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.

The audacious biopic Jackie opens on the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts in 1963, merely a week after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Though she welcomes a journalist into one of the Kennedy residences along Cape Cod, the now-former First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, has no permanent home. History has shredded her lease at The White House, which she had controversially renovated during her husband's time in office, and her belongings had been hastily shuffled to storage, like a college kid taking a break between semesters.

For yuletide misanthropes nationwide, Bad Santa has become a kind of alternative holiday tradition, the shot of Wild Turkey spiking the eggnog. What's forgotten is that Terry Zwigoff's delectably nasty 2003 comedy was a hit despite a bitter post-production struggle between Zwigoff and the studio, Miramax, which decided the film needed "heart," did reshoots (some without Zwigoff's participation), and released the film as a parent might release a soiled diaper.

Like the most dreaded Secret Santa at the office holiday party, Hollywood is a shameless re-gifter, passing off the same ensemble comedy-drama every year or two in lieu of a more thoughtful present.

The mystical world of Doctor Strange, where sorcerers clash in an interstellar battle royale, unfolds in a shape-shifting, time-bending, mind-blowing flurry of special effects. The facades of buildings turn and flip like the rows of a giant Rubik's Cube. Whole cities are vacuumed into the sky like wispy clouds of lint. Temporal loops destroy and reconstitute entire neighborhoods, which are made to seem like life itself sits on tectonic plates that no one knew existed below their feet. Reality as we know it becomes as malleable as soft clay.

On July 15th, 1974, Christine Chubbuck, a field reporter for a small news station in Sarasota, Florida, requested and received a rare on-camera appearance during a live broadcast. She read a couple of stories, including a report about a shooting the previous day at a local restaurant, but the footage queued up for segment jammed, leaving Chubbuck to move on to the next page in the stack.

Based on the Paula Hawkins' bestselling novel, The Girl on the Train is a whodunit constructed through an ornate latticework of multiple narrators, temporal jumps, blackouts, constant misdirection, and out-and-out red herrings. There are a good four or five possible suspects, each waved at the audience like a red cape in front of a bull, with the lance awaiting on the other side.

When it was announced that Oliver Stone would be making a film about Sept. 11, the news alone felt like a startling provocation: Hollywood's most political director, a man known for upending assumptions about America's history and institutions, would be commenting on the formative tragedy of the early 21st century. Perhaps Stone would indulge in the type of leftist conspiracy theory that informed his JFK or, at a minimum, seize the opportunity to critique the drastic changes in domestic and foreign policy precipitated by the attacks.

Back in 1988, Indian-American director Mira Nair burst onto the scene with her debut feature Salaam Bombay!, a ground-level portrait of Bombay street kids that brought the qualities of Italian neorealism — and its key successors, like Satyajit Ray's "Apu Trilogy" — to a nascent American independent scene. With her new film Queen of Katwe, Nair comes full circle, at least in the sense that she's again addressing the perils of extreme poverty and the resilient children who withstand it.

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.

There was a time, in the late '80s and early to mid-'90s, when Shane Black was the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood — and one of the most widely resented, too. As a 24-year-old film brat wunderkind, Black codified the buddy action-comedy with his script for Lethal Weapon, and a series of commercial hits and misses followed, including Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight.

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.

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?"

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