Scott Tobias

Scott Tobias is the film editor of The A.V. Club, the arts and entertainment section of The Onion, where he's worked as a staff writer for over a decade. His reviews have also appeared in Time Out New York, City Pages, The Village Voice, The Nashville Scene, and The Hollywood Reporter. Along with other members of the A.V. Club staff, he co-authored the 2002 interview anthology The Tenacity Of the Cockroach and the new book Inventory, a collection of pop-culture lists.

Though Tobias received a formal education at the University Of Georgia and the University Of Miami, his film education was mostly extracurricular. As a child, he would draw pictures on strips of construction paper and run them through the slats on the saloon doors separating the dining room from the kitchen. As an undergraduate, he would rearrange his class schedule in order to spend long afternoons watching classic films on the 7th floor of the UGA library. He cut his teeth writing review for student newspapers (first review: a pan of the Burt Reynolds comedy Cop and a Half) and started freelancing for the A.V. Club in early 1999.

Tobias currently resides in Chicago, where he shares a too-small apartment with his wife, his daughter, two warring cats and the pug who agitates them.

A man, a plan, a canal — Panama! The classic palindrome also doubles as tidy descriptor for Hands of Stone, a shoddy biopic about Roberto Durán, a legendary Panamanian boxer whose identity, according to the film, is tied closely to the fate of the Panama Canal.

With dark bangs draped over an eyepatch, a stack of colorful origami paper, and a two-stringed, lute-like instrument called a shamisen strapped to his back, young Kubo heads into a seaside village to put on a street performance for spare change. As he rocks the shamisen like the Joe Satriani of ancient Japan, the origami paper dances to life around him, folding into sharply edged characters and objects, and occasionally bursting into ribbons of confetti.

The economics of remakes tend to run counter to creative value: Studios eager to cash in on existing properties choose to revive their most beloved titles, which generally condemns remakes to be a pale shadow of established classics. It also handcuffs filmmakers significantly, because they can't paint too far outside the lines or risk alienating fans of the original. The ideal remake would take a flawed film with a strong premise and build something completely new and inspired around it.

The grieving process resists dramatization because its mysteries are so internalized and particular, and not easily clarified through action. We can watch the bereaved shuffle through the scenery, reviving their long-dormant smoking habit, but all that moping around reveals nothing but the dull, persistent ache that trails them like a raincloud. Someone suffering loss may cut other people out of their lives, but filmmakers don't have the luxury of closing the blinds and locking the door, too. They have to crack the window open and give us a peek inside.

Halfway through Tallulah, an unwieldy but affecting showcase for Ellen Page and Allison Janney, Lu (Page), a drifter suddenly confronted by an enormous responsibility stares up at blue sky above Washington Square Park and muses about gravity. What if it just stopped? What if we left these earthly bounds and floated off into the ether? It's not a suicidal fantasy on Lu's part, though circumstances have landed her in a terrible spot. She just wants to be free.

Making an Absolutely Fabulous movie in 2016, over 20 years after the cheerfully vulgar British sitcom became a cult sensation, seems both absurdly late and entirely in keeping with the spirit of the show. After all, Edina "Eddy" Monsoon and Patricia "Patsy" Stone, a pair of unrepentant boozers on the fringes of the fashion world, have never known cultural cachet. It only follows, then, that a big-screen version of their exploits would not be particularly hip or in-demand, but a continuation of the bawdy obliviousness that have made them such a treasure over the years.

Let's get the exposition dump out of the way first: In Drake Doremus' leaden sci-fi/romance Equals, an apocalyptic Great War has eradicated nearly all mankind and rendered 99.6% of the land uninhabitable. The surviving humans have colonized under the governing body called "The Collective," which has taken drastic steps to repopulate the species and eliminate the threat of another conflict wiping them out again.

The mediocre animated comedy The Secret Lives of Pets is based on an original idea by Chris Meledandri, the head of Illumination Entertainment, the studio responsible for the Despicable Me movies and their popular spinoff Minions. That idea?

In an age when computer-generated imagery can make anything possible, effects are expensive and miracles are cheap. So it should be said, as emphatically as possible, that the "big friendly giant" in The BFG, Steven Spielberg's ingratiating adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book, is a spectacular creation. Voiced by Mark Rylance, who won an Oscar last year for Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, the BFG interacts seamlessly with its non-digital counterparts and projects a warmth and tremulous humanity that keeps it out of the uncanny valley.

In the shimmering Tinseltown gothic of Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, beauty is a commodity both precious and volatile, subject to runway trends and the ravages of age, with just a blemish, a wrinkle, or a sliver of fat separating today's "It Girl" from tomorrow's bus back to Indiana.

In recent years, the word "fan" has become a pejorative in the movie world, linked to mobs of entitled young men torching critics of comic-book blockbusters, advancing sinister conspiracy theories, and preemptively

The most telling aspect of The Conjuring 2, the gonzo sequel to the 2013 horror smash, is that it's 133 minutes long. A running time like that is a rarity—The Exorcist, at 132 minutes, may be the strongest analogue—because the genre draws intensity from concision, and its dread-soaked mysteries are not so easily sustained over time.

The Lonely Island comedy trio — Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg — have been writing and performing together since 2000, but they didn't reach national prominence until 2005, when their Saturday Night Live digital short "Lazy Sunday" went viral. "Lazy Sunday" crystallized the troupe's winning musical formula: Ferocious, chest-thumping rap braggadocio in service of silly and self-deprecating lyrics, like eating cupcakes and seeing a matinee of The Chronicles of Narnia.

J.G. Ballard's classic 1975 science-fiction novel High-Rise is a caustic vision of modernity gone awry, witnessing a high-tech utopia of domestic convenience undone by class conflict. Located on the outskirts of London, the building of the title has 40 floors, and its amenities — a grocery store, a swimming pool and gym, high-speed elevators, and even its own primary school — discourage residents from ever leaving the premises. In other words, it's a self-contained vertical society, with the wealthy elites occupying the top floors and the cash-strapped plebeians toward the bottom.

In 2009, French director Jacques Audiard won the Grand Prix (equivalent to second place) at the Cannes Film Festival for A Prophet, a gripping thriller about a 19-year-old Algerian inmate who slowly rises to power in a prison where Muslims and Corsicans are engaged in mob warfare. Chief among the film's many virtues is Audiard's sly narrative strategy: Through the vessel of a tough, violent genre picture, he could smuggle a movie that's really about the difficulty persons of color and cultural disadvantage have in a system that's stacked against them.

With Monty Python as the exception that proves the rule, the big screen has been historically unkind to sketch comedy teams hoping their offbeat sensibility will survive the leap from five-minute bits to 90-minute features — and from cult fervor to mainstream success. Some fail outright, like Mr. Show's Run Ronnie Run or The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy, while others are embraced by fans after tanking, like The Lonely Island's Hot Rod or The State's Wet Hot American Summer.

There's a great running joke in Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room where a college journalist from the Pacific Northwest asks members of The Ain't Rights, a touring punk band from Arlington, Va., what they'd choose as their "desert island" band. The expected answers might be Black Flag or Misfits or Minor Threat, but after giving it some thought, their choices are mostly popular favorites like Prince or Madonna, street credibility be damned. The implication is that punk doesn't fully live on a record, where its energy and spontaneity are inherently bottled up.

Everyone grieves in their own way, the expression goes, and they shouldn't be judged for it. Yet an exception should be made of the grieving-by-metaphor that happens in Demolition, which finds a widower literally dismantling his empty, materialistic life, with sledgehammers and power tools, before figuratively picking up the pieces. At no point does this process seem organic, much as Jake Gyllenhaal tries to make a mystery out of this hollow soul and hint around the question of whether he truly loved his wife and the home they built together.

On the most recent Sight & Sound list of "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time" --- conducted every 10 years, it's the closest thing cinema gets to an official canon — Chantal Akerman's 1975 masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles was the only film directed by a woman, and a new addition at that. Currently tied at #35 (Psycho, Metropolis, and Sátántangó are keeping it prestigious company), Jeanne Dielman only stands to rise as its sphere of influence continues to increase.

It's been 14 years — and one failed TV spinoff — since Nia Vardalos' My Big Fat Greek Wedding became an unlikely pop phenomenon, grossing $241 million domestically in theaters alone off a $5 million budget. And it's probably taken that long to understand why it took off where so many others didn't: Celebrations of ethnic cultures were not uncommon in the indie world, especially if food was involved (e.g. Eat Drink Man Woman, Big Night, etc.) and neither were Hollywood-style romantic comedies on a shoestring.

Creatively speaking, if not financially, the Divergent series is less a franchise than a quagmire, an unwinnable war that nonetheless must be fought until the bitter end. And like all quagmires, the terrain has been hostile from the start: Based on Veronica Roth's bestselling novels, the films have tried to advance a "Chosen One" narrative through the awkward rigging of a dystopian "faction" system that, at best, only makes sense when vast swaths of the screenplay are carved out to explain it.

[This is a film it's very hard to talk about at all without spoiling at least the premise and the basic setup, but this review does its level best not to go beyond that point.]

"What does this have to do with Cloverfield?"

Based on The Taliban Shuffle, a 2011 memoir by Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot opens many fronts on the war in Afghanistan: It's a fish-out-of-water comedy, with 30 Rock's Tina Fey fumbling through a different brand of chaos; a satirical riff on the absurdities of America's military presence in the Middle East; a feminist statement on the marginalization of women in journalism and fundamentalist pockets of Afghanistan; a love story in the heightened arena of Kabul (called "the Kabubble"); and a scathing critique of American comm

All that glitters is not gold in the chintzy mythological adventure Gods of Egypt, but most of it is — a CGI jewel-box festooned with golden sands and towering spires, golden spears and diamond-spackled bracelets, and metallic wings that shimmer in the sun. Even the gods themselves, once shivved in battle, bleed out in resplendent puddles of liquid gold.

Along with recent sensations like The Babadook and It Follows, Robert Eggers' debut feature The Witch immediately joins the pantheon of great horror movies, with the caveat that it's just barely a horror movie at all. The three films, all rich in metaphor, are effective for their common association with primal fears: of motherhood (The Babadook), of sex (It Follows), and of a vengeful or possibly nonpresent God (The Witch). But of the trio, The Witch is the least inclined to play by the genre rules.

Released just two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks — which prompted Roger Ebert, in a one-star review, to offer it as a reason why Americans are hated in some parts of the world (he later apologized) — Ben Stiller's Zoolander found a country in no mood to laugh at its whimsical send-up of fashion-world excess.

It sounds like the worst sort of date-night compromise, like some terrible aesthetic treaty between a couple that fights over DVR space for Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead. And yet Seth Grahame-Smith's genre mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released to mostly kind reviews and robust sales, launching a cottage industry of horror-themed twists on literary masterpieces or popular historical figures like Sense and Sensibility (now with sea monsters) and Abraham Lincoln (now a vampire hunter).

Squeeze through the wormhole that is Jacob Gentry's indie sci-fi movie Synchronicity and nothing looks much different on the other side, just faint echoes of the past. In fact, the film could double as a metaphor for itself, a time machine constructed entirely of used components, with so little distance from its influences that it lacks its own utility.

"Country's got to figure this [expletive] out, Amahl," growls a CIA security contractor to his Libyan translator on his way out of town in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Michael Bay's account of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound. That's about the level of sophistication the film brings to the controversial incident, which cost the lives of four Americans and remains a touchstone for critics of the Obama administration.

Over 16 seasons and 368 episodes as prosecutor Jack McCoy on Law & Order, the workaday artistry of Sam Waterston was easy to take for granted, like the foundation to an especially durable piece of architecture. Such are the consequences of being part of "What's on?" for such a long stretch of his career. Yet in a different context, the same qualities Waterston brought to the role — that gentle (if occasionally righteous) vocal tone, a moral seriousness, a somewhat patrician East Coast air — can be better appreciated.

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