1. HBO’s Game of Thrones concluded its fourth season last month, and the series won’t be back until 2015. But if the idea of going that long without seeing a Lannister or a Stark sounds too painful, why not check out a movie featuring one of Game of Thrones' many talented actors? All month, we'll be counting down movies starring Game of Thrones cast members. This week: the unsettling period horror movie Black Death.

    I’ve always wondered why Hollywood sets so many horror movies in the modern day. How can you be scared when a character can just turn on a lamp to see what’s hiding in the dark, or respond to a bump in the night by picking up a cell phone and calling the police?

    Period horror movies can be hard to come by, and the ones that do make it through the system tend to be bogged down by bad, anachronistic scripts or laughably low budgets. But one recent horror movie that screened in just two U.S. theaters is well worth your time: Black Death, a chiller about a group of knights wandering medieval England during the height of the plague.

    Sean Bean — better known to Game of Thrones fans as Ned Stark — stars as Ulrich, a knight tasked with solving the mystery behind a small village that has inexplicably managed to avoid suffering a single plague victim. He gathers a small band of knights to learn their secret, and is deeply unsettled by the things he discovers. 

    I’ll leave you to discover Black Death's secrets for yourself, but I will reveal that the movie holds one last fun surprise for Game of Thrones fans: the presence ofanother cast member from the HBO fantasy series. You might not recognize her right away — but when you do, you’ll be full of terror.

    Your weekly streaming recommendation: Black Death

    A period horror film about a group of knights wandering medieval England during the height of the plague

     


  2. HBO’s Game of Thrones concluded its fourth season last month, and the series won’t be back until 2015. But if the idea of going that long without seeing a Lannister or a Stark sounds too painful, why not check out a movie featuring one of Game of Thrones' many talented actors? All month, we'll be counting down movies starring Game of Thrones cast members. This week: the gritty sci-fi thriller Dredd.

    At a time when even the crummiest superhero movie is all but guaranteed to gross hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide — I’m looking at you, Amazing Spider-Man 2 — there’s one recent comic-book adaptation that went criminally under-seen: Dredd, a hard-R adaptation of the British comic 2000 A.D., which is best known for introducing Judge Dredd to the world.

    Dredd is set in a futuristic dystopia in which extreme overpopulation and poverty have led to widespread crime. 

    To combat the seemingly insurmountable challenge, the government has appointed a series of “judges”: elite police officers allowed use their own discretion in dealing with criminals — including carrying out on-the-spot executions whenever they deem it necessary — while working their beats.

    The movie’s set-up might sound a little out-there — but once it gets down to brass tacks, Dredd has a refreshingly simple premise. Judge Dredd and his rookie partner, Judge Anderson, are tasked with shutting down Ma-Ma, a crime lord and drug dealer who lives at the top of a massive skyscraper, protected by her own private army. The two Judges start at the bottom of the building, take on legions of heavily armed gangsters, and fight their way, floor by floor, up to the top.

    In many ways, Dredd feels like a throwback to the brutal, hard-edged action movies that Hollywood has all but abandoned. The film’s surprisingly lush visual design and brilliantly choreographed fight scenes stand out in a way that no conventional superhero movie can match.

    And Dredd's sci-fi premise is grounded in a uniformly talented cast that takes the material seriously. Karl Urban, in particular, deserves credit for his extremely committed performance in the title role; Judge Dredd never takes off his helmet, so even fans of his work in franchises like Lord of the Rings and Star Trek aren’t likely to recognize him through his growly, scowly performance. 

    But everyone — and Game of Thrones fans in particular — will also find plenty to admire about Lena Headey’s performance as the villainous gangster Ma-Ma, which is worlds away from her smug, boozy turn as Cersei Lannister. Headey’s villainess in Dredd has a hauntingly traumatic past: as a victimized teenager prostitute, she eventually killed her pimp after he sliced up her face with a knife. But while she still bears the scars of that attack, she refuses to let it define her. Instead, she’s as chillingly stoic as she is ruthless.

    Dredd is currently available on both Netflix and Amazon Instant Video — so watch it this weekend and see how it all plays out.

    Your weekly streaming recommendation: Dredd

     

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  4. Your weekly streaming recommendation: The Station Agent

    HBO’s Game of Thrones concluded its fourth season last month, and the series won’t be back until 2015. But if the idea of going that long without seeing a Lannister or a Stark sounds too painful, why not check out a movie featuring one of Game of Thrones' many talented actors? All month, we'll be counting down movies starring Game of Thrones cast members. This week: the wonderful indie drama The Station Agent.

    Nearly 10 years before he shot to fame and earned an Emmy for his performance as the witty, boisterous Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage broke out with a very different kind of performance: the quiet, guarded protagonist at the center of Sundance sensation The Station Agent

    Dinklage stars as Finbar, a train enthusiast who inherits a small, defunct New Jersey train station from his only friend — and decides to make it his permanent place of residence. In time — and despite his own fierce resistance to the idea — he forms a pair of relationships: one with a cheery food vendor player by Bobby Cannavale, and one with a heartbroken artist played by Patricia Clarkson.

    The Station Agent is the rare movie that manages to create numerous three-dimensional characters who feel like they have rich, complex inner lives. Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale play the unlikeliest of trios in The Station Agent — three lonely people, with virtually nothing in common, who come to depend on one another.

    That might make The Station Agent sound cornier than it is — but for all the deep emotions it evokes, the film wisely avoids the trap of openly telling us why these people care for one another. There are few of the expositional monologues or emotional breakthroughs that characterize lesser dramas. By the end of the film, you’ll feel like you know all three of them so well that it’s almost painful when the story is over. The Station Agent is the rare drama that feels both totally original and universally relatable, and it shouldn’t be missed by anyone.

     


  5. Clearly, U.S. groups recognized the market for homophobia stateside was dwindling, and so tried to sell it somewhere else. Meaning that Africa isn’t just where we send our losing team’s Super Bowl shirts; it’s also where we now send our losing political philosophies.
     


  6. Game of Thrones’ fourth season didn’t end on the image A Storm of Swords’ readers thought it would. Instead, it concluded with Arya Stark sailing away. If you’ve read the books, you think you know where the story is going — but there’s no reason it needs to go there. It’s a wide-open sea, and there’s never been a better time for Game of Thrones to chart a new course.
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    Four seasons in, the HBO drama has the rare opportunity to forge its own path
     

  7. Today, in videos explicitly designed to go viral: here are a bunch of pugs dressed up as characters from HBO’s Game of Thrones

     


  8. The only problem with the Dr. Oz effect is that magic pills don’t, technically, exist, and Dr. Oz knows that.
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    John Oliver steps on Dr. Oz to savagely trample the dietary supplement industry

    Last week, the Senate grilled and shamed Dr. Mehmet Oz for hawking miracle pills on his popular syndicated TV talk show. On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver did the same, but much more amusingly.

     


  9. Trial by combat is, according to Tyrion Lannister, “deciding a man’s guilt or innocence in the eyes of the gods by having two other men hack each other to pieces.” But the practice has real medieval history.
     

  10. John Oliver interviews Stephen Hawking, Hawking wins

    Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is not just one of the smartest people on Earth; he’s also very funny

     


  11. For all her inner strength, Arya has always been a pawn in the game of thrones — and while Cersei once said the only options are “win” or “die,” Arya has embraced her newfound agency by discovering a third option: removing herself from the board altogether.
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    Sunday night’s bloody season finale saw the children of Westeros’ great houses beginning to forge their own futures.
     

  12. John Oliver burns Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in the most humiliating way imaginable

    Oliver started out by noting that Assad, “half a mass murderer and half your creepy sophomore year roommate,” had a trove of his emails leak last year, including insights into his musical taste. One of the songs Assad downloaded was from the 1990s one-hit wonder Right Said Fred.

    Oliver didn’t say which song Assad downloaded from iTunes, but it’s a safe bet it was that one hit, "I’m Too Sexy." ”It’s so frustrating that we’re powerless to do anything to hurt him,” Oliver said of Assad. Then he hit on an idea.

     


  13. For anyone who recalls the depth and potency of Ygritte and Jon’s chemistry, [her death is] a poignant moment. But it’s also a surprisingly generic one for a show that routinely goes out of its way to surprise an audience that thinks it understands the rules of fantasy fiction.
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    For all the glorious spectacle of this season’s highly anticipated action sequence, “The Watchers on the Wall” felt awfully thin