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Nine All-Star Movie Casts We Never Thought We’d See

Nine All-Star Movie Casts We Never Thought We’d See (photo)

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With this week’s release of “The Expendables,” a dream of action fans has been realized, even if two of the film’s biggest names (Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger) appear for less time than it’ll take for star/director Sylvester Stallone to unload a Beretta on a cadre of Brazilian baddies. Yet while it is the first meeting of two decades’ worth of action elite on screen, it is certainly not the only time when a film builds around nostalgia value as its foundation without being a sequel.

In fact, nearly every genre has called in its all-stars for one big blowout, despite the fact that in the era since über-producers like Stanley Kramer and Irwin Allen routinely collected “more stars than there are in heaven” (to borrow MGM’s phrase), such event pictures based on casts rather than spectacle have become rarer, thanks to bigger star salaries and lesser dependence on them in the era of special effects. Still, here are nine films of recent memory that have bucked the trend by getting creative behind the scenes, though it hasn’t always been easy getting the stars aligned:

08112010_JetLiJackieChanForbiddenKingdom.jpgMartial Arts All-Star Cast We Never Thought We’d See: “The Forbidden Kingdom”

Sometimes the film gods don’t get it entirely right, which is the only explanation why China was begrudged the first onscreen pairing of Jet Li and Jackie Chan in favor of this 2008 American family flick. (Similar logic — and Western dollars — has led to Li getting short thrift in his first fight with Michelle Yeoh in “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” and Chan’s first face-off with Donnie Yen feeling strangely inadequate; in an odd coincidence, “Smallville” creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar were responsible for the screenplays for both showdowns, but I digress.)

What had been a dream for martial arts fans was extended to the central notion of John Fusco’s screenplay – a kung fu obsessed teen gets to travel back in time to be educated by two legendary masters. Li insisted that it was Fusco’s attention to detail in including Chinese folklore like the Monkey King that grabbed his attention and after searching for a project together for 10 years, Chan agreed to do the film with him (despite thinking the script was “nonsense”), bringing along kung fu experts Peter Pau to do the cinematography and Yuen Woo-Ping to choreograph the action sequences. (Another milestone: Woo-Ping and Chan hadn’t worked together since “Drunken Master” 30 years earlier.)

Even though “Stuart Little” director Rob Minkoff was in director’s chair, there apparently wasn’t much work for him to do while Li and Chan were on set since the fight scenes were typically finished in an unusually low three to five takes. (Making it easier still, Chan offered Fusco a bottle of his own brand of Shiraz for every line of his Fusco cut from the film, even though it was Li’s character that was a silent monk.) The film was a modest hit, both here and abroad, but much like NBA players who extend their careers by playing in the Euro League, “The Forbidden Kingdom” seemed more like a footnote to two storied careers rather than a culmination they had spent time working towards. But they would reunite once more for country in 2009 for “The Founding of the Republic,” the centerpiece of the Chinese Film Group’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Revolution.

08112010_BetteDavisLillianGishWhalesofAugust.jpgOld-Timey All-Star Cast We Never Thought We’d See: “The Whales of August”

There were plenty of films during the ’80s to kick up some nostalgia with the casting of screen stars of eras past in their first films together. “On Golden Pond” would usher in the decade with the sole pairing of Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, 1985’s “Cocoon” brought together Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley, Jessica Tandy and Gwen Verdon, while Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster reunited as aging hoods in the little-remembered comedy “Tough Guys.” Bette Davis had gone down such a road once before two decades earlier in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” a battle of the drama queens with Joan Crawford that was financially successful, though fraught with disaster, and apparently thought nothing of it to raise some hell on the set of “The Whales of August,” a genteel drama that was “a cinema event,” as the New York Times’ Vincent Canby termed it, because Davis’ sister in the film would be played by silent era star Lillian Gish. (Add in vet comedienne Ann Sothern and Vincent Price and as the Times further calculated, the quartet of actors had 317 years of screen experience between them.)

Age hadn’t softened Davis, especially since for the first two weeks of production the cottage she stayed in didn’t have heat, leading director Lindsay Anderson to lament, “She’s difficult because she’s Bette Davis, not because she’s a star. She has an initial hostility to life and people that she has had all her life.” This served the picture well since its thimble of a plot about sibling rivalry, but the film didn’t catch on with audiences or Academy voters who were expected to give the film a boost at awards time and only nominated Sothern for best supporting actress.

08112010_EddieMurphyReddFoxxRichardPryorHarlemNights.jpgComedy All-Star Cast We Never Thought We’d See: “Harlem Nights”

“Harlem Nights” is no one’s idea of a success, so much so that after the 1930s-set gangster comedy picked up two Razzie nominations for worst screenplay (which it won) and worst director (which it didn’t), Eddie Murphy hasn’t attempting helming a film since. Yet it was a grand success in one respect – he was able to get three generations of the funniest comedians ever on one set by casting Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx alongside him. (Not surprisingly, according to IMDB, they dropped the f-bomb 133 times between them and their supporting cast.)

As for the one legendary African-American comedian who didn’t make it onto the Paramount lot while filming, there is an amusing behind the scenes story that when Bill Cosby, who was making “Ghost Dad” at the time, led the “Ghost Dad” cast and crew to victory against the “Harlem Nights” squad at softball, Murphy told the rival team, “We’ll beat you where it counts — at the box office.” They did, taking in $60 million vs. “Ghost Dad”‘s gross of $25 million, though neither set the world ablaze. A generation later, Murphy had a chance at being the elder statesman in the crime comedy “Tower Heist,” which director Brett Ratner floated as an African-American “Ocean’s 11” starring Chris Tucker, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx and Dave Chappelle. It never came to be and now appears to be in the hands of Ben Stiller. Ahhh, well, we’ll always have “Harlem Nights.”

08112010_BrandoDeNiroNortonScore.jpgHeist Film All-Star Cast We Never Thought We’d See: “The Score”

While “Ocean’s 11,” in both its incarnations, brought together eclectic casts that were immensely popular for their era, director Frank Oz might’ve pulled off something more historic in assembling just three actors arguably thought to be the best of their respective generations in Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton for “The Score.” (Norton once said on “Charlie Rose” that he would’ve done the 2001 heist film just to see his name on the poster.)

For Brando, “The Score” was a late career payday while it was another in a long line of films to burnish the living legend status of De Niro, who has increasingly done his damnedest to live it down, and Norton was there to take it all in. And that’s how “The Score” mostly plays out as a film, with Brando hamming it up seemingly unaware of his surroundings (a set report from Time described his “initial performance…something like Barbara Bush doing her best Truman Capote impression”), De Niro grimly playing a veteran middle man trying to get through one last job so he can retire and Norton playing the excitable new kid on the block trying to prove his chops.

But unlike other films on this list, it really was hard to imagine these three on screen together because of the egos involved, primarily Brando, who demanded that Oz not be on set when he was, leaving De Niro to pass along directions from Oz by way of an assistant director. The tension was exacerbated by the fact that there had never been a finished script for the film, which allowed for one of Norton’s earliest attempts of polishing a film in which he was only expecting to be acting. “The Score” managed to make back its budget at the box office and serve as Brando’s finale film performance, though it surely won’t be the film that any of the actors involved will go down in the record books for.

08112010_FreddyVsJason.jpgHorror All-Star Cast We Never Thought We’d See: “Freddy Vs. Jason”

Ever since the knife fingers of Freddy Krueger pulled Jason’s hockey mask into hell at the end of “Jason Goes to Hell” in 1993, fans who grew up with the horror icons during the ’80s had prayed for the day when they would meet onscreen for more than a split-second, something that was made possible when New Line bought the rights to the “Friday the 13th” series in 1992. Fitting in nicely with a portfolio built on low-budget splatter flicks, New Line’s hopes for a meeting of the mass murderers was tangible enough the studio touted it on a promotional show reel in 1995. Alas, nothing would come from the fact that Freddy and Jason were under the same roof, except for Wes Craven’s meta “New Nightmare” in 1994 and the Jason-in-space slasher “Jason X” in 2001 until after eight drafts and seven years had passed.

Screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift pitched a version where Freddy, trapped in Hell, reactivates Jason to terrorize the teens of Springwood, Ohio, before wanting in on the action himself. (According to Entertainment Weekly, alternate springboards for the action included Jason going on trial, Freddy getting revived via a cult of Krueger worshippers and Freddy being the one to kill Jason initially.) Ronny Yu, who already brought one ’80s horror staple back from dead with “Bride of Chucky,” handled the helming duties and “Freddy Vs. Jason” went on to gross $82 million, though hopes for potential sequels were likely dashed in favor of reboots of both characters, a shame considering the rights holders of “Halloween”‘s Michael Myers made no secret of their desire to be involved in a follow-up.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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