Ella Taylor

Ella Taylor is a free-lance 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
3:03 pm
Thu January 10, 2013

'My People,' My People: A French Farce Misfires

Forced to move back home with his family after a messy breakup, Reuben (Nicolas Maury) must come to terms with both his mother (Carmen Maura) and his French-Jewish roots.
Zeitgeist Films

If Tolstoy was right about every unhappy family being unhappy in its own way, the cinema of domestic dysfunction will likely never die. But it has gotten awfully droopy, mired in familiar plotting, quasi-wise psychobabble, or — in the case of so many comedies — a knowing prankishness (I'm looking at you, Judd Apatow) that wearies the soul.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu January 10, 2013

Literary-Minded Teen Comedy More Stuck Than 'Struck'

As the awkward Malerie (Rebel Wilson) struggles for Carson's (Chris Colfer) attentions, her eager silliness dominates Struck by Lightning.
Suzanne Houchin Tribeca Film

There isn't much to say about Struck by Lightning, except that it's one of those interchangeable teen movies that lands in theaters in early January, the morgue for films nobody knows what to do with. That it was released at all is likely due to the clout of Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt on Glee and who wrote the screenplay, along with a companion young adult novel, as a vehicle for what appears to be his own blossoming savior complex.

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Movie Reviews
3:27 pm
Tue December 18, 2012

A Touching, Tragic Look At 'Amour' In Autumn

Georges' (Jean-Louis Trintignant) love for his wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), is tested in their old age when her failing health becomes a heavy burden.
Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 9:22 am

We know from the outset that there's a death coming in Michael Haneke's Amour, a magisterial study of mortality that carried off the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival — and currently tops best-picture lists all over the world. But when we first meet Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), retired Paris music teachers in their 80s, they're in the pink and enjoying a piano recital given by one of Anne's former pupils.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

Fighting For Their Family, One Day At A Time

When a boy with Down syndrome (Isaac Leyva) is abandoned by his mother, a neighbor couple (Garret Dillahunt and Alan Cumming) takes him in.
Music Box Films

It would take a heart of stone — or zero tolerance for soap — to resist Any Day Now, a full-throttle weepie about a West Hollywood gay couple trying to adopt a neglected boy with Down syndrome.

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Movies
3:03 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

'Save The Date': Something Borrowed, Not Much New

When she leaves her boyfriend, Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) quickly rebounds with Jonathan (Mark Webber).
Elisha Christian IFC Films

You might know Lizzy Caplan, eternal sidekick, as Jason Segel's girlfriend on television's Freaks and Geeks. Or as the struggling comedienne from Party Down, or the vampire vegan on True Blood, or from the movie The Bachelorette earlier this year?

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu December 6, 2012

A Historical Comedy That Hangs On The Details

Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) greets Britain's Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) and King George VI (Samuel West).
Nicola Dove Focus Features

In Hyde Park on Hudson — a sly, modestly subversive dramedy about a crucial weekend meeting between England's King George VI and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the eve of World War II — the diffident young monarch (Samuel West) confides his frustration over his lifelong stutter while the two men enjoy a postprandial drink expressly forbidden by their womenfolk.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

An Aging 'Quartet,' Still Polishing Their Legends

Even after her final curtain, a diva is always a diva — as demonstrated by the flamboyant retired soprano Jean (Maggie Smith) in Quartet.
The Weinstein Co.

"Wrinklies," a widely accepted British term for elderly people, is by a generous margin more affectionate fun than the anodyne euphemisms we use here in the United States, where many of us fear crow's-feet almost as much as we do death. It's no accident that Americans have no equivalent term of endearment beyond the horribly neutered "senior citizen." Or that Hollywood movies mostly ignore the old — or consign them to the demeaning Siberia of crazy old coots (Jack Nicholson) or wacky broads (Jane Fonda, Betty White and so many more).

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu November 29, 2012

A Rocker's 'Solo' Slide, Intimately Chronicled

Flying 'Solo': Robert Carlyle plays a burnout Britpop veteran drinking his way through a second career among the farmers markets of Southern California — until a DUI bust sends him into a tailspin.
Matthew Barnes Strand Releasing

Ungracefully aging rockers have long been stock figures of fun at the movies, with Bill Nighy topping the burnout charts in Love, Actually. Lately, though, a slew of former rock kings have enjoyed fresh renown via documentaries like Anvil, The Other F-Word and the upcoming Beware of Mr. Baker, many of which chart a Christ-like saga of meteoric rise, catastrophic fall and painfully slow resurrection. That's if their shot livers don't kill them first.

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Movie Reviews
10:03 am
Thu November 22, 2012

'Hitchcock': Mr. And Mrs. 'Master Of Suspense'

Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), work together to produce Psycho.
Fox Searchlight

When my nieces were small, I took them on a day trip to the Museum of the Moving Image on London's South Bank. We had fun touring a puckishly curated journey through the history of cinema, until my younger niece flushed the toilet in the noir-inflected bathroom — and set off the famous shrieking strings that amp up the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, creating the most terrifying moment in American cinema.

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Movie Reviews
3:08 pm
Thu November 15, 2012

'Anna Karenina,' Rushing Headlong Toward Her Train

Karenin (Jude Law) tries to rein in his wife, Anna (Keira Knightley), as she pursues a flirtation and then an affair with a handsome young military officer in a new adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's iconic love story.
Laurie Sparham Focus Features

Originally published on Thu May 9, 2013 2:24 pm

After he'd finished reading Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, did director Joe Wright scribble on the last page, "Needs more pep?"

Wright is, after all, the man who put the cute little ampersand in Pride & Prejudice and gave us a giggly Lizzie Bennet rendered by Keira Knightley. Knightley is back again in the title role as the Russian chick who loves and loses and throws herself under a train.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

Romance, Scandal And 'A Royal Affair' Of The Heart

The titular affair takes place between the Queen of Denmark (Alicia Vikander) and her ailing husband's physician (Mads Mikkelsen).
Magnolia Films

The Oscar race for best foreign-language film rarely comes without a helping of muslin-and-bonnet dramas stuffed with misbehaving royals, masked balls and burgeoning job opportunities for food stylists. As heritage cinema goes, however, the year's Academy Award entry from Denmark is a firecracker.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu November 1, 2012

Amid Discord, A 'Quartet' Strives For Harmony

Members of a famous string quartet (Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener) fight to stay together despite internal conflict.
RKO Pictures

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 10:56 am

It's rare these days to see an old-fashioned, elegant chamber-piece movie about life and art — let alone one with Christopher Walken as, of all things, a steadying influence.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 18, 2012

Life, And Something Like Love, In An Iron Lung

Mark (John Hawkes), a disabled man who has spent most of his life in an iron lung, decides to lose his virginity to a sex surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt).
Fox Searchlight

Disability biopics, especially the kind that bring audiences to their feet at Sundance, rarely have anywhere to carry us but on a linear journey from pity via empathy to tearful uplift.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 11, 2012

Two Films, Two Takes On Living With Genocide

Simon and the Oaks serves as a rather too cozy consideration of Nazi sympathies in Sweden during the early years of World War II.
The Film Arcade

Simon and the Oaks, a handsomely upholstered Swedish drama about two troubled families trying to survive World War II, is based on a runaway best-selling novel by Marianne Fredriksson. The film was made with money from several Scandinavian countries once occupied by the Nazis, as well as from Germany itself. It won a truckload of Swedish Oscars, and in the accolades heaped upon the movie, the word "epic" is thrown around with abandon.

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Movie Interviews
2:47 pm
Tue October 9, 2012

Andrea Arnold Tackles An Iconic Love Story

Filmmaker Andrea Arnold won the Cannes Film Festival's Jury Prize for her 2006 film Red Road; her short film Wasp earned her an Oscar the year before.
Oscilloscope Pictures

Originally published on Tue October 9, 2012 3:51 pm

Not counting Twilight, Emily Bronte's 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, has been plundered, adapted and remade to death, including, it's not commonly known, by Luis Bunuel and Jacques Rivette. Most people know the book through movies, television miniseries, or even from the hilarious Monty Python semaphore version.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

'Oranges' Appeal: Not Your Average Suburban Holiday

The Ostroffs (Allison Janney and Oliver Platt) and their good friends, the Walling family (Hugh Laurie and Alia Shawkat), are shaken when the Ostroffs' daughter comes home for the holidays.
Myles Aronowitz ATO Pictures

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 4:22 pm

Dang if Home for the Holidays season hasn't rolled around again — that jolly time of year when screenwriters dust off childhood memories of mildly distressed families and distress them further for our sentimental education. Yet if it seems a little early-autumn yet for that sort of thing, please welcome a surprisingly superior specimen of the genre, courtesy of the best indie ensemble money can buy.

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Movie Reviews
7:03 am
Wed September 26, 2012

'Won't Back Down' Takes A Too-Easy Way Out

Nona (Viola Davis), a well-meaning teacher, teams up with warrior mom Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to fix the education system that failed their children.
Kerry Hayes Twentieth Century Fox

Originally published on Wed September 26, 2012 9:49 am

Among the many remedies we have flung at our foundering inner-city schools is a force we have reckoned without: Maggie Gyllenhaal, raising hell in the feistily titled Won't Back Down as a harried single mother eking out a living selling cars in a proletarian city, nobly represented under lowering skies by Pittsburgh.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Teen Rebellion, Written On The Body In '17 Girls'

Inspired by events in Gloucester, Mass., 17 Girls focuses on a gaggle of French high schoolers who make a pregnancy pact — in large part to exercise control over their lives.
Strand Releasing

The idea for 17 Girls, a woozy fever dream about a bunch of French provincial high-school girls who make a pact to get pregnant together, came from a similar, well-publicized 2008 event in Gloucester, Mass.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

A Modern 'Plague,' And The Heroes Who Tamed It

How to Survive a Plague features Peter Staley and others who fought to bring attention to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.
William Lucas Walker IFC Films

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 10:26 am

Late in How to Survive a Plague, a fair-minded, careful history of the AIDS-activist movement ACT UP, comes an affecting montage that bears witness to the triumph and the tragedy of the New York-based group's radical crusade — a push to get affordable treatment for a disease that, at its peak in the late 1980s, was killing millions worldwide.

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Movie Reviews
3:44 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

'Master' Actors Deliver Glimpse Into Cult Life

Navy veteran Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) falls under the influence of cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in The Master.
Phil Bray The Weinstein Co.

Originally published on Fri September 14, 2012 11:12 am

Overheard after a screening of The Master:

"So I guess this is an unfinished print?"

"Nope. This is the one they're rolling out."

And it's true that there are moments, especially toward the end of its meandering 137 minutes, when The Master feels like a series of brainy but disconnected thoughts about 20th-century America. That's how writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson works, and for those who don't insist on coherence or closure in narrative any more than they do in life, it's part of the thrilling madness of his method.

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Movie Reviews
3:33 pm
Thu September 6, 2012

'The Words': Serious Questions, Meet Sappy Romance

Frustrated author Rory (Bradley Cooper) and his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), come into possession of a manuscript that Rory decides to pass off as his own.
Jonathan Wenk CBS Films

Bradley Cooper has the wolfish grin and raffish charm of a cardsharp — or a baby hedge-fund manager. So at first you may find him a tough sell as a writer of prose so sensitive and "interior" that even an admiring old-school editor tells him it's unpublishable.

Hold on, though. The writer has moral flaws, and a name, Rory Jansen, that's better suited to a designer of racy swimwear than a crafter of lambent sentences about the inner workings of the psyche.

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Movie Reviews
12:32 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

Chilling Future Awaits 'Girl Model' Recruits

Nadya Vall, a 13-year-old Russian girl who is sent off to Tokyo to become a model, is hoping to satisfy her parents' desire to afford a larger home.
First Run Features

Originally published on Tue September 4, 2012 2:38 pm

In Girl Model, an alarming documentary about the trafficking of Russian child models to the Japanese fashion market, a garrulous modeling agent explains his philosophy: To expiate his own past bad behavior, he says with papal solemnity, he approaches model recruitment as a religious calling, not to mention a fatherly responsibility to do right by the girls, give them a better life than they have now and protect them from harm.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 30, 2012

'For A Good Time': More (Dirty) Talk, Less Action

Lauren (co-writer Lauren Anne Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor) are reluctant roommates turned business partners in For a Good Time, Call ....
Ryder Sloane Focus Features

Hot topic du jour, discuss: Do women rule the world?

First the girls took over the schools, with their stellar grades and all. Then they got the lion's share of the jobs. (Not quite true, but the claim generates Web punditry by the ton.)

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Movies
3:03 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

For Chinese-American Adoptees, Matters Of Identity

Fang "Jenni" Lee, raised in Berkeley, Calif., returns to China to help broker the adoption of another little girl.
Linda Goldstein Knowlton Long Shot Factory

Of the roughly 80,000 Chinese children adopted in the United States since 1979, almost all are girls, abandoned at birth by their parents because of China's one-child policy, coupled with inheritance laws that favor boys.

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Movies
3:03 pm
Tue August 21, 2012

A Put-Upon Hardbody, But A 'Teddy Bear' At Heart

Bodybuilder Dennis (Kim Kold) and gym owner Toi (Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard) share a tender moment.
Film Movement

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 6:33 pm

Set in contemporary Denmark and in Thailand, Mads Matthiesen's Teddy Bear is a sweetly muted domestic drama struggling to contain a fierce and ancient folk tale.

The hero, Dennis — a 300-pound bodybuilder with a lovable touch of Shrek — has an absent father and a tiny witch of a mother whose parenting is a twisted cocktail of dominatrix and coquette. (If your mother conducted bathroom business with you alongside at age 38, you'd have issues too.)

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Movie Reviews
3:06 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

'Why Stop Now': Loose Ends, Tied Up Too Neatly

Eli (Jesse Eisenberg) and his mother, Penny (Melissa Leo), fall in with Penny's inept drug dealer, Sprinkles (Tracy Morgan), in the trite new indie drama Why Stop Now.
Jacob Hutchings IFC Entertainment

Originally published on Tue August 21, 2012 10:31 am

What's an American family these days? Many different things, but while television — a domestic medium to its marrow — has an affectionate finger on the pulse of the changing modern family, movies often seem stuck in a sorry dysfunction held over from the late 1960s, when we awoke to find that jolly Beaver Cleaver had morphed into miserable Benjamin Braddock, and while Mrs. Robinson tippled discreetly in the bedroom, Father, far from knowing best, went clueless or missing.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Iranian 'Wave' Rises To Euphoria, Crashes In Despair

An Iranian woman mourns in The Green Wave, a documentary that mixes live action and animation to tell the story of the protests that erupted in the country during its 2009 elections.
Dreamer Joint Venture

Late in The Green Wave, a soulful look back at the brief 2009 people's movement for democratic elections in Iran, a former United Nations prosecutor and human rights activist observes that the protest, despite being brutally quelled by the forces of President Ahmadinejad, was "a tidal wave" that would sweep through the Middle East.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 2, 2012

'360': Intertwined Lives In A Connected Europe

Michael (Jude Law) and Rose (Rachel Weisz) are two of the many characters in 360, a film about interconnected European lives from the director of City of God and The Constant Gardener.
Phil Fisk Magnolia Pictures

For all the glum punditry about our brave new world of connected disconnection, there are endless possibilities for free play — though you'd never know it from the sorry crew of malcontents in 360, an ambitious post-millennial take on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 26, 2012

An Unwitting Folk Hero Finds A Spotlight At Last

In the 1960s, protest singer Rodriguez didn't find an audience in the United States. Unbeknownst to him, though, one of his albums became a massive success in South Africa. Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tracks him down in Searching for Sugar Man.
Hal WIlson Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Fri July 27, 2012 1:06 pm

In 1968, two music producers went to a Detroit dive called The Sewer to hear a Mexican-American protest singer with a small cult following.

The producers' client list was mostly Motown, but they immediately signed Rodriguez (full name Sixto Rodriguez), whose stirring lyrics they hoped would speak to disenfranchised outsiders of all stripes and their champions.

Together, they made two albums — one of which, Cold Fact, provides the soundtrack for the thrilling new documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Tue July 24, 2012

In A Make-Your-Own-Girl Fable, A Real Woman Emerges

Ruby (Zoe Kazan) comes to life when Calvin (Paul Dano) begins writing her into existence on his typewriter in Ruby Sparks. Kazan also wrote the new romantic comedy from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine.
Merrick Morton Fox Searchlight Pictures

Originally published on Tue July 24, 2012 3:57 pm

There's a fine line between satire and the nasty snigger that marks so much of pop comedy these days — which is another way of saying that the corrosively funny takedown of child beauty pageants in the 2006 movie Little Miss Sunshine moved me to forgive (by a hair) its creepiest creation — Alan Arkin's heroin-addicted grandpa. Still, I wonder whether my 14-year-old, who has roared her way through that movie at least a dozen times, can tell the difference between sharp commentary and the juvie desire to shock.

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