The House


American Horror Story: Freak Show

"Orphans" finds American Horror Story: Freak Show taking a surprisingly earnest detour from its usual preachy, ultra-violently "relevant" shenanigans. The episode is mostly concerned with pinhead Pepper (Naomi Grossman) in the wake of her husband Salty's (Christopher Neiman) sudden death in his sleep, which is to say that, for the first time in eons, the series is centered on an actual narrative idea that serves to unify most of its tangents. Acting out, thrashing about the freak show, Pepper is inconsolable. Her depression, coupled with the fact that the freaks are finally appearing to notice that they're dying left and right since the arrival of Stanley (Denis O'Hare) and Esmerelda (Emma Roberts), spurs Elsa (Jessica Lange) to talk strategy with Desiree (Angela Bassett), which leads to a conversation about the formation of the freak show as the two knock back schnapps.

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TAGS: american horror story, american horror story: freak show, angela bassett, denis o'hare, emma roberts, evan peters, jessica lange, jyoti amge, naomi grossman, orphans


The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle has an answer to the age-old question of "Why do we play games?" The answer, simple enough to understand, is that "They make us human." The trick is that The Talos Principle then sets out to prove that point, crafting a first-person puzzler that's Biblical both in terms of its epic story and 20-plus-hour playtime. The content isn't religious or preachy (it's far more passively philosophical), but it does begin with your unnamed robotic protagonist awakening in a garden at the foot of a forbidden Babel-like tower, choosing between the booming instructions of the omnipresent Elohim and the serpentine suggestions of the Milton Library Assistant. Solving puzzles may demonstrate that you have "predictive capability" and "spatial awareness," but the scattered text and audio logs question whether such feats demonstrate consciousness—and if not, if anything can. The Talos Principle, then, is a Turing test in reverse, with you (a human playing the part of a robot) attempting to convince the game (a robot playing the part of a human) that you are in fact more than a machine.

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TAGS: antichamber, croteam, Portal 2, quantum conundrum, the stanley parable, the talos principle


Run the Jewels

1. "The 50 Best Albums of 2014." Pitchfork unveils its list of the best albums of the year. Below is Andrew Nosnitsky on Aphex Twin's Syro.

"Perhaps no figure in electronic music casts a heavier shadow than Richard D. James. He spent the '90s reinventing himself perpetually, trampling through aliases and existing subgenres—acid house, ambient, drum'n'bass, whatever—and emerging with strange and brilliant derivatives on a near yearly basis. So it came as a surprise (and maybe a slight disappointment) when Syro, his first official album after 13 years of relative reclusiveness, proved to be anything but a surprise. In fact, if you had imagined a new Aphex Twin album in 2004, it probably would've sounded a lot like the one he ended up releasing in 2014. But here's the thing: Despite the incessant projections of his audience, Aphex Twin was never principally about innovation. His discography is merely a running series of genre studies, warped instinctively by a perfectionist with a bizarre creative voice. Syro feels like the logical culmination of these efforts, as the genre he's bending and perfecting this time is the amorphous one that he instinctively spent his career creating: a bubble-and-spazz hybrid of acid squelches, spongecake melodies, and scattershot rhythms."

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TAGS: actress, adrian curry, aphex twin, borgman, calum marsh, fandor, frank, mike leigh, pitchfork, stephen colbert, syro, the criterion collection, the dissolve, under the skin, whiplash


Force Majeure

Ironically, for an awards program meant to highlight standout performances, the Academy Awards have turned into the 800-pound gorilla of fall and winter entertainment coverage, stomping out other movie news to deposit mounds of hype about a relatively small group of "frontrunners." Some of our favorite performances of the year were in movies that are being talked up for Oscars, but many were in films too quirky or dark or subtitled for the Academy of Arts and Sciences's taste, and it would be a shame if that consigned them to the shadows. With this list, we hope to shine a little light on these brilliant, touching, often funny performances, which enrich our understanding of what it means to be human. Elise Nakhnikian

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TAGS: agata kulesza, agata trzebuchowska, anna kendrick, bill hader, brendan gleeson, elisabeth moss, Essie Davis, gene jones, isabelle huppert, jack o'connell, jake gyllenhaal, johannes bah kuhnke, john hawkes, kate lyn sheil, kristen wiig, lisa loven kongsli, marion cotillard, melanie lynskey, pat healy, philip seymour hoffman, ralph fiennes, Tessa Thompson, timothy spall, tom hardy


The Birdcage

1. "The Birdcage." Mark Harris on how Hollywood's toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchises changed movies forever in 2014.

"Today we have a different model: The modern studio chief loves business, success, replication, and reliability, and nobody expects him to offer even the most cursory nod to anything that smacks of ideals that relate to content; that's not what he's there for. [Kevin] Tsujihara has an MBA from Stanford. He started out managing Time Warner's interest in Six Flags theme parks, then moved to home entertainment, and early last year took over the whole business. He has never produced a movie; in fact, he is the first studio head to rise in the ranks purely through brand extension and ancillary divisions, and brand extension is what he's all about. Besides the DC announcement, his big accomplishments have been to nail down those three additional Rowling movies to add to the studio's portfolio of eight, and to turn one Lego movie into four—a ninja Lego movie, a Batman Lego movie, and (for purists, I suppose) The Lego Movie 2. This is what successful purveyors of goods do; they make more of what sells, they cull what doesn't from the lineup, and they seek to create products in which quality-of-execution variability is never going to be too much of a wild card. MGM's old, gloriously lofty motto was 'Ars Gratia Artis'; today, the only thing written in invisible ink on every studio gate is 'More of What Works,' a credo that would be right at home at the entrance to any manufacturing plant."

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TAGS: ava duvernay, dc comics, fandor, grantland, hollywood, jerry saltz, kevin tsujihara, knight of cups, kyle turner, manohla dargis, mark harris, michael sicinski, mommy, selma, terrence malick, vulture, warner bros., xavier dolan


Exodus: Gods and Kings

If the best posters of 2014 constitute a vibrant harmony between marketing and product, the worst ones merely amplify the already contemptuous elements present in the films being advertised. Of course, this isn't always so, as with The Immigrant, which is more a case of the Weinstein Company attempting to market the film as something it blatantly isn't, but on the whole, these posters are dreadful teases for grievous fare.

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TAGS: draft day, exodus: gods and kings, left behind, million dollar arm, ouija, pride, sex tape, tammy, the expendables 3, the homesman, the immigrant, the judge, walk of shame


Inherent Vice

1. "IV Drip." Wesley Morris on Paul Thomas Anderson's Postlapsarian Comedy Inherent Vice.

"Anderson's strategy for capturing Pynchon is to roll him up and smoke him, until the smoke passes on to you and some confusion and conflation set it, until it's all just Paul Thomas Pynchon. In the opening scene, the singer Joanna Newsom appears as Doc's artsy pal. She stands in a low-angled shot and narrates the setting, using lines from the novel. By the time Inherent Vice is over, she has gone from talking over the movie — sketching background details and conjuring states of mind — to talking to it. The densely polished joshing of the book becomes a hazy, bleary movie farce. Being stoned here is a joke. But so is lucidity. Anderson doesn't overdo the high. This is as much a druggy wild goose chase as The Big Lebowski, but he opts not to make being stoned an extravagantly surrealist experience. To that end, people vanish and materialize like smoke, the frame speeds up toward the end of coked-up scenes. But it's never over the top. It doesn't have to be. Whether it's sex or love or pot, everybody's on something. Drugs aren't special. They actually are a food group. In one of the movie's few moments of casual surrealism, Bjornsen gobbles a tray of marijuana like a cartoon bear."

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TAGS: california split, Elliott Gould, frank sinatra, George Segal, inherent vice, j. michael lennon, james dean, Joseph Walsh, kim morgan, marilyn monroe, norman mailer, paul thomas anderson, phil stern, pitchfork, r.i.p., richard brody, robert altman, selected letters of norman mailer, the gunman, wesley morris


Homeland

"Krieg Nicht Lieb," which translate to "war, not love" in German, indeed depicts the multiplying conflicts that consume Carrie (Claire Danes), Quinn (Rupert Friend), the CIA, and the ISI after the attack on the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. Yet the episode, absent the pronounced attention to action-adventure set pieces that marked "There's Something Else Going On" and "13 Hours in Islamabad," forges its tension from the intimate, rather than the international. As the American presence in Pakistan comes to an end, with no indication of inroads made or missions accomplished, the War on Terror once again becomes a function of flawed, human choices, constrained by the fact that our departure isn't "peace with honor." It's "the failure protocol."

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TAGS: claire danes, homeland, krieg nicht lieb, Mandy Patinkin, recap, Rupert Friend


The Worst Films of 2014

Worst Films of 2014

With beauty comes ugliness, with pleasure comes pain. While the year's best films are likely to linger on your palate much longer than the worst, there was no shortage of terrible cinematic experiences in 2014, and often from places one might not so readily expect. Sure, Transformers: Age of Extinction is loud and dumb, RoboCop is another unnecessary (and botched) remake, and 22 Jump Street continues Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's unfortunate reign of still-unchecked comedic terror. But beyond the usual sites of acrid popular cinema lingers a more pungent stench, coming from those films sprayed with either a sheen of pretense or sun-burnt from undue praise or exposure. A fart gag is one thing, but class-reliant sentiment that dutifully extracts any deeper conception of its bourgeois leanings in order to satiate a desired audience? Hopefully we can all agree as to which is the worse form of flatulence.

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TAGS: america, bad words, fed up, foxcatcher, nothing bad can happen, still alice, the double, the fault in our stars, the monuments men, third person


Beverly Johnson

1. "Bill Cosby Drugged Me. This Is My Story." Beverly Johnson, in her own words, on how Cosby took her power and how she's now taken it back.

"As I wrestled with the idea of telling my story of the day Bill Cosby drugged me with the intention of doing God knows what, the faces of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless other brown and black men took residence in my mind. As if I needed to be reminded. The current plight of the black male was behind my silence when Barbara Bowman came out to tell the horrific details of being drugged and raped by Cosby to the Washington Post in November. And I watched in horror as my longtime friend and fellow model Janice Dickinson was raked over the coals for telling her account of rape at Cosby's hands. Over the years I've met other women who also claim to have been violated by Cosby. Many are still afraid to speak up. I couldn't sit back and watch the other women be vilified and shamed for something I knew was true."

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TAGS: Beverly Johnson, bill cosby, bret easton ellis, glenn kenny, inherent vice, j.r.r. tolkien, Noam Chomsky, paul thomas anderson, peter jackson, richard brody, robbie collin, The Hobbit, the new yorker, thomas pynchon, wondering sound







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