Ella Taylor

Ella Taylor is a freelance film critic, book reviewer and feature writer living in Los Angeles.

Born in Israel and raised in London, Taylor taught media studies at the University of Washington in Seattle; her book Prime Time Families: Television Culture in Post-War America was published by the University of California Press.

Taylor has written for Village Voice Media, the LA Weekly, The New York Times, Elle magazine and other publications, and was a regular contributor to KPCC-Los Angeles' weekly film-review show FilmWeek.

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Movie Reviews
12:15 am
Fri October 25, 2013

'Capital' Thrills In A Global Game Of Thrones

A former economics professor (Gad Elmaleh) gains entree into the house-of-cards world of high finance when he suddenly becomes head of a venerable French bank.
Cohen Media Group

Costa-Gavras' propulsive 1969 thriller Z, a thinly veiled account of the assassination of a Greek democratic politician by a military junta, shaped the political passions of many in my upstart generation. It also instilled in one impressionable young critic-to-be the conviction that the revolution would come packaged with the likes of Yves Montand as boyfriend material.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 17, 2013

In 'All Is Lost,' Plenty To Be Found

Robert Redford plays the sole character in All Is Lost; a man who is stranded at sea, on a badly damaged boat — and completely on his own.
Daniel Daza Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 1:40 pm

Other than a single shouted expletive toward the end of All Is Lost, the only words we hear from its central character — a sailor adrift alone on the Indian Ocean — come right at the beginning, in a note of apology to unknown recipients for unspecified sins.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 10, 2013

An 'Escape' Into Something Decidedly Un-Disneyfied

Isabelle (Annet Mahendru, left) and Sophie (Danielle Safady) are the young Frenchwomen who thoroughly distract Jim from his wife and children.
Mankurt Media

Originally published on Fri October 11, 2013 12:43 pm

Escape From Tomorrow, a dystopian fantasy about a laid-off worker on the lam at Disney World, comes bloated with marketing bluster: The movie, as its PR people have been trumpeting for months, was shot guerrilla-style at Disney parks in Anaheim and Orlando.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

'Out In The Dark,' Where Nothing Is Black Or White

Nicholas Jacob (Nimr) and Michael Aloni (Roy) are star-crossed lovers of a different stripe in the Israeli drama Out in the Dark.
Ran Aviad Breaking Glass Pictures

Originally published on Sun September 29, 2013 6:25 am

Paving the way for a brand-new subgenre — the gay romantic thriller — the atmospheric neo-noir Out in the Dark tells of a Palestinian university student who seeks refuge from the homophobia of his traditionalist West Bank village in the more gay-friendly atmosphere of metropolitan Tel Aviv.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 19, 2013

'Enough,' Almost, But At Least There's Gandolfini

After James Gandolfini's death this past June, the actor's turn in Enough Said, where he stars opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a man looking for a second chance at love, has taken on a tinge of the bittersweet.
Lacey Terrell Fox Searchlight

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 3:40 pm

It was writer-director Nicole Holofcener's good fortune, and her bad luck, to have snagged James Gandolfini for Enough Said, her comedy about two imminent empty-nesters dipping their toes into fresh romantic waters. Given his untimely death, the film is likely to be remembered less for its own modest virtues than as a last chance to say a bittersweet farewell to its star.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu September 12, 2013

Meet Brandon Darby, Grass-Roots Activist (And FBI Rat)

Brandon Darby, a onetime leftist activist who eventually became an FBI informant, has had his share of both detractors and admirers — many of whom appear in a new documentary about his life and work.
Music Box Films

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 8:13 am

For a while in Jamie Meltzer's mesmerizing documentary Informant, I wondered whether subject Brandon Darby, the lefty activist turned FBI informer, was being played by an actor.

But no: It's Darby, and he's a handsome fellow, with haunted eyes blazing out of a bone structure to die for, and with a Montgomery Clift dimple in his chin. Staring straight into the camera, he testifies with the intense calm of a messiah or a madman, which all too often comes to the same thing. Among other things, this powerfully confused man is a study in American extremity.

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Movie Reviews
10:10 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

Dentist, Heal Thy Sister (And Vice Versa)

Reach Out And ... What Was It Again? Josh Pais and Rosemarie DeWitt are a brother and sister with serious life changes to negotiate in Touchy Feely.
Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri September 6, 2013 1:40 pm

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

Mommy Issues, Or: It's Always Sonny In Cougartown

It's a family film: Xavier Samuel and Robin Wright play one of two intergenerational couples at the center of Anne Fontaine's Adore, a film that dares to ask: "Does it count as a mommy issue if you're sleeping with her lifelong best friend?"
Exclusive Media

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 8:48 am

Overused and much misused, the word "provocative" has become a double-edged sword, especially when it's swung in the direction of independent cinema. At its best, the genuinely provocative film — off the top of my head, anything by Bunuel, Shaun of the Dead, Holy Motors -- shocks in order to expand our vision of the world it encompasses. At its most dispiriting, it's an exercise in cheap thrillage, designed to goose a presumptively stuffy bourgeois audience while positioning a director as some sort of iconoclast.

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Movie Reviews
5:28 pm
Wed August 28, 2013

'Closed Circuit' Targets Big Brother, But Swings Pretty Wide

Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall play lawyerly allies with a complicated past — one that threatens to increase their present peril — in the surveillance-state thriller Closed Circuit.
Jay Maidment Focus Features

A massive explosion rocks a covered market, but Central London still looks mighty handsome in the British thriller Closed Circuit. So does the actress Rebecca Hall. Decked out in blacks, creams and grays, she and her city both are sleek, elegant and more than a little forbidding, even if they're softened by pockets of olde worlde soul.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

In 'Drinking Buddies,' Drifting Through The Suds

Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at a Chicago brewery — and teeter on the brink of a relationship. But in this film, the work is more compelling than the play.
Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 1:07 pm

"She's so pretty, she could be in any movie," a fan gushed after a screening of Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies. There's a lot more to Olivia Wilde than her feline loveliness, which, combined with a challenging stare that dares you to dismiss her as fluff, reminds me of a young Michelle Pfeiffer. But not much of that is allowed out to play in this strained comic drama about two young couples struggling to answer universal questions in particular ways.

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Opinion
3:42 am
Sun August 18, 2013

Forget The Tea: Delightful Debauchery In British Pop Culture

JJ Feild plays an actor who plays Mr. Darcy in the movie Austenland.
Fickle Fish Films

Originally published on Sun August 18, 2013 4:20 pm

The raucous comedy Austenland, in theaters this week, pokes fun at Americans' reverence for what they have been taught to see as a gracious British heritage — muslin, bonnets, tea time at the stately home with the blue-bloods, good manners.

As well it might. For most of the English 99-percenters I grew up with, heritage meant feet up in front of the telly, watching Top of the Pops.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

To 'Austenland,' Where Jane Jokes Go To Die

Keri Russell's Jane Hayes daydreams of the Regency life, complete with suitors as handsome and rough-hewn as Bret McKenzie's Martin, in Austenland, a big-screen adaptation of the Shannon Hale novel.
Giles Keyte Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Thu August 15, 2013 4:45 pm

Austenland, a clunky broadside aimed at the cult of Jane Austen, is worth seeing primarily for its end credits, a mix of pop oil and water so joyfully dippy it might have produced a stifled giggle even in Herself.

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Movie Reviews
3:52 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

For Two Mismatched Newlyweds, A Very Odd 'Year'

The typical romantic comedy might end with the wedding, but for Josh (Rafe Spall) and Nat (Rose Byrne), that's just the beginning of the story of I Give It a Year.
Jules Heath Magnolia

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 4:55 pm

I Give It a Year is about what you'd expect from the warped mind of Dan Mazer — Sacha Baron Cohen's close collaborator on Da Ali G Show­, Borat and Bruno. Which is to say: a raucously funny comic romance that's deaf and blind to the blithe spirit of romantic comedy.

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Movie Reviews
4:26 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

Poseidon's Little Squirt Is Back, And He's Still At Sea

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman of Perks of Being a Wallflower) and his pal Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) are two of the unusually talented teens resident at Camp Half-Blood, a summer retreat for — well, demigods, not to put too fine a point on it.
Fox

Returning from sleep-away camp, my teenage daughter, who'd hitherto declared reading a foreign pursuit, announced that she was now a "bookie." Ruthlessly suppressing my inner jig, I nodded casually and asked how this literary epiphany had come about. A cabin full of reader-girls, it seemed, had turned her on to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. And so it came to pass that, over the next few weeks, my child holed up at the library and indulged a burgeoning obsession with Greek mythology.

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Movies
11:28 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Emotional Terrorism, From The Shelter Of Home

Andre (Niels Arestrup) shares a home with his Moroccan-born adopted son Mounir (Tahar Rahim), who has struggled to find work outside his father's home-based medical practice.
Distrib Films

Our Children, a quietly devastating Belgian domestic drama, opens with a shattered young woman on an IV drip. Then the action moves swiftly back to that same woman, radiantly in love and eager to tell Andre, the man her beloved calls father, that she's planning to marry his boy.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

For Old-School Kvetch Comics, A Catskills Cradle

Jackie Mason is one of a host of comedians interviewed in When Comedy Went to School, a documentary about a generation of Jewish comics and the Catskills resorts that nurtured them.
International Film Circuit

For the charming but skin-deep documentary When Comedy Went to School, filmmakers Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank gained enviable access to pioneer stars of Borscht Belt standup.

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Movie Reviews
3:32 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

Cate Blanchett, Trifling With The Kindness Of Strangers

Sony Classics

Jasmine, once a wealthy Manhattan socialite, comes to us a jabbering wreck in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. We meet her staggering off a plane in San Francisco to stay with her down-market sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins).

The bottom has fallen out of Jasmine's glamorous world, in which she oozed style and made the trains run on time for her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), a financier who gave lavishly to charity with others' money. The name Madoff never comes up, but Hal went to jail, Jasmine is left with mountains of debt, and it's not hard to do the math.

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Movie Reviews
5:04 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

A 'Girl Most Likely,' Unlikely To Succeed

Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening are daughter and mother in a dysfunctional-family comedy about a playwright whose life needs a reboot — and the people who help her push the button.
Roadside Attractions

In Girl Most Likely, a likable but warmed-over comedy about rediscovering the nutso family you thought was holding you back, the gifted Kristen Wiig plays Imogene, a playwright on the skids after a brief sojourn into minor Manhattan celebrity.

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Movie Reviews
3:04 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

Strange Doings Among Chess-Mad '80s Coders

Patrick Riester plays one of the alpha geeks competing in a game-writing tournament in Computer Chess, a willfully odd comedy from mumblecore pioneer Andrew Bujalski.
Kino Lorber

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 3:33 pm

"I don't mind putting something pleasant out into the world," said filmmaker Andrew Bujalski in a recent New York Magazine interview.

You don't hear that too often outside the sphere of general-audience entertainment, let alone from a writer-director widely credited with pioneering mumblecore, the slackerish mini-movement that never really was.

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Movie Reviews
3:00 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

Almodovar, Extending An Invite To The Mile High Club

When their aircraft develops mechanical trouble, three flight attendants — Fajas (Carlos Areces), Ulloa (Raul Arevalo) and Joserra (Javier Camara) — set out to put passengers at ease ... using some unorthodox methods.
Sony Classics

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 4:54 pm

I'm So Excited! a less-than-exciting new romp from the great Pedro Almodovar, dusts off one of the hoariest plot tricks in the farceur's playbook: Trap a bunch of upstanding citizens in a confined space with no exit, and watch their ids — along with their secrets and lies — come out to play.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

A 'Hijacking' Where Business And Personal Collide

Pilou Asbaek (right) plays ship's cook Mikkel, a new dad who desperately wishes to return to his family, but is instead forced to prepare menus at gunpoint as the cargo vessel's owners negotiate for its release.
Magnolia Pictures

You might expect big action from a movie about the hijacking of a cargo ship by Somali pirates. But after a preliminary flurry of roughing-up, the Danish drama A Hijacking is mostly about the excruciating process of getting to "yes" when language is the least of the barriers between two very different mindsets.

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Movie Reviews
1:22 pm
Fri June 14, 2013

It Takes A (Gay) Village In 'Call Me Kuchu'

David Kato, a teacher and LGBT rights activist — as well as the first openly gay man in Uganda — is at the forefront of Call Me Kuchu's story.
Cinedigm

Horrific and uplifting, the excellent documentary Call Me Kuchu is partly framed as a portrait of David Kato, Uganda's first openly gay man. An activist of enormous courage and persistence — against odds that make the U.S. fight for marriage equality seem like a cakewalk — Kato was a savvy political strategist, with wit, charm and joie de vivre to burn. And he loved a good party, with his friends in drag where possible. But he was terrified of sleeping alone on his farm.

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Movie Reviews
3:01 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

Covert Conflicts, Decried In 'Dirty Wars'

Reporter and author Jeremy Scahill, shown in Somalia, visited a range of conflict-plagued areas for the film Dirty Wars, an outgrowth of his writing on American anti-terrorism efforts abroad.
IFC

After the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the soldiers of the paramilitary force JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) who carried out the operation were lionized as national heroes.

They earned more ambivalent treatment in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. And according to Dirty Wars, a documentary based on a book by investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, their shadowy outfit has pretty much taken over America's global war on terrorism — and in flagrantly unconstitutional ways, he claims.

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Movie Reviews
3:02 pm
Thu May 30, 2013

Anarchists Tempt A 1 Percenter In 'The East'

Brit Marling plays Sarah, a former FBI agent working for a private intelligence agency in The East. Shiloh Fernandez plays Luca, a member of the environmentalist vigilante group that Sarah infiltrates.
Myles Aronowitz Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

In The East, a slightly batty, weirdly involving new thriller about corporate espionage and eco-terrorism, rising star Brit Marling (last seen as Richard Gere's daughter in the drama Arbitrage) plays Sarah, an ambitious young private intelligence operative and former FBI agent.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

To 'Fill The Void,' A Choice With A Personal Cost

Domestic drama: Among the ultra-Orthodox world of Tel Aviv's Haredi Jews, Rivka (Irit Sheleg, left) and her daughter Shira (Hadas Yaron, second from left, with Hila Feldman and Razia Israeli) are confronted with a dilemma after a death in the family.
Karin Bar Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Sun May 26, 2013 6:29 am

Driving home from a screening of the ravishing new Israeli film Fill the Void, I caught sight of a young man in full Hasidic garb, trying to coax his toddler son across a busy Los Angeles street. My first thought was, "He's a boy himself, barely old enough to be a father, and they both look so pale."

My second was, "I wonder what his life feels like?" This is the more open mindset that director Rama Burshtein asks from audiences going into her first feature, a love poem to the ultra-Orthodox world as seen from within.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Greta Gerwig, Blithely Spirited As 'Frances Ha'

In Frances Ha, Greta Gerwig stars as a young dancer trying to find her way on her own in New York City. Noah Baumbach shot the film in black and white because it helped him "see the city with new eyes," he says.
Pine District, LLC

Originally published on Fri May 17, 2013 11:14 am

Long a darling of the New York indie scene, Noah Baumbach came to filmmaking with a solid pedigree: His father is a film theorist and his mother was a movie critic at the Village Voice (where I've contributed myself).

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Movie Reviews
2:54 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

'Venus and Serena': Champs Atop Their Game

Serena Williams (left) and her sister Venus Williams in action during their first-round doubles match on Day 2 at Wimbledon in 2010.
Hamish Blair Getty Images via Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 12:02 pm

What's left to know about Venus and Serena Williams? Probably not much that the tennis titans would be willing to share, given how heavily exposed they've been already, and how eager the press has been to wedge the sisters into ready-made narratives about race, celebrity and the daughters of a Svengali.

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Movies
3:03 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

'Love Is All You Need,' Unless Character Matters

Spoiler alert: These two initially incompatible people (played by Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm) will eventually fall for each other in Love Is All You Need, a romantic comedy that isn't either, and whose titular premise we regret to report is not always true.
Sony Pictures Classics

When a husband steps out on his wife while she's getting chemo, she's entitled to a weekend in the Mediterranean with Pierce Brosnan, right?

Right, but I believe he went there quite recently with Meryl Streep, did he not, albeit without the cancer? I didn't much care for Mamma Mia!, but the garish musical at least embraced its vulgarity with a full heart and a toe-tapping ABBA soundtrack. And now that I've seen Love Is All You Need, I'd settle for Streep doing the splits.

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Movie Reviews
2:59 pm
Tue April 23, 2013

'At Any Price': What Cost A Win?

They might look like team players, but Dean (Zac Efron) and his ambitious father (Dennis Quaid) have markedly different goals for the future of their expanding family farm — and the people who run it.
Hooman Bahrani Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Thu April 25, 2013 3:29 pm

Like last year's fracking drama Promised Land, the new movie At Any Price is about farm people getting pushed around by corporations — except that there's no Matt Damon to rescue them, cleanse his soul and snag Rosemarie DeWitt in the bargain.

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Movie Reviews
3:23 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

A 'House' Divided, Over Stories Lived And Told

Bored high school English teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) encourages a talented student to exploit a classmate's family for literary inspiration.
Cohen Media Group

Originally published on Fri April 19, 2013 1:38 pm

Among the semi-literate journals submitted by his high-school students, jaded French literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is jazzed to find a rough diamond from a new pupil, Claude (Ernst Umhauer).

In weekly installments, the ingratiating but enigmatic teenager, who looks as though he just stepped out of a Pasolini movie, chronicles his efforts to insinuate himself into the family of one his classmates, an amiable but awkward underachiever named Rapha (Bastien Ughetto).

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