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
3:03 pm
Thu April 11, 2013

A Class-Concious Romp With 'The Angels' Share' Of Charm

An unsuspected talent gives Robbie (Paul Brannigan, third from left) a chance to pull off a rather unlikely heist. (Also pictured: Jasmin Riggins, William Ruane and Gary Maitland.)
Entertainment One

Responding to the death of Margaret Thatcher earlier this week, film director Ken Loach told The Guardian: "Mass unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed — this is her legacy. She was a fighter, and her enemy was the British working class."

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

'Before And After' Dinner, Andre Is Still Talking

In his wife's new documentary, theatrical director Andre Gregory comes across as an eternal child, hooked on his capacity to enchant but rarely able to listen to anyone else.
Cinema Guild

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 5:27 pm

In 1981, avant-garde theater director Andre Gregory collaborated with his friend Wallace Shawn and French filmmaker Louis Malle on an oddball project they called My Dinner with Andre.

Now enshrined as a classic — and one of the most-lampooned films in the history of American cinema — the movie is a talky two-hander in which Gregory (or someone very like him) gassed away about his globe-trotting adventures in spiritual enlightenment, while Shawn (or someone very like him) listened in disbelief, then grew entranced.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

Past Pains, Buried Deep 'Down The Shore'

The mysterious Jacques (Edoardo Costa, left) upends Bailey's (James Gandolfini) life when he arrives in the latter's seaside New Jersey town in Down the Shore.
Transmission Pictures

If you want to tell a story, the professional tale-spinners say, make something happen.

That's true, but a happening can be defined as elastically as the teller needs it to be. Sometimes it's a shift in a character's inner landscape — a change in her responses to the common hurts and losses that she's lugged around from childhood — that moves us more than a third-act gunshot ever could.

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Movie Reviews
3:08 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

An 'Admission' That Moms Might Not Know Best

High-strung Princeton University admissions counselor Portia (Tina Fey) finds old love — and a surrendered child — when she visits the Vermont prep school where old schoolmate John (Paul Rudd) is a teacher.
David Lee Focus Features

Half an hour into Paul Weitz's new comedy, Admission, it dawned on me that I was watching an Americanized About a Boy -- which admittedly was also directed by Weitz. Both movies are adapted from other people's novels; both cobble together families out of the waifs and strays of modern life.

But where About a Boy was both funny and wise about urban alienation, Admission settles for skin deep.

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Movies
9:33 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Whatever Happened To The Real Gingers And Rosas?

The '60s London of the unhappy adolescent Ginger (Elle Fanning, with Annette Bening's mentoring May) was more complicated than students Ginger's age understand today. Film writer Ella Taylor, who lived through that decade, came late to an understanding of the toll it took on young women like Ginger.
A24

A few weeks ago, I asked a class of college undergraduates what the 1960s meant to them.

"That flower-power thing?" one young man volunteered brightly.

The further we get from that misunderstood decade, the more the many strands of its rebelliousness get reduced to a pop-culture T-shirt slogan, a cartoon strip starring tie-dyed youth with stoned eyes and floor-mop hair.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu February 28, 2013

'Hava Nagila: The Movie' Pays Homage To Unlikely Jewish Touchstone

Young newlyweds are serenaded with the strains of "Hava Nagila." The unlikely origins of the popular Jewish standard are explored in Roberta Grossman's documentary feature Hava Nagila: The Movie.
International Film Circuit

Originally published on Sun March 3, 2013 6:47 am

I grew up on "Hava Nagila," and I'll admit it's not the catchiest of tunes. The ingenuous Hebrew lyrics ("Come! Let us rejoice and be happy!") don't wear well in our age of knowing irony and ennui.

Hip young Israelis wince at the very mention of the song, and for many Diaspora Jews, a few bars of the tune are all it takes to recall that excruciating moment late in a fancy wedding or bar mitzvah, when the band invites all remaining guests (tipsy uncles included) to kick up their heels — and then go home already.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu February 21, 2013

'Inescapable' Ambiguities In Prewar Syria

Paul (Joshua Jackson, left), a suave Canadian diplomat in chaotic Damascus, works to help Adib (Alexander Siddig) find his missing daughter as the city falls apart.
IFC Films

It's hard to imagine an upside to the civil war now causing unspeakable suffering in Syria. But the conflict has turned out to be a break for the makers of Inescapable, a feverish political thriller written and directed by Ruba Nadda, a Canadian of Syrian origin whose last film was the languorous 2009 romance Cairo Time.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu February 14, 2013

'Shanghai Calling,' And The Answer Is, 'Why Not?'

Self-assured lawyer Sam (Daniel Henney) must learn to trust others and embrace life as an expat in the cheery fish-out-of-water film Shanghai Calling.
Americatown

As Ugly Americans go, Manhattan corporate attorney Sam Chao (Daniel Henney) has a lot going for him. He's a handsome dude with perfectly symmetrical features, a toned bod we get to peek at all but naked, and facile charm to burn.

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Movie Reviews
3:04 pm
Thu February 7, 2013

'Lore': After Hitler, An Awakening For The Reich's Children

A band of virtually orphaned children (Nele Trebs, Mika Seidel, Andre Frid and Saskia Rosendahl) trek through southern Germany seeking shelter — and answers — at the end of World War II.
Music Box Films

It took years for our fictions to consider the Holocaust narrative. And for an even longer time, a stunned silence hovered over the fate of "Hitler's children" — ordinary Germans during and after World War II. That embargo, too, is lifting, with a significant trickle of novels, movies and television dramas that imagine what it felt like to be the inheritors of the worst that humans can do to other humans.

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Movie Reviews
3:57 pm
Thu January 24, 2013

'Yossi': Out In Israel, And That's Just Fine

After his lover dies in a military exercise, a devastated Yosssi (Ohad Knoller) must move from grief and shame into acceptance of his homosexuality.
Strand Releasing

Originally published on Sun January 27, 2013 7:18 am

In the decade since Israeli director Eytan Fox made Yossi & Jagger, the precursor to his sublimely tender new drama Yossi, Israel has undergone two significant changes. A tacit and active homophobia has given way, at least in the open cultural climate of Tel Aviv, to a matter-of-fact acceptance of gay rights. At the same time, Israeli cinema has bloomed, becoming a thriving international presence in just about every genre.

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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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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 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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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

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
3:03 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
3:44 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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