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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.

Imagine going out into the world for the first time, armed only with a Quentin Tarantino script as a reference manual. That's the predicament, and the weird joy, of six teenage brothers who spent their childhood cooped up in a cramped apartment in a wild and woolly neighborhood of New York's Lower East Side. When at last the Angulos — children of an unemployed Peruvian father and a former hippie mother from the Midwest, who rarely left the house themselves — broke free and ventured out, they...

Vera Brittain, an upper-crust Englishwoman whose experiences as a nurse in World War I turned her into a pacifist, was known to my generation primarily as the mother of Shirley Williams, a similarly feisty and beloved Labour Cabinet member who still sits in the House of Lords. To my parents' generation, Brittain was the beloved author of a best-selling 1933 memoir, Testament of Youth , which laid out in devastating detail the cruel obliteration of a whole generation of British youth,...

Kat, a personal trainer played with rabid verve by Cobie Smulders in the terrific new comedy Results , is a recognizable gym rat modestly enlarged for comical promise. "I lead with my butt," the dedicated workout queen tells a client, oblivious to the fact that he's already rather taken with that highly buffed part of her anatomy. She's obsessive and blunt and aggressive almost unto unbearable. It can safely be said that empowerment is not Kat's problem. Fear not: Kat has by no means...

The adolescent girl at the heart of Hiromasa Yonebayashi's haunting When Marnie Was There has the cropped dark hair, wide eyes and square-peg awkwardness that will be familiar to fans of Studio Ghibli animated movies. Unlike the feisty, willful sprites of Kiki's Delivery Service , Spirited Away and many other Ghibli treasures though, Anna is a cowed, sensitive soul with artistic leanings. At school she's friendless and bullied. At home, where she lives with...

Every Secret Thing , a clammy little thriller about missing babies and bad family karma, bristles with heavy female artillery on both sides of the camera, most of it working unaccustomed turf. The script, adapted from a detective novel by Laura Lippman, is by Nicole Holofcener, whose usual territory is wisecracking urban comedies. The executive producer is actress Frances McDormand, who got the project off the ground and recruited documentary filmmaker Amy Berg to direct. And the...

Early on in Bertrand Bonello's extravagantly imagined portrait of designer Yves Saint Laurent, strict orders come down from the Great One to the stressed-out sewing room, or whatever they call it in that etherized milieu. The tone is hushed but the message is clear: the stitching's all wrong; it must be put right; it must be put right now . In every other respect, Bonello's film has nothing — believe me, nothing — in common with The Devil Wears Prada . But that scene carries...

A fierce spirit ahead of her Victorian time, vacillating between love, sex and business in choosing a partner to run the farm she refuses to see go under, Far From the Madding Crowd 's Bathsheba Everdene is also a woman for the ages and therefore amenable to endless re-imagining, up to and including Katniss Everdeen. All in white and gamboling through green meadows with adorable lambs and a very hot Alan Bates, Julie Christie made an unforgettable Bathsheba in John Schlesinger's 1967...

In the 2012 drama Fill the Void , Israeli actress Hadas Yaron was incandescent as an Ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv girl who, following the sudden death of her beloved older sister, is pressured by rabbis and relatives to marry her brother-in-law in order to preserve family unity. She suffers agonies over the decision, but never doubts the legitimacy of the Hasidic community that sustains her. That alone made Fill the Void an exotic flower among the handful of movies about...

For a while The Sisterhood of Night , a spry, heartfelt first feature about teenage girls doing strange things in woods by night, appears to traffic in every easy cliché we adults use to bind female adolescents into knowable aliens. Led by charismatic underachiever Mary (played by former Narnia child Georgie Henley, all grown into a slightly unsettling resemblance to the young Eileen Brennan), a growing band of girls in a small Hudson Valley town take to the forest after...

In Leviathan , Andrey Zvyagintsev's melodrama about a motor mechanic's desperate struggle to hang on to home and family in the New Russia, a photograph of Vladimir Putin gazes impassively down from a wall in the office of a corrupt mayor. And perhaps we should be glad that the country retains enough freedom of expression for a movie that's partly about official thuggery to win funding from the Ministry of Culture — even if the director later said official response to the final...

Paul Thomas Anderson probably wouldn't take kindly to being called a period filmmaker. And it's true that one of our finest pulse-takers of the American predicament is so much more than that. Anderson's movies track warped obsessives who come to define the particular times and places from which they get the tarnished American Dreams they pursue. But he is period-perfect, in part because he knows the terrain. In the fabulous Boogie Nights , set in the booming 1970s porn-film industry...

Given the times, the Norwegian thriller Pioneer is hardly the first thriller in recent memory to delve into the poisonous fallout from a nation's suddenly acquired wealth. But it may be the first to conduct business from the floor of the noirishly cinematic North Sea, a roiling stretch of gray water where huge supplies of oil and gas were discovered off the coast of Norway in the 1980s. Trust me, this is not Bikini Bottom . Expertly directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg ...

Hilary Swank is a real looker in ways that tend not to get her cast in what the industry is pleased to call "women's pictures." She has seized the day to snag all manner of bracingly offbeat roles, the latest being Mary Bee Cuddy, a bonneted Nebraska frontierswoman in The Homesman who keeps repeating that she's "plain as an old tin pail," a slur thrown her way by a heedless neighbor. No one wants to marry Mary, even though she's smart, resourceful, cultivated and — like many who...

Off to the side of the wickedly funny Swedish black comedy Force Majeure lurks a minor but significant figure with a sour, slightly saturnine face. The man is a cleaner in a fancy French Alps ski hotel and he hardly says a word. But his wordless hovering inspires dread, nervous laughter or both. Which pretty much sums up Force Majeure 's adroit shifts of tone, and quite possibly its director's take on the ways of the hip urban bourgeoisie. Cleaners dig for dirt, and this...

My first encounter with the lovely 10th-century Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter was in the Sesame Street special Big Bird Goes to Japan . A kind and beautiful young woman named Kaguya-hime appears out of nowhere to take the Yellow One and his canine pal Barkley on a jaunt to Kyoto. They have fun, and then the mysteriously sad woman reveals that she is royalty in civilian dress and must return to her home on the moon. Bird and Barkley were...

The grumpy geezer Bill Murray plays in Ted Melfi's gentle comedy St. Vincent is not exactly a stretch. Vincent is a down-on-his-luck gent festering in a falling-down row house on the butt end of Brooklyn. Familiar stuff happens: A little boy named Oliver with bowl-cut hair and a noticeably absent father moves in next door with his mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy). Oliver, who's played without undue cuteness by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, is wise beyond his years, but puny and in...

I feel like a churl for voicing qualms about The Good Lie, a big, eager puppy of an issue movie that plants its paws on your chest and licks away at your cheek in eager expectation of praise. The story it tells, about a group of Sudanese refugees who, after a grinding journey to escape endless civil war at home, find refuge in Kansas, can't help but grab our sympathies. But this fact-based movie smothers an epic humanitarian crisis in a gooey parable of American largesse administered...

Scenic and a touch bloodless, Tracks is a tastefully off-Hollywood version of the upcoming Wild . Wild is bound to make a lot more noise, and not just because it has Reese Witherspoon in the lead as a grief-stricken Cheryl Strayed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to get over her beloved mother's death. Tracks is a little too subdued for its own good. There's a lost mother here, too, tucked away in a quick late flashback along with the loss of a beloved pet...

Working back through a raft of bad-seed twins to 1962's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? the sibling drama has, with few exceptions, been ignored or pathologized to death in movies. I see why: no prospects for sex, unless we're talking incest. Yet that relationship, with all its potent friction of solidarity and competition, comes stuffed with dramatic potential that the fairly new director Craig Johnson means to mine in The Skeleton Twins , an intermittently absorbing...

In Rocks In My Pockets , a lively animated documentary billed (a touch reductively) as "a funny film about depression," Latvian-American Signe Baumane describes in detail one of her several attempts to commit suicide after she turned 18. The minutiae of her planning are more graphic than you might care to hear, and the tone, delivered in Baumane's fetchingly accented voiceover, is breezy and droll. "One must be considerate to one's fellow citizens," she says, her voice rising to...

At first blush, the Hungarian film The Notebook (no relation, trust me, to that other Notebook ) seems to be gearing up as a standard World War II weepie with clumsy plotting. It's 1944; the war is almost done; a father returns home on leave; brief scenes of domestic bliss follow. Then, out of the blue, Dad (Ulrich Matthes), seemingly worried that his twin sons would be "too conspicuous in wartime," packs them off to live with their grandmother in the countryside. Handing...

In a more market-driven neighborhood of the movie business, Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz's comedy about two retired gents let loose on Iceland would surely be released under the title Geezers Do Geysers . And the modestly budgeted, charming Land Ho! is a caper of sorts, made less in snooty-indie opposition to the Grumpy Old Men franchise than as a fond goosing of the buddy movie, plus kooky innovation. Shot in 18 days while Stephens was nominally on vacation in Iceland,...

With or without his knighthood, the legendary climber Sir Edmund Hillary stood 6-foot-plus in his stockinged feet and looked a bit like a mountain crag himself. The New Zealand beekeeper — who with his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay was in May 1953 the first to reach the top of Mount Everest — was possessed of a jutting lantern jaw, piercing eyes and an obstinate determination that served this self-described "rough old farm boy" well when holding his own against the posh British leaders who ran...

Many years ago I taught a course in the sociology of deviance to a class of fledgling Boston-Irish policemen. I enjoyed them enormously because they didn't write down everything I said and cough it back up on the test. A waggish friend called them "your heroic coplets." The baby cops listened, with eyes only slightly rolling, to my earnest strictures about the connection between crime and social disadvantage. But they drew the line at labeling theory, a thesis then in vogue that law enforcers...

Like his magnificent 1996 film Hamsun , Swedish director Jan Troell's latest bio-pic is a richly detailed portrait of a great man riddled with flaws and undone by adulation. On the face of it, Torgny Segerstedt seems the very inverse of Knut Hamsun, the Norwegian writer revered, then reviled during World War II for his Nazi sympathies. Segerstedt, a former theologian turned high-living editor of a Gothenberg newspaper, made it his mission to put out the word about the threat posed by...

I was a college sophomore in London when Jan Palach, a shy young Czech student, set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square in January 1969. The British campus revolt was in full flow, but the images of Palach's burning body, and the mass silent vigils that followed his death a few days later, made me feel how puny were the stakes of our revolution next to the failed protest against Soviet occupation, following the Prague Spring, that triggered Palach's desperate final act. Palach and...

Josh Boone's The Fault in Our Stars is the kind of careful, listless adaptation that makes a critic want to rave at length about the wonderful novel on which it's based. Not that John Green's 2012 YA novel, a runaway best-seller about two cancer-ridden suburban teens in love, needs much of an introduction. Millions of parents read over their avid kids' shoulders about the brief encounter between teenagers Hazel, who has stage 4 thyroid cancer ("with mets to the lungs, but I'm okay")...

Of all Disney heroines, Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty, was the least inspiring. Not her fault: How much spark can you wring from a Forever Nap, especially one that's cut off by a kiss from a prince named after the Duke of Edinburgh? Which may be why my 16-year-old, who's going through one of those inexplicable regressions into Disney toddler fare that seem to hit girls in their teens and beyond, made it through all of five minutes of the 1959 Sleeping Beauty, then went back to binge...

No fewer than three comedies about finding love in midlife open this week, all of them shiny with major stars. Is it time to stop whining about the dearth of romantic comedy for mature audiences? Only if you prefer quantity to quality. I haven't seen Blended, a Warner Bros. picture featuring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore (talk about milestones, Gertie's turning 40!) as failed blind-daters marooned in a recreation park with their respective kids. Leaving aside the fact that Sandler...

I teach in a film school, and if there's one genre I find it hard to get students on board for, it's classic melodrama. Perhaps because they've been reared on distancing irony and the suspension of belief, they misread the symphonies of pent-up emotion, the passionate address to questions of good and evil, of class, gender and race as phony. These kids were raised on Glee , for heaven's sake, but they won't sit still for a gifted contemporary weepmeister like Todd Haynes, let alone...

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