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.

"Can't you just take me to juvie?"

The book Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925 was published by the Museum of Modern Art in 2012, accompanying an exhibit that displayed the early, formative works of acknowledged masters like Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Robert Delaunay. But missing from the dozens of names included is Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist whose abstract work predates Kandinsky's fully abstract compositions yet never got a fraction of their recognition. There are vanishingly few women included in the book at all, much less anyone who could be understood as a pioneer.

If you're going to put yourself at the head of a modern-day religious cult, you have to look the part, and Michiel Huisman, as the fanatical "Shepherd" in the horror-adjacent drama The Other Lamb, is right out of Central Casting. As the self-appointed leader of "The Flock," a rogue sect in search of "Eden" in the Pacific Northwest, Huisman looks like the cover model for Messianic Weekly, Christ-like in his beard and flowing locks, but with an unmistakably sinful smolder.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

In the early-to-mid 2000s, mainstream horror was dominated by series like Saw, Hostel, and Final Destination, each telling stories of torture and mechanized death that mostly repulsed critics, but reflected the darkening mood of the country more than other studio films dared. Look past their can-you-top-this grisliness and they tap into the common fear that young people have no control over their own destiny, that they've given themselves over to some faceless, malevolent force that's really pulling the strings.

When movies go wrong, it usually happens gradually, a slow devolution borne of a series of missteps or a conceit that couldn't be sustained over the long haul. With Ben is Back, the shift is remarkably sudden, like Wile E. Coyote speeding off the edge of a cliff, hovering for just a second, and then plummeting into the canyon below.

A normal way for fans to appreciate Edgar Wright's 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead is to watch it again and perhaps discover a few grace notes they missed the first or second or third time around. But there's something to be said for considering it through the prism of slavish imitator like Anna and the Apocalypse, a Scottish genre mash-up that plays like a piece of fan art, only with a musical component added.

In Ralph Breaks the Internet, a hyperconnected sequel to the animated hit Wreck-It Ralph, the possibilities of a Disney/Star Wars/Marvel crossover are breathlessly celebrated while fragile masculinity threatens to destroy the world. Cultural anthologists of the future will require no carbon dating to recognize this film as extremely 2018.

Since Donald Trump was elected president, there's been a pandemic of newspaper pieces in which a reporter sits down at a Midwest diner, polls a gaggle of older white voters about the latest Trump provocation, and comes away with the not-so-shocking conclusion that they're still in firm support. What's missing from these drive-by features is any deeper sense of how its subjects actually live or how they interact with their communities, so they're defined entirely by their red-state intransigence.

There's a powerful juvenile allure to the raunchy puppets in The Happytime Murders, just as there was in cruder predecessors like Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles or Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America: World Police. After all, children who grew up on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and their own collections of plush lovies cross a short bridge to adolescence, when they learn all the swear words and obscure sexual maneuvers in the lexicon.

In order to shoot the underwater sequences in 1989's The Abyss, director James Cameron converted a turbine pit and a containment vessel at an abandoned nuclear power plant into giant tanks, each holding millions of gallons of water. Imagine those same containment vessels with stems on the bottom and that roughly suggests the white wine budget for Book Club, a benign comedy where the pours are generous and the innuendo is crisp and full-bodied, with a slightly nutty bouquet.

There's a sequence in the documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami that follows the pop-art icon before, during, and after a pre-recorded TV performance she's giving in front of a studio audience in France. As she makes her way toward the stage in a black corset, high heels, and a lacy purple headdress that masks her eyes — an amusing contrast with the lumpen roadies and stagehands she greets along the way — Jones frets about the possibility of the set being tacky.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and Burt Reynolds took the one more traveled by, peeling through the backwoods South in a black Pontiac Trans Am with Sheriff Buford T. Justice on his tail. For a stretch in the mid-1970s, when Hollywood was overrun by film-school auteurs making high art on the studio dime, Reynolds was cashing checks on unpretentious commercial hits like The Longest Yard, Smokey and the Bandit, Semi-Tough, and Hooper.

Over the past few months, the roll-out of several high-profile Netflix releases has revealed a predilection for expensive, hard-edged, futuristic genre fare, starting with the human-alien buddy picture Bright, continuing with the TV series Altered Carbon and the surprise post-Super Bowl unveiling of The Cloverfield Paradox. None of them opened to much critical acclaim and Netflix is notoriously cagey about sharing its numbers, but the company has found a niche market that its algorithm can reinforce.

The maze-running part of The Maze Runner trilogy wrapped up about two-thirds of the way into the first film, leaving it to exist only as a metaphor for fresh-faced young people getting treated like laboratory rats.

In the desert outpost of Five Keys, New Mexico in 1953, the Rainier family lives so close to the federal penitentiary that all the lights in the house flicker from the surge of a nearby electric chair. While her little brother Christian greets the occasion with boyish enthusiasm ("You're on the Hades Express, mister!"), Elise quietly sketches a vision of the man in his final moments and recites certain facts about him, like how he chose a ribeye steak for his last meal and told the witnesses to "Go to hell!" before the executioner flipped the switch.

Even the title, Phantom Thread, sets the mind reeling. The term refers to a Victorian Era phenomenon in which East London seamstresses, utterly exhausted by a long day's work, continue to go through the motions at home, sewing threads that do not exist. It also evokes the otherworldly quality of artistic creation, some divine and inexplicable force that helps bring a work to fruition.

For a simple children's story about a pacifist bull in Spain who would rather smell the flowers than charge a matador, Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand generated tremendous controversy, owing to its worldwide popularity and its date of publication, 1936, which found it caught in political crosswinds. It was banned in Franco's Spain. Hitler ordered it burned as "degenerate democratic propaganda" in Nazi Germany, though it was republished and distributed for free in the same country once the war was over, to teach children a message of peace. Gandhi was a fan. So was H.G. Wells.

Though Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is commonly cited as the worst film ever made, he released a far more compelling failure three years before with Glen or Glenda, a semi-autobiographical melodrama about a cross-dresser, played by Wood under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis." Glen or Glenda has all the staggering ineptitude of Plan 9 — most memorably, Bela Lugosi's armchair commentator shouting "Pull the string!"— but it has the added benefit of being nakedly personal, a plea for tolerance from a man who has chosen to reveal a closely guarded secret on s

Director Tomas Alfredson is in the ennui business. His films are heavy and portentous, often blanketed in the permafrost of his native Sweden and always just as chilly indoors. His 2008 breakthrough, Let the Right One In, reinvigorated the vampire myth by draining it of sensationalism and using it as an affecting metaphor for the eternal loneliness of adolescence.

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