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.

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.

Depending on your perspective, Quentin Tarantino's career either comes full circle or spins its wheels with The Hateful Eight, a three-hour Western pastiche that combines the single-setting theatricality of his first feature, Reservoir Dogs, with the explosive Civil War politics of his last, Django Unchained.

The worst part of Michael Moore's landmark documentary Roger & Me is Roger and me, because it's an act of pure political theater. Donning what would become his signature working-class costume — rumpled button-down shirt, blue jeans, tennis shoes, ballcap — Moore ambles into General Motors headquarters, requesting a meeting with CEO Roger Smith. He doesn't have an appointment. He never gets past the lobby. There's no reasonable expectation that he'll ever get close to his white whale, let alone interrogate him about plant closings in Moore's hometown of Flint, Mich.

Seafaring adventures like In the Heart of the Sea do not benefit from gravitas any more than a vessel benefits from extra weight in the cargo hold. They are about white squalls, rope burns, cracked hulls, torn sails, men overboard, malevolent sea creatures, and water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. They are about hearty sailors staving off mutiny and fighting for survival, relying on their wits and resorting to desperate measures if necessary. Pause for even a moment to ruminate on spiritual or existential crises and the great ship starts to list.

Answering one kind of madness with another, Spike Lee's Chi-Raq approaches the plague of gun violence in Chicago with a staggering disregard for propriety. Just the title alone — a reference to a fatality rate that's exceeded that of American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the same period — was enough to raise the ire of the city's image-conscious elite, but that's merely a throat-clearing for the operatic fantasia to come.

After nabbing the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010—besting a pair of Cannes favorites in A Prophet and the Palme D'Or-winning The White Ribbon—the Argentinian thriller The Secret in Their Eyes enjoyed a hugely successful run in U.S. arthouses. For foreign language films, $1 million is generally considered the magic number for a serious hit; at over $6 million, this was a true blockbuster.

The Coopers have a gorgeous kitchen. And since it's Christmastime, those granite countertops are lined end to end with magazine-ready displays of food: fresh chocolate pastries, fluffy mashed potatoes, brilliant red tomatoes, a shimmering glazed ham with pineapple slices. The extended family gathers only once a year under the same roof and Charlotte (Diane Keaton), the matriarch, wants everything to be perfect. Even Rags, the family dog, has a festive red bow tied around its neck. This is all pretext for a holiday entertainment that feels more like a horror movie.

In movies, cancer tends to be more device than disease, a way of preserving a romance for the ages (e.g. Love Story, A Walk To Remember) or delivering people to a better place through the withering of a beatific martyr. There's a shred of the latter in Miss You Already, an affecting but ragged portrait of female friendship, but few movies have been so intent on showing cancer as the excruciating ordeal it is in real life.

Back in 1993, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus' documentary The War Room made political celebrities out of James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, two of the masterminds behind Bill Clinton's underdog bid for the presidency in 1992. A decade later, director Rachel Boynton caught up with Carville for another documentary, Our Brand is Crisis, which subtly cast Clintonian tactics in a much less flattering light.

"Something's happening on the Internet," yelps Kimber to her shy older sister Jerrica Benton, the instant pop sensation known as "Jem," in the live-action version of Christy Marx's mid-'80s cartoon staple Jem and the Holograms. Kimber is delighting over an acoustic video gone viral, but the line aptly describes the modus operandi of the filmmakers, who are desperate to tap into the preteen zeitgeist but haven't got a clue how to do it.

The title of Guillermo Del Toro's luxuriant gothic romance, Crimson Peak, refers to the viscous red clay that burbles to the surface at an isolated British estate — which, in the wintertime, looks like the landscape itself is bleeding out. That Del Toro, the genre maestro behind The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, essentially chose to name his movie after a bold stylistic conceit says a lot about his willingness to allow its surface pleasures to become a dominant force.

"Sometimes, friends begin as enemies. And sometimes, enemies begin as friends. Sometimes, in order to truly know how things end, we must first know how they begin."

In their absence, the twin towers have occupied such a significant place in the American conscience, it can be easy to forget they were once considered a blight on the landscape. "Like two file cabinets," snorts one New Yorker in The Walk, Robert Zemeckis' exhilarating film about Philippe Petit, the French wire-walker who tightroped across the towers as they were nearing completion in 1974.

When horror auteur Eli Roth broke into the mainstream with Hostel in 2005, he tapped into a primal fear among Americans, post-9/11, that foreign countries were inhospitable to yankees abroad. (The clever, double-meaning title could be read as "hostile.") He also helped open the floodgates for the hard-R subgenre known as "extreme horror" in some circles and "torture porn" in others, depending on where certain critics drew the line—and whether they were willing to have a line at all.

Without a second's hesitation, Alex Ross Perry's Queen of Earth dives right into its heroine's lowest moment, in medias res. The camera stays close to Catherine's face, as smears of mascara frame eyes alight with pain, anger and exhaustion; this has been going on a while and we're just seeing the end of it. Her boyfriend is breaking up with her, which is awful enough, but the timing makes it worse: She's still reeling from the death of her father, an artist who mentored her, and now the two central figures in her life are gone.

Within the mishmash of influences on the stoner action/comedy American Ultra — namely, Repo Man, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pineapple Express, and a pile of pointless hyper-violent comic books — the film nearly finds itself in the cognitive dissonance of a pothead who discovers his inner badass. There's something funny about Jesse Eisenberg, that sentient bundle of nerves, standing over the bodies of government agents he's just dispatched with a spoon and a piping hot bowl of ramen noodles.

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