TIME celebrity

J-Law Casts Demons Out of Emma Watson at Paris Fashion Week

May the power of Couture compel you

Jennifer Lawrence was caught by photographers casting demons out of Hermione Granger, err Emma Watson, at Paris Fashion Week Monday night.

Christian Dior : Front Row - Paris Fashion Week : Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2014-2015
Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson attend the Christian Dior show as part of Paris Fashion Week Rindoff/Dufour / Getty Images

While other publications question whether this photo opp was really an intense game of smell my finger or a kind mauling, we are kind of sold on the exorcism theory. Try as Watson might to resist, the Power of Couture compelled her.

Christian Dior : Front Row - Paris Fashion Week : Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2014-2015
Rindoff/Dufour / Getty Images

Pleased, J-Law then danced her way out of the Christian Dior show.

Christian Dior : Frontrow - Paris Fashion Week : Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2014-2015
Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho—WireImage/Getty Images

As TIME’s own Jessica Roy stated on Twitter, this is why Lawrence never gets invited to Taylor Swift’s ladiez weekends.

TIME movies

7 Reasons Nobody Went to the Movies on a Summer Holiday Weekend

Tammy
Melissa McCarthy in Warner Bros. Tammy Michael Tackett—Warner Bros.

The Independence Day weekend, usually one of the year's biggest, fizzled drastically this time. Here's what to blame — and it wasn't the World Cup or Hurricane Arthur

What if they gave a July 4th party and nobody came? That’s what Hollywood is wondering in the wake of an Independence Day weekend that had moviegoers expressing their Declaration of Indifference — by boycotting the multiplexes.

The three-day skein totaled a meager $131.9 million for all films, nearly $100 million below the $229.8 million for the same period last year, and the lowest figure for the any weekend of the summer movie season (which began May 2). The top film, the holdover Transformers: Age of Extinction, took in just $37 million — the lowest winning total for the first weekend in July since 2001. The biggest new entry, the Melissa McCarthy comedy Tammy, pulled in $21.6 million, more than $7 million less than last year’s runner-up, The Lone Ranger. (Remember what a flop that was supposed to be?) Last year on Independence weekend, eight movies earned at least $10 million. This time, only Trans4mers and Tammy did.

It’s been a slow summer at the movies, down more than 15% from last year, but the past weekend’s disaster sent industry solons scurrying for reasons (and for cover). We have seven explanations for the Dearth of July. But first, three things that don’t deserve the blame.

a. Don’t blame the Friday holiday. “The primary culprit was the calendar,” wrote Todd Cunningham of The Wrap. “Fridays are typically strong nights, but with the nation celebrating Independence Day this was a dud…” To rate this weekend against others, you must look back to recent years when July 4th fell on a Friday. And each time, new movies did just fine. In 2008, Will Smith’s Hancock earned $62.6 million ($69.4 million in real dollars). In 2003, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines took in $44 million ($58 million today). In 1997, Smith reigned in Men in Black, which registered $50.1 million ($87 million today). And in those years, the second-ranked movies — all in their second weeks — sold considerably more tickets than Tammy did this time.

b. Don’t blame the World Cup. The quadrennial competition of what everyone else calls “football,” and most American call “boring,” might have siphoned some viewers away from theater attendance — if the matches weren’t all played in the afternoon on the East Coast and mid-morning in the West. And with the U.S. team sent home after last Tuesday’s loss to Belgium, fans were free to attend the movies.

c. Don’t blame Hurricane Arthur. The season’s first hurricane barreled up the Atlantic coast, sparking the usual shots of TV weather reporters in high shore winds, but soon lost steam. People should have been out celebrating on July 4th — at some patriotic pyrotechnics and at a movie.

So when customers stay away in droves on a crucial summer weekend, someone or something must be at fault. On whom can we pin the rap?

1. Blame Pixar. The reigning CGI animation studio had slated Bob Peterson’s prehistoric family fantasy The Good Dinosaur for a May 30, 2014 release, virtually guaranteeing the summer with a $200-million domestic hit and at least $500 million worldwide. But last August, Pixar canned Peterson (who joined the studio in 1994 and codirected the 2009 hit Up) and pushed the release date back to Nov. 25, 2015. For the first year since 2005, the studio would not have a new feature in theaters. (And except for DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2, which in its sixth week yet to reach $300-million worldwide, the summer has no big animated features. Too bad: Universal’s Despicable Me 2 opened to a cunning $83.5 million this weekend last year, on its way to $368 million domestic and almost a billion dollars worldwide.)

2. Blame the other studios that didn’t instantly take over July 4th. To fill the late-May slot, Pixar’s parent Disney chose its live-action fantasy Maleficent, which opened to $69.4 million and has earned a magical $630 million globally. The Angelina Jolie movie’s original release date: July 2. If The Good Dinosaur had opened as scheduled, the news now would be about Maleficent’s magnificent box-office weekend. What’s odd is that no studio with a big action film stepped into the July 4th vacuum. Warner Bros. had the Tom Cruise Edge of Tomorrow, which got depantsed a month ago by the cancer teens of The Fault in Our Stars. If Warners had shifted Cruise to this weekend, as the only new behemoth around, Edge might be on its way to nearly matching its robust total in foreign markets ($248.6 million). Instead, it’s languishing at $90 million domestic.

3. Blame toy-bot overload. Michael Bay’s first three Transformers movies saturated the Independence Week theaters in 2007, 2009 and 2011, raking in the loot as if Optimus Prime had been magnetized to attract all available cash. Transformers: Age of Extinction, with actual movie icon Mark Wahlberg replacing former faux-star Shia LaBeouf, opened well in late June, earning $100 million, give or take, in its first three days. But this past weekend, despite zero competition in the action-fantasy genre, the movie fell 63% to $37 million. If you wanted to see Trans4mers, chances are you’ve already seen it and aren’t going back.

After 10 days, the movie’s domestic total is $174.7 million, which sounds like a lot until you check it against the 10-day totals of its predecessors: $228 million for T3, $269 million for T2 and $187 million for the first Transformers, back when ticket prices were far lower and no 3-D or IMAX surcharges inflated the revenue. For prime optimism, Paramount must look abroad, where Trans4mers has already earned $400 million, including $212.8 million in China. Yep, the take from the People’s Republic is nearly $50 million more than in North America. That’s both financially encouraging and, for a country that is used to being No. 1, at least in movie grosses, kind of depressing. America is mighty, but it’s no China.

4. Blame Melissa McCarthy. After an Oscar-nominated splash as a Bridesmaids potty-pooper, and costarring roles with Justin Bateman in Identity Thief and Sandra Bullock in The Heat, the soubrette had her chance to prove her marquee allure in a solo comedy. But Tammy — which McCarthy cowrote with her husband, director Paul Falcone — was the wrong project. Forget that it’s an awful movie, or try to. This story of a frowsy, rejected wife who goes on a road trip with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon) is failing because it has no heroine for the audience to root for and no huge stake for her to risk. The McCarthy persona in her earlier hits is an abrasive creature who brings chaos to the lives of sympathetic figures. In Tammy, the creature is front and center, and viewers are expected to embrace a character they would flee from in real life.

5. Blame genre exhaustion. Last year, the home-invasion thriller The Purge won an early-June weekend with $34.1 million, and six weeks later the possessed-woman drama The Conjuring earned $41.9 million, on its way to an amazing $137.4-million domestic haul. The message seemed clear: fright films needn’t be released only in cold weather. But horror hasn’t clicked in 2014. In February, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, a spinoff of the once-dynamite series, struggled to an $18.3-million first weekend and a $32.5-million total, and no other scare movie has come near those modest totals. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s supernatural drama Deliver Us from Evil had a budget of $30 million (high for this sort of film) and, over the weekend, earned just $9.7 million. This genre needs more than an exorcism; it needs a time-out, until the fan base revives itself.

6. Blame moms. They didn’t take their kids to see the first wide-release family film in weeks: Earth to Echo, an E.T. derivative (three boys find a lonely alien) employing the tired found-footage technique. Disney produced the picture, then dropped it. For parents, the Disney brand might have been a Seal of Approval, and a marketing brand. Instead, Relativity released Echo, and flailed to a $8.4-million weekend. The LEGO Movie and Maleficent are the only family-angled movies this year to earn at least $150 million.

7. Blame Obama. Why not? The President gets the finger (sometimes just the middle one) pointed at him for all the country’s woes. Dinesh D’Souza detected a virulent anticolonialism in the Commander-in-Chief in the 2012 documentary 2016 Obama’s America, which marshaled right-wing viewers in that election year to the tune of $33.4 million — the second highest gross for any political docs (though way behind the $119.2 million cadged by Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004). For this Independence Day, D’Souza and co-director John Sullivan released America, which argues that the nation is a force for good and that, whatever leftie professors say about slavery and the Trail of Tears, we should be proud patriots.

Playing in 1,105 theaters, the movie took in $2.7 million, less than half the $6.5 million earned by 2016 in fewer houses. Somebody said that D’Souza should have worked the President’s name into the title, to ensure good business with true believers — because they don’t love America as much as they hate Obama. That’s just one more way moviemakers failed their audiences on what should have been one of the year’s biggest weekends.

TIME

Watch Tom Hanks Dance to Montell Jordan, as Recorded by Justin Bieber

This is how we do it.

Tom Hanks in a yarmulke, dancing and singing This Is How We Do It. Not something you thought you’d see? Well, then thank Justin Beiber.

The pint-sized Canadian pop star posted the video to his Instagram account Monday, while attending the wedding of his manager Scooter Braun and Yael Cohen.

The video shows Hanks dressed in a yarmulke and tallit, rocking out with the wedding band to Montell Jordan’s 1995 hit. Bieber posted more photo and video from the event, along with other guests including Ed Sheeran, Christina Perri and Carly Rae Jepsen.

TIME Music

REVIEW: Sia Confronts 1000 Forms of Fear on New Album

Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear review
Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear RCA

Sia's first album since becoming a songwriter to the stars offers an inside look at how the Top 40 sausage gets made

Fans of the quirky Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler typically fall into two camps: those who first knew her as the voice behind “Breathe Me,” a delicate but haunting song about self-harm that closed out the HBO series Six Feet Under in one of television’s finest song placements ever; and those who know her as the go-to songwriter for today’s pop heavyweights, the one responsible for a string of Top 10 Billboard hits including David Guetta’s “Titanium” and Rihanna’s “Diamonds.”

Those two sides of her career have never been more at odds than in recent years. As the raspy-voiced 38-year-old has become a hit-maker for the likes of Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue and more, she’s also become even more insistent on avoiding the fame and attention that nearly drove her to a drug overdose in 2010. Sia does minimal press and refuses to be photographed, posing on the cover of Billboard with a paper bag over her head. She does promotional performances for her new album, 1000 Forms of Fear (out now), with her back to the audience while Lena Dunham and others dance in wigs styled after the singer’s signature haircut, a blonde bob with blunt bangs. Sia is both complicit in the music industry machine and trying to undermine it at the same time.

But instead of being a contradiction, Sia’s sixth studio album — which contains her poppiest material to date, if only because she is so much of pop music today — seems intent on reconciling these two sides of her career. 1000 Forms of Fear is an experiment in how to make a solid, cohesive pop album without actually being a pop star.

For the most part, it works. Sia’s longtime collaborator Greg Kurstin, who, like her, has worked alongside many of pop’s biggest names (including Lily Allen, Pink and Kelly Clarkson), produced the album. His slick, airtight production contrasts nicely with the rawness of Sia’s voice. She belts, yelps, mumbles and occasionally breaks — a subtle reminder that her impressive vocal acrobatics need no help from studio magic — across the album’s consistent dozen tracks.

But, assembled, there’s something mechanically efficient about their output. Sia is known for knocking out hit songs in a matter of minutes — “Diamonds” in 14, “Titanium” in 40 — and she blows through verses, pre-choruses, massive wailing hooks and bridges with perhaps a little too much faith in the template of successful pop songs. Kurstin’s production style, which employs whooshing cues and drum fills that signal incoming choruses before blasting listeners with impenetrable walls of sound, also guides fans along each track’s requisite highs and lows. The two aren’t slaves to formulas, but they’re aware of them, creating the kind of melodramatic power ballads that are simple and obvious in their ambitions, even when their subject matter is as messy as the smeared makeup she sings about in “Big Girls Cry.”

These get-the-job-done vibes of 1000 Forms of Fear may be what hold the album back. It’s hard not to think of several tracks as leftovers cranked out for other artists in Sia’s one-woman hit factory. (“Fire Meets Gasoline,” in particular, sounds perfectly tailored to Rihanna). The album’s imagery — repeated references to stabbing knives and open flames — may allude to the struggles she opened up about in a recent New York Times profile, but listeners won’t walk away from 1000 Forms of Fear knowing much more about the singer than they did before (besides her favorite metaphors). That’s perfectly okay. She’s under no obligation to really spill her guts, and keeping her subjects at an arm’s length, evoking tumultuous times while letting listeners fill in the blanks, is probably what makes her such an in-demand supplier of underdog empowerment anthems. It does, however, also turn her album into something of an inside look at how the Top 40 sausage gets made. By shifting the spotlight away from herself, she brings the work involved to the forefront.

So which side wins out, the could-be pop star or the woman eager to stay behind the scenes? It’s a toss-up, as the album’s stand-out tracks are either the most stripped down (“Fair Game,” “Eye of the Needle”) or the most over-the-top, like “Elastic Heart” (an epic Diplo collaboration appropriately included on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack) and lead single “Chandelier” (a cry-for-help story disguised as a YOLO-pop anthem trying to hold its liquor). Maybe Sia can have it both ways, but given the way “Chandelier” and its dizzying high notes tower over the rest of the album, it’s clear she hasn’t always kept the best for herself.

Perhaps she prefers it that way: Sia could be the star of the show, but only if she wanted to be.

TIME Television

REVIEW: The Dark Optimism of Orange Is the New Black Season Two

JOJO WHILDEN/NETFLIX

The prison drama became committed to the idea that any of its characters had enough complexity to carry a story. (Well, almost any character. Sorry, Larry.)

Note: Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black debuted June 6; I wrote a pre-air review based on six episodes then. As I wrote last year, it’s hard to gauge the best time to review a full Netflix season–some people binge it in a weekend, some take all summer, and in the meantime there’s plenty of other TV to cover. I worked my way through season 2 gradually, and now seemed as good a time as any. Spoilers for the full season follow:

The first season of Orange Is the New Black was about finding the good within the bad–giving depth and humanity to prisoners, who are usually portrayed as unambiguous threats or monsters. The second season–darker, deeper, more ambitious–is in many ways about how the bad coexists with the good: within an institution, within a population, and very often within the same person. The season 2 finale, “We Have Manners. We’re Polite,” built on this theme with a conclusion that was stark, sad–and yet oddly exhilarating and even hopeful, daring to ask whether, at least once in a while, the good in Litchfield and its residents could outweigh the bad.

This was a question that OITNB could really only ask after taking the first season to set it up. As I wrote in reviewing that season, the show’s first year introduced us to Litch through Piper Chapman’s new, terrified eyes, then spent much of the year refuting and complicating her first, frightened impressions. By the time we heard Larry on public radio, repeating the early, broad-strokes descriptions of the inmates he’d heard from Piper, we had come to see much more of the women. They weren’t innocents, but they had lives, codes, histories–and in many cases, runs of bad choices and rotten luck.

OITNB could have stayed in that mode and done well enough for itself. Instead, season 2 introduced more conflict and, well, criminality, through the person of Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), hustler, queenpin and psychological puppeteer extraordinaire. Toussaint played Vee like a machine built to sense flaws and sniff out weakness: in the prison’s safeguards, in the various cliques and clans, and in the individual black women she used to build her power base. Vee was like a reverse Oz (the wizard, not the HBO prison drama) building her gang by appealing to what they lacked within: she saw that Suzanne wanted self-esteem, Black Cindy wanted to live large, Taystee still wanted Vee’s maternal approval and Poussey wanted Taystee’s friendship.

Jenji Kohan and her crew were smart to see that the Taystee-Poussey relationship was one of the greatest things they created in season 1, and putting it in jeopardy provided a greater dramatic drive to season 2 than any physical threat could. It hurt seeing Vee drive a wedge between them–any Celebrity team that good should never be torn asunder!–just as it hurt seeing her turn the lost, clearly smart Suzanne into an attack puppy who prided herself on being the “muscle” to Vee’s “brains.” (Speaking of which, kudos to Uzo Aduba for her quasi-Shakespearean performance in that finale: “Don’t! You! Dare! Speak ill of her!”)

Vee functioned as a catalyst to bring conflict into Litchfield, and yet season 2, admirably, didn’t shy away from the fact that its characters had real and serious flaws, and many of them were in prison with good reason. In the season 1 flashbacks, the women tended to be drawn as victims of circumstance and bad relationships. In season 2, we saw that they could be greedy, vicious and vain too. And yet, as the finale’s title underscored, there are limits, rules, boundaries even within this community. There are manners, and Vee’s downfall came out about essentially because, as Rosa put it, she was “rude, that one.” (It worked a bit too neatly, honestly; the resolution of the finale depended too much on Vee, portrayed as a mastermind through the entire season, suddenly becoming a hubristic idiot, quickly overreaching and alienating her entire small support crew all at once. But OITNB‘s strength has never been in the plotting.) And yet even Vee was enjoyable to have around in her own way, as when she justified selling out Crazy Eyes in a Stringer Bell-like business analogy: “Is it cold for Amazon to underprice books just to gain market share?”

This all became possible because the show had expanded its ensemble so far beyond Piper that it didn’t really feel like itself until it returned to Litchfield (without her) in the second episode. It was no longer a fish-out-of-water story but an examination of power and group dynamics and the way rules and economies spring up in the barest of circumstances. I actually liked Piper, and Taylor Schilling, better in season 2 as simply part of an ensemble–to the extent that I was if anything dubious of the way the finale seemed to be setting up to bring Alex back as a central character again.

At the same time, the season both expanded its critique of the prison and deepened its portrayals of the people working within it: Caputo, Healy, even the venal Figueroa were shown as being capable of caring and having ideals–even if, as Fig said, “This place’ll beat them out of you quick.” The finale quickly made clear that even if Caputo has better intentions, he’s not necessarily going to get better results. (And he is, after all, still the sleaze who will take desperate oral sex from Fig with no intention of letting her off the hook.)

It’s a complicated balancing act, made tougher by OITNB‘s tonal juggling. Whatever it submits as at the Emmys, OITNB is both comedy and drama at once, and often that means asking us to accept the same characters to behave broadly in some episodes and with nuance in others–and to puzzle out where the comedy and drama are in the same scene. (The Fig-Caputo oral sex scene, for instance, might have been played as a horrific violation or as a comeuppance; instead, OITNB set it down uneasily between the two–in a way that might have generated more controversy if another show had done it.) It’s not easy. But like many great ensemble shows before it–Deadwood, The Wire–the show is dedicated to the idea that just about any supporting character in one episode could be the lead another time.

Or almost any. If there was one universal criticism of the second season, it was that Larry–and by extension, every element of Piper’s life and family outside the prison–needs to go. At this point I have to agree, not because the characters and their stories can’t be interesting, but because for whatever reason OITNB is not interested in giving them the same depth of characterization it gives to the rest of its prisoners and even its prison guards. It’s as if Piper’s friends and her martini-chilly WASP family are the whipping boys (and girls) for the audience’s own First World Problems–if we can see the Chapman clan’s issues as being trivial in comparison to the sewage showers and shankings at Litchfield, we don’t have to feel trivial ourselves. In any case, if the show isn’t going to flesh out the characters in this storyline like the others, it might as well ditch them–it has enough other stories to keep it busy for years.

There was no better proof of that last point than the fact that “We Have Manners” ended up on the moving story of Rosa, a character who was barely a background figure when the show began. As she runs down Vee to the sound of Blue Öyster Cult and sirens, she’s freed, not rehabilitated. She is who she is: a bank robber, who did it because she liked it, she was good at it and it was a–literally–sexual charge. You can see that, and still be glad that she’s trying to die on her own terms, or not: OITNB leaves it to you. Either way, though, it’s a surprisingly hopeful ending, as much as a terminal cancer patient running down someone with a stolen van can be: it holds out the possibility, if not of redemption, at least that occasionally the best in Litchfield can overcome the worst in it.

It doesn’t look, in the end, like Rosa is going to be able to outrun the law, or the Reaper, for very long after that final cut to orange. But I suspect, and hope, that OITNB has got plenty left in its tank.

TIME celebrity

Halle Berry Admits She Believes in Aliens

Bill Clinton agrees

Halle Berry, who plays an astronaut in the new CBS sci-fi thriller Extant, told David Letterman Monday night that she believes in life on other planets.

“I don’t believe we are the only species in existence,” Berry said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “My ego doesn’t tell me that we’re the only ones who survived … it might take us 20 years to get to those other life forms, but I think they are out there.”

Berry keeps pretty good company in going on late night television to admit extraterrestrial ideology. Former President Bill Clinton told Jimmy Kimmel in April that he believes there’s something else out there.

“If we were visited someday I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “I just hope it’s not like Independence Day.” (TIME’s Jeff Kluger argued that the 42nd president was talking sense.)

Extant will premiere Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT. Berry plays a pregnant astronaut who has been in space for a year — which draws a lot of questions about who, or what, the father might be.

[THR]

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Just Published a New Harry Potter Story

JK Rowling Hosts Fundraising Event For Charity 'Lumos'
Joanne "JK" Rowling attends a charity evening hosted by JK Rowling to raise funds for 'Lumos' a charity helping to reunite children in care with their families in Eastern Europe at Warner Bros Studios on November 9, 2013 in London, England. Danny E. Martindale--Getty Images

On her website Pottermore!

Nearly seven years after publishing the final book in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling has given fans an update on the beloved wizard in new writing published to her website Pottermore.

In the new story, written as a gossip-column dispatch from Potter character Rita Skeeter in the Daily Prophet, Harry is now a 30-something with a mysterious cut on his cheek, as well as “a couple of threads of silver” in his hair. He is also married to Ron Weasley’s sister, Ginny Potter, who is now a journalist. Ron, of course, is married to Hermione Granger, while Skeeter writes that his “famous ginger hair appears to be thinning slightly.”

Job-wise, it appears that the three friends all worked together in the Ministry of Magic, though Ron left his job to “co-manage the highly successful wizarding joke emporium Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.” Meanwhile, Hermione — “the femme fatale of the group,” according to Skeeter — is the deputy head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

The update appears in a series of Quidditch World Cup pieces that Rowling has posted to Pottermore to coincide with the World Cup in Brazil. However, this is the first time Rowling has written about her beloved characters as adults since the final Potter book, which likely explains why the website crashed intermittently Tuesday morning.

 

TIME Video Games

Here Are the 15 Best Games of 2014 (So Far)

As we slide pass the year's halfway mark, let's glance back at some of the strongest games to grace 2014 so far.

With E3 in our rearview mirrors, everyone’s laser-locked on up-and-comers like Destiny, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Grand Theft Auto V remastered this holiday, but 2014’s been a pretty solid year for gaming so far. Here’s our list of picks so far.

  • Bravely Default

    So what if it’s basically Final Fantasy V reimagined, or that the game’s latter half has serious shortcomings if you’re not a fan of repetitive filler? Bravely Default stands as a love letter to fans of fantasy games that eschew restrictive D&D-style class systems and make no apologies for combat mechanics that unfurl turn by turn, though in Bravely Default‘s case, the latter design vamp seems novel enough: a hedging system, whereby you can either save or deficit spend battle points against enemies.

    Nintendo 3DS

  • Child of Light

    Ubisoft’s budget-priced side-scrolling fable — told using poetic stanzas — riffs on roleplaying tropes while serving up an evocative, hand-drawn fantasy pastiche with traces of Yoshitaka Amano and Hayao Miyazaki. It’s an experience that deftly melds its painstakingly painting-like environs and allegorical fable-inspired narrative to a first-rate battle system: one unapologetically inspired by Final Fantasy-style roleplaying games, but with its own hidden depths and wrinkles.

    PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PS Vita

  • Dark Souls 2

    Does it matter whether Dark Souls 2 is the greater (or lesser) Dark Souls? It shouldn’t — not when it’s this good. Series newcomers Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura recapture most of what makes Dark Souls feel like a Dark Souls, scaffolding to foundation, the world swathed in plaintive John Barry-ish piano strains, melancholy lighting and baffling alien architecture. Ironically risk-averse, the sequel plays like an extended version of the original moody hack-and-slash.

    PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

    Everything’s lovably off-kilter and kaleidoscopic in Nintendo’s throwback Donkey Kong Country platformer, which tills well-plowed ground, but deftly. It’s not the breakthrough Wii U game Mario Kart 8 turned out to be, so much as a reminder that games like this can still be guilty pleasures if you’re not allergic to throwback side-scrollers replete with clever puzzling twists.

    Wii U

  • Entwined

    You can’t really lose in Entwined, you just swing back and forth along a tug-of-rope-style progress meter, which fits the game on a shelf somewhere between “relaxation exercise” and “pattern puzzler.” The goal is to unite an origami-like fish and a bird, which you do by piloting each discretely with left and right thumbsticks through target chains. The trick is getting your single-tasking brain to coordinate those left and right actions simultaneously.

    PS4, PS3, PS Vita

  • Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

    Part of the allure of Blizzard rolling its bejeweled horse carriage through the hoof-tramped mud of a played-out genre is the Blizzard name. And that’s what you’ll get in this free-to-play confectionary: an otherwise vanilla collectible card game wrapped up in Blizzard’s trademark audio-visual razzle-dazzle. Playing Hearthstone is too easy and compulsive not to play Hearthstone, which is why the game’s clocked over 10 million accounts since it launched in March 2014.

    PC, iPad

  • Infamous: Second Son

    Infamous: Second Son gets unfairly compared to Grand Theft Auto V because they’re both lazily categorized as “open world” games. But Infamous: Second Son is about letting you do crazy, cathartic, building-bounding superhero stuff in the best-looking metropolis-playground yet devised for a video game (until GTA V remastered arrives late this year, anyway). That, and developer Sucker Punch spins a decent yarn with more than passing emotional resonance, thanks in part to visual technology that allowed it to craft character performances even more lifelike than the ones being touted in Activision’s ballyhooed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare spots.

    PS4

  • Mario Kart 8

    Imagine a carnival of race tropes, a grab bag of driver profiles, tactics and race types, a melange of little gameplay iterations and configuration tweaks and “Holy crap, I’m racing up and down that?” moments jammed into a single game. To sum up my affection for this best-of-all-Nintendo’s-Mario-Karts-to-date in a few words: lavish, kaleidoscopic, gasp-inducing, ingenious, exotic, balletic and — let’s switch from words to statements — something worth playing for a long, long time.

    Wii U

  • Nidhogg

    Remember Karateka? Nidhogg feels kind of like that: a game about dueling to your left or right with some light environmental (walls, ledges) vamping. Part of the charm’s in the pixellated look, of course, coupled with the overblown kinetic scenery and crazed, oscillating backgrounds teeming with strange, wriggling creatures.

    PC

  • Shovel Knight

    Shovel Knight would have been a winner had it arrived back in the 1980s alongside obvious inspirations, like DuckTales for the original Nintendo. Bask in its unabashed genuflection to 1980s game design tropes. Bathe in its classic NES color palette. Chuckle at the notion of a horn-helmed knight nobly brandishing a sharpened spade he can bounce on like a pogo stick. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Faulkner would have understood (and probably played) Shovel Knight.

    PC, Wii U, 3DS

  • South Park: The Stick of Truth

    No one expected much from this oft-delayed South Park tie-in, but Obsidian delivered the goods: a comedy roleplaying game that lets you explore the looney, deftly satirical world Trey Parker and Matt Stone built. And the funny stuff’s really funny for a change, not just funny-for-a-video-game.

    PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Titanfall

    Titanfall is for that certain kind of highly competitive someone with more of an e-sports mentality. If that’s you, Titanfall plays like hitting the jackpot. It’s not a galvanic shift in shooter-dom, it’s about placating highly competitive, multiplayer-only, twitchy shooter wonks with an oiled smorgasbord of shooter tropes and tactical wrinkles.

    PC, Xbox One

  • Transistor

    Transistor may not be quite up to Bastion‘s sky-high standards, but it’s still an interesting foray for developer Supergiant Games. In some ways it’s bolder, shifting its focus from Bastion‘s clever narrative payouts to a complex turn-based battle system that reads, literally, like a stack of math equations. The tactical engine suffers slightly in asking that you make exacting choices using an inexact isometric interface, but on balance, it gains more than it loses for trying.

    PC, PS4

  • Watch Dogs

    Watch Dogs was supposed to be this grand genre-bending hacking game, but you’ll do almost nothing of the sort. That’s a good thing, though what you do instead — mostly shooting, sneaking and speeding around a fantasy version of Chicago — dithers between inspired and imitative. The reason to play Watch Dogs isn’t its forgettable story, its boring lead character, or its dull side-activities, but the battles, where you’ll hop around the field disembodied, zipping camera to camera like a cyber-poltergeist, triggering hazards or distractions — like cranking the volume in a guard’s headset to ear-splitting levels or pulling the virtual pin on someone’s belted grenade. It’s combat through a laboratory lens, and a blast every time.

    PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U

  • Wolfenstein: The New Order

    At times, Wolfenstein: The New Order feels as calculated and observant as BioShock, if in the end, less ambitious. When it swerves from camp to cool cogitation, it does so knowingly, the latter moments unfurling during interludes spent wandering a resistance base chatting up other resistance members, your patriotic gusto threatened by a mirror MachineGames keeps holding up. It’s that unexpected attention to The New Order‘s world-building that makes this single-player-only game more than just a shooting gallery with a few new tricks — the sort of camaraderie and reflection in adversity, steeped in creeping dread and philosophical exposition, that made something like The Matrix more than just an expo for bullet time.

    PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360

TIME Music

Watch Miley Cyrus and The Flaming Lips’ Insane New Video (NSFW)

The rock group teamed up with the controversial pop star -- and Moby -- to film their new video "Blonde SuperFreak Steals the Magic Brain"

How much does Miley Cyrus love The Flaming Lips? Apparently so much that the recently bed-ridden pop star didn’t let an averse reaction to an antibiotic stop her from appearing in the group’s trippy new video.

The video is called “Blonde SuperFreak Steals the Magic Brain,” according to Rolling Stone, which premiered the video. The footage features Cyrus and Moby fighting for possession of John F. Kennedy’s brain. (Yes, really.)

“This is the video we originally intended to be for a song that has a reference to the drug LSD,” singer Wayne Coyne told Rolling Stone. “We were lucky enough to get a couple of hours with a bedridden Miley Cyrus. And even though she was still quite ill, she was full of laughs and great absurd suggestions.”

The video is definitely out there, but the collaboration between Cyrus and The Flaming Lips isn’t all that surprising. During Miley’s Bangerz tour Los Angeles stop back in February, band members Coyne and Steven Drozd joined the “Wrecking Ball” singer on-stage.

[Rolling Stone]

TIME China

How Transformers 4 Became the No. 1 Film in Chinese History

A 21-foot tall model of the Transformers character Optimus Prime is displayed on the red carpet before the world premiere of the film "Transformers: Age of Extinction" in Hong Kong
A model of the character Optimus Prime is displayed on the red carpet before the world premiere of Transformers: Age of Extinction in Hong Kong on June 19, 2014 Siu Chiu—Reuters

It's not as simple as a national appreciation for universally scorned movies

The latest film in Michael Bay’s Transformers series was largely set in China, had its premiere in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong and is now the highest-grossing film in the country’s history, having earned $222.74 million in ticket sales in less than two weeks.

It dethrones James Cameron’s Avatar, which made slightly less when it premiered in early 2010.

Given that critical reaction to Transformers: Age of Extinction has been almost conspiratorially negative across the board — Richard Roeper called it “relentless,” and not as a compliment; Peter Travers at Rolling Stone refused to give it even one star — much of the coverage of its success in China has been, well, pretty darn condescending: “Chinese people are dazzled by anything Hollywood, etc.”

The reality is more complex. If the bar of cinematic quality is indeed set lower in China, the tastes of its 1.3 billion people aren’t necessarily to blame. The Chinese Communist Party is exceedingly picky about the films screened in the country, especially in the case of foreign cinema; so if a movie does well, one can ultimately thank the government.

The long and the short of it: Bay made a movie set and filmed in China, starring Chinese actors, using Chinese resources and pushing Chinese products, and in exchange, the movie gets a timely premiere across the country’s 18,000-plus movie screens.

And timely is the operative word here. According to a diligently researched report from Quartz, Transformers: Age of Extinction is one of the few Western blockbusters to arrive in China contemporaneously with its premiere in the U.S. and elsewhere — thereby minimizing the market opportunity typically seized by bootleggers hawking pirated copies and so boosting box-office sales.

Some critics have scoffed at the outcome of the necessary negotiations, though, calling it at best clumsy — one overt product placement features a man in the middle of Texas withdrawing cash from a China Construction Bank ATM — and at worst just plain shameless — as car robots terrorize semiautonomous Hong Kong, one policeman insists on “[calling] the central government for help.” But as China’s box-office market is the largest outside of North America, and expected to usurp the U.S. as the biggest in the world by the end of the decade, Mr. Bay, we can assume, is laughing all the way to the bank.

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