Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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When American Idol began Wednesday night, fans of the reality series were left to stare at their TV sets, wondering, in true Nicki Minaj fashion, "O-kay?" For the judge, who has become both beloved and maligned for her brutal honesty and bedazzled fashion sense, was nowhere to be found at the beginning of the telecast.
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Eventually — though the audience at CBS Television City was not informed the judge would be late prior to the telecast — Minaj showed up 15 minutes late, with Ryan Seacrest blaming traffic. Minaj seemed to confirm Seacrest's claim on Twitter:
Stuck in traffic *sighs*
— Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) March 14, 2013
Like we said, o-kay, Nicki. We'd love to believe you, but "traffic" is far too simple an excuse for a star as extravagant as you. (Even though, as our Hollywood.com source within the theater tells us, you apply your own makeup while Mariah Carey boasts three make-up artists.) So why was Nicki really late? We have our own guesses. Which do you think explains her tardiness? Vote below!
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&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="http://polldaddy.com/poll/6961446/"&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;Why was Nicki Minaj really late to 'American Idol'?&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
[Image Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]
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Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
As Stuart--the adorable white mouse adopted by the very accepting Little clan in the first film--contends with the overprotective eye of his human mom Eleanor (Geena Davis) as he tries out for the soccer team he also has to contend with the fact that big brother George (Jonathan Lipnicki) is making his own friends outside the Little household. Feeling lonely and misadjusted Stuart takes the advice of his father Frederick (Hugh Laurie) and searches for a new friend of his own. His wishes are granted when the fluttery canary Margalo (voiced by Melanie Griffith) literally drops into his life--and his toy sports car. Stuart helps save her from her evil pursuer the sharp-taloned Falcon (voiced by James Woods). The Littles invite Margalo into their home to recuperate and she and Stuart develop a tight bond--a bond that's tested during an expected turn of events that sends Stuart and his unlikely ally Snowbelle the cat (voiced by Nathan Lane) into New York City on a mission to find the missing Margalo.
Like the first film Stuart Little 2 again proves that clever character design combined with exquisite--but not showy--CGI animation can make a computer-generated character appear as real on screen as any flesh-and-blood actor. And the Main Mouse also has the advantage of being voiced by the wily Fox who invests Stuart with incredibly convincing charm pluck and emotion. His vocal performance is easily the heart and soul of the film matched only by the sardonic delivery of Lane who as Snowbelle gamely turns even the most obvious kitty cliché into a tart comic gem. All of the other CGI characters demonstrate a similar lifelike quality and Griffith's little-girl voice is used to its best advantage for perhaps the first time in her career (although she still always sounds a bit dazed). Woods is as sharp and slick as you'd expect yet his performance is several levels below his brilliant turn as Hades in Disney's Hercules. Meanwhile real-life actors Davis and Laurie continue to have fun with the Littles as a sort of post-modern Ward and June Cleaver adding a playful semi-erotic subtext this time around (it'll fly over the heads of the tykes in the audience) and Lipnicki turns in what might be his last "cute kid" role before hitting puberty.
Because director Rob Minkoff so clearly believes in the possibility of making Stuart come completely alive for an audience of both tots and their parents this movie is full of the confident visual snap of the first film be it in the cozy scenes in the Littles' home or in the midst of the ambitious and inventive action sequences (this time around Stuart's got his own airplane for some harrowing flying scenes). It's easy to get involved in all of the movie's key sequences and root for your favorites--even snotty Snowbelle has some unpredictably heroic moments. There are just a couple things lacking in comparison to the original: first the wonderful sense of discovery when we first entered Stuart's world and saw E.B. White's delightful enduring tale come to life on the screen--a factor that's hard to avoid in a sequel. Also the emotional weight of the first flick's story isn't quite matched by Stuart's quest for friendship in this second outing; the dilemma seems a bit forced and not as organic as the mouse's first "fitting in" fears. There are also a few extra-gooey exchanges between Stuart and Margalo that even kids might find a shade too sugary to swallow--and will send adults scurrying to the popcorn concession.