or the Yoda-Count Dooku fight, or the Anakin-Obi-Wan fight, but not me. This one – with Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn and the evil Darth Maul is fast, slow, dramatic, operatic and a feast for the eyes. Plus check out the double-bladed lightsaber. I mean, come on.

So which ones are YOUR favorites? Add to the List!