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.

Throughout a career chronicling the poor and disenfranchised, the Belgian filmmaking duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have trained their handheld cameras on patterns of behavior, as if their characters are penned in by an invisible fence. In their 1999 breakthrough Rosetta, a 17-year-old girl has an almost feral determination to scrap for whatever odd jobs or low-wage gigs she can get to move her and her alcoholic mother out of a trailer park.

Dolittle is not a film. Dolittle is a crime scene in need of forensic analysis. Something happened here. Something terrible. Something inexplicable. Watching the film doesn't tell the whole story, because it doesn't behave like the usual errant vision, which might be chalked up to a poor conceit or some hiccups in execution. This one has been stabbed multiple times, and only a thorough behind-the-scenes examination could sort out whose fingerprints are on what hilt.

'Cats': Spay It

Dec 19, 2019

From the moment Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to set the T.S. Eliot poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to music, Cats has felt like an escalating series of dares, or a Bialystock & Bloom scheme that accidentally became one of the biggest sensations in Broadway history. It did not seem likely that a plotless revue in which cats either introduce themselves or introduce other cats would ignite public interest. Or that Grizabella's ascendence to the Heaviside Layer would last longer than the acid trip that summoned it to life.

After two seasons of its original network run, a prequel film, and a recent 18-episode revival on Showtime, many have forgotten the crushing sadness that suffused the two-hour pilot of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, to be eclipsed gradually by a more pervasive eccentricity. Here was a small town that had never experienced anything like the death of Laura Palmer, that precious girl wrapped in plastic, and its reaction was a combination of collective grief and individual peculiarity.

Farrah Fawcett (or Cheryl Ladd), Kate Jackson, Jacklyn Smith and a speaker box. Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and a speaker box. Whatever its merits as a television show or an early aughts movie franchise, Charlie's Angels has been more or less a democracy, with an emphasis on crime-fighting teamwork and an equal distribution of "Jiggle TV" lasciviousness. Fawcett and Barrymore may have been the tip of the spear, but the formula calls for a balanced trio, spurred into adventure by a disembodied male boss and their put-upon handler.

The screen history of Stephen King adaptations has for decades couched a peculiar irony: Namely, that of the dozens and dozens of films that have been produced from his work — many of them not-so-great — the author famously detested the most revered, Stanley Kubrick's 1980 version of The Shining.

For the 20 years since he read an advance copy of Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton has labored to direct an adaptation and cast himself in the lead role of Lionel Essrog, a private detective with Tourette syndrome. His tenacity in seeing the project through to the end is extraordinary, but the years haven't diminished the fundamental challenges to bringing Lethem's book to the screen.

Based on his 2013 documentary of the same name, Dan Krauss' The Kill Team follows the case of a 21-year-old Army private in Afghanistan who witnessed war crimes committed by his platoon, but failed to get the Criminal Investigation Division Command (or CID) to look into it, despite his father's help in alerting the right people. The film is a rumination on the moral and systemic failures of the military, which didn't step in promptly to investigate, but it's also about the culture of coercion and intimidation within the individual platoon itself.

As Disney continues to plunder its animated IP for live-action remakes, where these films fall on the spectrum of pointlessness has to do with how closely they adhere to the source. The remakes that simply copy the material from one format to the other, like Beauty and The Beast or Aladdin, have been consistently enervating whereas the ones that attempt a full gut rehab, like Dumbo or the excellent Pete's Dragon, at least have the benefit of an independent artistic vision. In this particular creative desert, every droplet of water counts.

Some of the funniest, most innovative comedy shows in recent years have added narrative continuity to self-contained conceits: Andy Daly's Review is about a critic who reviews life experiences, such as what it's like to be buried alive or to eat 15 pancakes, but it's also about how those experiences upend his life for the mission of reality television.

For the teenage burglars in Low Tide, a taut indie thriller composed of spare parts, robbing houses along the Jersey Shore is as much an act of class resentment as it is a bid for extra cash. Summer after summer, these townies are reminded how the other half lives, as the like-aged children of wealthy families cruise the streets in luxury cars, throw their money around for a few months, and return to the college prep courses. Meanwhile, these Jersey boys scrape together a living off odd jobs and nurse ambitions that don't travel much further than the docks.

Before finally directing his feature debut, the audacious comedy Four Lions, in 2010, director Chris Morris collaborated with Armando Iannucci on satirical news shows like "On the Hour," "The Day Today" with Steve Coogan, and "Brass Eye," a parody of current affairs newsmagazines. They would work together again when Morris directed a few episodes of Iannucci's "Veep," and Morris bounced around for a couple decades as a writer, actor, and/or producer of various sitcoms and radio programs, often with a sharp political bent.

When a running joke becomes a "Kick Me" sign: In It Chapter Two, James McAvoy stars as an author and screenwriter who's first seen on a Hollywood movie set, tweaking an adaptation of a horror opus that appears to be as long as It, Stephen King's cinder-block of a novel. At issue is the ending. Nobody likes his endings — not the studio, not the director who lied to him about liking it, not even his wife.

In H.G. Clouzot's classic 1953 thriller The Wages of Fear, four desperate European men are hired by an American oil company to transport two trucks full of nitroglycerin over a rocky mountain pass to a raging fire on the other side, which their cargo will help extinguish. It's pretty close to a suicide mission: Should either of the trucks hit a divot or a rock, or slide away from the narrow, unpaved road, the unstable liquid will explode. Clouzot turns their predicament into a gnawing-to-the-cuticles nail-biter, and the film was a huge critical and commercial hit, but the U.S.

Since American Pie reconfigured Porky's 20 years ago, the modern sex comedy has abided by a tacit formula. Call it the sweetness-to-raunch ratio. It would be completely unacceptable for comedies about woefully inexperienced dudes to be only about their single-minded pursuit of gratification, so it has to be cut with material about friendship or the tender feelings they can access in vulnerable moments. And age is the key factor: the younger the dudes, the more sweetness required.

The "law of the instrument," sometimes referred to as "Maslow's hammer," is a theory of cognitive bias that's summed up in this useful expression: "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

In the interview clip that opens Mike Wallace is Here, a documentary about the legendarily feisty 60 Minutes interrogator, Bill O'Reilly is shown a clip where he berates his guests, telling most of them to "shut up." To Wallace, this is evidence that O'Reilly is more an Op-ed columnist than a journalist, interested in other voices only as a means to assert his own. O'Reilly gives two telling, if contradictory, responses at once: "You're a dinosaur," he says. And then "You're the driving force behind my career."

Hamlet has been sliced and diced dozens of different ways on screen, from the hidebound classicism of Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh's versions to Ethan Hawke giving the "To be or not to be" soliloquy in the "Action" section of a Blockbuster Video. But the play is malleable only so long as Shakespeare's language and plotting are preserved, because tinkering with the greatest work in Western literature is dangerous business, like staring directly into the sun.

If Hollywood studios are content to cannibalize the vaults in search of new hits, the first thing they should remember is why the original films were hits in the first place. For all the bells and whistles that went along with the original 1997 Men in Black, with its cutting-edge alien effects, the reason it works is extremely old-fashioned, rooted in an effective cross-pollination between fish-out-of-water comedy and mismatched buddy comedy.

When the Russian rock musical Leto premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it arrived without its director, Kirill Serebrennikov, who was arrested for embezzling about $2 million in state money intended for the avant-garde theater he operates. The arts community in Moscow widely contends that the charges are politically motivated, part of a crackdown on creative freedoms orchestrated by Vladimir Putin and other government officials.

In one of his earliest (and best) films, the 1974 cult musical Phantom of the Paradise, director Brian De Palma conjured a self-fulfilling prophecy, telling the story of an artist whose personal vision is co-opted and commercialized by industry star-makers while he's doomed to haunt the rafters.

Here's the scam that Penny Rust, a small-time con artist played by Rebel Wilson, runs in the opening scene of The Hustle: A sleazy bro walks into a bar, expecting to meet a beautiful, buxom woman he has spent a month courting on a dating app. Instead, he's greeted by Penny, who introduces herself as the woman's sister and makes up some cockamamie story about how her sister is really flat-chested but needs only $500 to get the augmentation to become the stunner he expected. And she takes Venmo if it's convenient to him.

There are two fantasies at play in Long Shot, a political rom-com about a scruffy, unemployed journalist and his unlikely relationship with the glamorous Secretary of State who used to be his babysitter. The first is more or less the same formula its star, Seth Rogen, rode to stardom over a decade ago in Knocked Up, in which he played the unfortunate half of a one-night stand that leads to pregnancy and a deeper commitment to a more attractive, responsible, career-oriented woman.

Released in 1895, the Lumière brothers' "Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon" is generally credited as the first motion picture ever made, and it's exactly what the title suggests: A 46-second static shot of workers leaving a factory. There have been claims of its significance as the basis for a realist or documentary tradition in cinema, but it was more simply a technical demonstration of what would evolve into the great art form of the 20th century and beyond. The development of film as a storytelling medium would take a little time.

The films of Alex Ross Perry thrive on discord, whether their rancor is couched in the high-falutin' language and privilege of literary comedy, as in Listen Up Philip, or festering in the hothouse confinement of Queen of Earth. Even Perry's last film, the uncharacteristically subdued slice-of-life Golden Exits, positioned itself as a subtle challenge for audiences to get on its wavelength.

There's so much to admire about Us, Jordan Peele's muscular follow-up to Get Out, that it's worth appreciating what Peele does when the ebb-and-flow of horror tension reaches low tide. Many of the most celebrated horror maestros are hailed for their big, atmospheric set-pieces, but getting to those moments can often feel like crude narrative patchwork, the listless verses before a killer chorus.

During the first eight years of a 20-year filmmaking ban imposed by the Iranian government, Jafar Panahi has been unable to leave the country, but he keeps pushing his creative limits, proving the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. His first film under the ban, cagily titled This is Not a Film, was produced under house arrest and smuggled to Cannes on a flash drive embedded in a birthday cake.

A sort of Look Who's Talking for grown-ups, Nancy Meyers' hit 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want now feels like a turn-of-the-millennium relic, recalling a time when Mel Gibson's smirking machismo was considered cute, like an office project worth undertaking. And the end result of that project was Gibson's character, an advertising executive, learning to understand women so he could better sell products to them.

There's a charming little subset of heist films about elderly men pulling off bank jobs, often out of boredom, and the authorities struggling to reconcile these crafty old geezers with the much younger hoodlums they might have expected. Just last year, Robert Redford evoked his Sundance Kid days by playing a genteel stickup artist in The Old Man & the Gun.

Framed through a narrow crack in an adjacent doorway, the opening scene of The Heiresses, a subtle and perceptive character study from Paraguay, plays out from the perspective of a middle-aged woman as strangers pick their way through her dining room. Many of the items are for sale, due to a financial crisis that's threatening her upper-class lifestyle, and the first-person camera seems to quake with anxiety.

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