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
4:31 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

'Land Ho!' Takes An Agreeable Stroll Through Familiar And Unfamiliar Terrain

Mitch, a vulgar and cheery retired surgeon played by Earl Lynn Nelson, buys two plane tickets to Iceland, reviving the friendship between and sense of adventure in him and his ex-brother-in-law.
Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Fri July 11, 2014 9:49 am

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.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

Trudging Uphill With Two Men And The Weight Of History

The cast and crew of Beyond the Edge re-enacted Sir Edmund Hillary's (Chad Moffitt) historic climb on site at Mount Everest, and at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand's Southern Alps.
Mark Whetu Sundance Selects

Originally published on Thu July 3, 2014 6:02 pm

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 the expedition to crest the world's highest peak.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

A Not-Quite-Satisfying Look At A Notorious Career In Crime

In 2013, James "Whitey" Bulger was found guilty of racketeering, drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, and participation in 11 murders. He was sentenced to two lifetime sentences in prison plus five years.
Magnolia Pictures

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."

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

'The Last Sentence': A Man Making History, But Made By It As Well

Actor Jesper Christensen plays Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt in The Last Sentence, a biographical film that highlights the journalist's stance against Hitler and fascism during World War II.
Nille Leander Music Box Films

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 9:19 am

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 Hitler to his country, and to liberal democracy everywhere.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

'Burning Bush' Finds The Fuel For A Desperate Act

Jenovéfa Boková (as Vlaďka Charouzová), Adrian Jastraban (as Vladimír Charouz), and Tatiana Pauhofová (as Dagmar Burešová) in Burning Bush.
Kino Lorber

Originally published on Fri June 13, 2014 12:09 pm

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.

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Movie Reviews
4:33 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Bringing A Book Phenomenon To The Screen, With Sadly Ordinary Results

Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) take on a variety of challenges in The Fault in Our Stars.
James Bridges Twentieth Century Fox

Originally published on Thu June 5, 2014 6:56 pm

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.

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Movie Reviews
8:52 am
Fri May 30, 2014

'Maleficent' Tells The Fairy Tale From The Wicked One's Perspective

Maleficent rehabilitates the most maligned figure in the fairy tale canon.
Frank Connor Disney

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 1:00 pm

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?

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Movies
4:03 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Love Blooms In Midlife, But Halfheartedly

Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche do their best in the watery Words And Pictures.
Doane Gregory Roadside Attractions

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.

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Movie Reviews
4:04 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

From The Traditions Of Melodrama, A Woman Of Resolve

Marion Cotillard stars in The Immigrant.
Anne Joyce The Weinstein Company

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.

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Movies
1:57 pm
Sun April 27, 2014

'Walking With The Enemy': An Occupation Poorly Rendered

Charles De'ath, Charles Hubbell and Burn Gorman in Walking With The Enemy.
Liberty Studios

Originally published on Sun April 27, 2014 2:00 pm

By the time the Nazis got around to taking Hungary in 1944, the country was already fatally compromised by its economic alliance with Fascist Germany and Italy on the one hand, and a shaky pact with Stalin on the other. Imagining that its loyalty to a protective leader, Regent Horthy, would save them from the fate suffered by other European Jews, Hungary's highly assimilated Jewish community fell prey (along with the Regent himself) to the extreme right-wing Arrow Cross party.

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Movie Reviews
5:52 pm
Thu March 27, 2014

'Vivian Maier' Brings Nanny-Photographer's Life Into Focus

In their new documentary Finding Vivian Maier, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel profile a reclusive photographer and her undiscovered photo archive.
Vivian Maier Courtesy of IFC Films

Originally published on Fri March 28, 2014 10:53 am

Is an artist's life relevant to her reputation as an artist? Not so much, perhaps, but many of us want the bio anyway, especially when the artist in question is as tantalizingly elusive as Vivian Maier (or Mayer, or Meyer, as she variously spelled it to confound the curious), a reclusive Chicago nanny whose posthumously discovered trove of street photographs swelled into a cause celebre after her death in 2009.

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Movie Reviews
5:10 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

It's Either Art Or A Fire Hose, And We're Calling It The Latter

James (James Franco) is a retired actor who may or may not be suffering from a degenerative mental illness in Maladies, an art film from New York painter, sculptor and filmmaker Carter.
Tribeca Films

Many years ago, the great and grumpy British TV writer Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective, Pennies From Heaven) rounded a corner in a prominent New York art museum and stood wondering whether the coiled thingy on the wall in front of him was a work of art or an emergency fire hose.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

A Teen On The Hunt, And Maybe In Over Her Head

Fourteen-year-old Lila (Gina Persanti) spends her summer looking for love — and finds a rough-edged older boy in It Felt Like Love.
Variance Films

Feared and feared for in equal measure, today's teenagers are prisoners of pop and punditry. Branded as bad seeds or delicate flowers, they take shape in the public mind as either neglected or overprotected by their parents, abused by or abusive of the Internet, oversexed or terrified of sex. Is coming of age the pits, or what?

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Sex, Smokes, And Deneuve On The Move

In a twist of sorts on the typical male- or youth-driven road movie, Catherine Deneuve plays an older woman playing young.
Cohen Media Group

Originally published on Sat March 15, 2014 4:13 am

Unhinged by crises both monetary and amorous, a provincial Frenchwoman tells the employees at her restaurant, "I'll be back." Then she takes off in her ancient rattletrap with no escape plan beyond an illicit smoke and a drive to clear her addled head. Turns out she'll be gone a while.

Yes, there's a road movie in Bettie's cards. Yes, there will be formative ordeals. And yes, the payoff will be uplift, along with one of those toothsome al fresco country lunches where Mediterranean types wave their arms around and argue in friendly fashion.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

A Legacy Of War, Hitting Home Decades Later In Norway

Katrine (Juliane Kohler) has a golden life in Norway — and a dark secret rooted in Eastern Germany, in the dark days of war and division.
Tom Trambow IFC Films

Decades after the end of World War II, the partly burned body of a young woman was found in a wooded area near the Norwegian town of Bergen. Her possible connection to a long-simmering Norwegian scandal, one dating back to the war, became the subject of a novel by Hannelore Hippe — and, in turn, of Two Lives, a new thriller loosely based on that novel.

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Movie Reviews
4:33 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

Into An 'Adult World,' With A Quirky Coterie To Assist

Emma Roberts is an aspiring poet, and John Cusack a played-out one, in the quirky comedy Adult World.
IFC Films

In the opening scene of Adult World, a modestly scaled comedy of the sort that littered the prime-time landscape before TV and film traded places, we meet Amy (Emma Roberts), a poet-yet-to-be with her head in a plastic bag. A poster of Sylvia Plath trembles with significance on her bedroom wall.

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Movie Reviews
4:02 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

The Holocaust Recalled, Again, Through The Eyes Of 'The Unjust'

In 1975, Shoah director Claude Lanzmann interviewed Benjmain Murmelstein, the last surviving Elder of the Jews of the Czech Theresienstadt ghetto, at his home in Rome. The resulting film is The Last of the Unjust.
Cohen Media Group

With a running time of more than nine hours, Claude Lanzmann's monumental 1985 documentary, Shoah, was never destined to become a mass audience draw. But this sober, taxing, utterly absorbing attempt to document the Holocaust grows ever more essential precisely as our collective memory is increasingly eroded by the reductive shorthand of emaciated bodies or piles of shoes discarded by concentration-camp inmates as they went to their terrible fate. For Lanzmann, understanding trumps empathy.

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Movie Reviews
4:02 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

On Campus, Two Weary Souls Find A Spark To Kindle

Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga star as two weary strangers who meet — and spark mutual midlife awakenings — while taking their kids on a college tour.
Anchor Bay Films

Long after many another serviceable movie premise has gone to its grave, the brief encounter will live and be well.

Talk about an unbeatable package: Nothing more urgently captures the disappointment of lives congealed by routine than does the sudden midlife romance; nothing so pointedly speaks to the undying desire for completion by another who understands and accepts us as no one else does; nothing so completely resounds with the fantasy of escape. And nothing so neatly contains all that unruly desire within the 11th-hour return to common sense and responsible self-sacrifice.

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Movie Reviews
4:02 pm
Thu January 23, 2014

Moving Through Middle Age, With A Song In Her Heart

Paulina Garcia was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Actress at last year's Berlin International Film Festival for her role in Gloria.
Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 1:38 pm

The Chilean matron at the heart of the wonderfully unsettling comedy Gloria looks like any ordinary woman confronting the familiar dilemmas of late middle age. For other reasons, though, you may feel as though you've met her before.

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Movie Reviews
5:02 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

Love And Struggle In The Shadow Of The Third Reich

The sprawling drama Generation War follows a range of characters — a Nazi officer and his brother, a nurse, an aspiring singer and her Jewish boyfriend — through Germany during World War II.
Music Box Films

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 9:08 am

Knee-deep already in collective scrutiny of its painful World War II history, Germany wades in up to its own neck with a viscerally unsparing drama — originally a TV miniseries — set to screen in two parts in selected U.S. theaters.

Generation War tracks five jaunty young childhood friends as they prepare to scatter from a Berlin bar in 1941 to do their bit for the Thousand Year Reich. With Kristallnacht fresh in memory and Stalingrad looming, you'd think even these frisky young things might know better than to expect to reunite unscathed for Christmas.

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Movie Reviews
4:02 pm
Thu January 9, 2014

Mommy Issues Writ Large For A Troubled Teen

Kaya Scodelario plays a melodramatic teenager obsessed with her mother's death in The Truth About Emanuel, the second film from director Francesca Gregorini.
Tribeca Film

What's a domestic melodrama without a mom to kill off, to sicken, to render monstrous or otherwise AWOL?

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Movie Reviews
5:57 pm
Thu December 26, 2013

In 'Lone Survivor,' Heroics Extend Only As Far As Survival, Solidarity

Mark Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor.
Universal Pictures

We are awash in war films, and why is it that nonfiction films such as Dirty Wars or Iraq in Fragments increasingly resort to the dramatizing techniques of narrative film, while fiction films strain toward procedure, as if to avoid the sticky business of interpretation altogether?

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Movie Reviews
2:12 pm
Tue December 24, 2013

Orbiting Dickens, An 'Invisible Woman' Or Two

Felicity Jones plays Nelly Ternan, longtime mistress of author Charles Dickens, in The Invisible Woman.
David Appleby Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Tue December 24, 2013 4:40 pm

The Invisible Woman is slow to build — but worth its wait in gold. A little over halfway through, this terrific drama bears fiercely down on the steep cost of being two of the significant women in the gilded life of Charles Dickens.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

LaBute's 'Velvet Morning': Nothing Soft About These Surfaces

When Fred (Stanley Tucci) shows up on the doorstep of his former lover (Alice Eve) ready to resume their relationship, it doesn't necessarily go smoothly.
Rogier Stoffers Tribeca Film

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 9:43 am

I'll say this for Neil LaBute: The man sticks to his guns. Critics may carp about his sour vision of human nature, but he keeps plugging away at his micro-studies of the cruel struggle for interpersonal domination.

LaBute is a master of stagecraft, of course; I'm not sure why he works in film at all, other than to broaden his audience. Aside from the substantially more cinematic Nurse Betty, almost all of his movies are essentially stage plays, ably transposed to the screen but with minimal concession to the switch in medium.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu December 12, 2013

Making 'Mary Poppins,' With More Than A Spoonful Of Sugar

Saving Mr. Banks chronicles Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) long campaign to persuade Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to allow his movie-musical adaptation of her books.
Francois Duhamel Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Fri December 13, 2013 2:42 pm

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live."

That endlessly quoted line from Joan Didion's The White Album echoes with more than the usual resonance for the two adversaries duking it out for control over the movie adaptation of Mary Poppins in Saving Mr. Banks.

For 20 years Walt Disney, reportedly on his young daughters' say-so, had tried to wrestle a green light from P. L. Travers, who wrote the original novels about the discipline-minded governess who flew in through a London window to save a troubled family from itself.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu December 5, 2013

Among Israeli Teens, Complicated Questions Of Consent

In S#x Acts, Gili (Sivan Levy) transfers to a new school and takes up with more than one of her fellow students, and the lines of consent and blame begin to get blurred.
Tribeca Film

It's hard to think of a social issue more certain to drive people into blinkered encampment than the question of sexual consent. There are times when "no means no" seems like an incomplete response to an enormously touchy problem — especially as it affects teenagers, a demographic not known for prudent lust management.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu November 28, 2013

Silent For Years, A Riot Grrrl Steps Back To The Mic

Musician and riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna — formerly of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, now with The Julie Ruin — is the fascinating central figure in the biographical documentary The Punk Singer.
Allison Michael Orenstein Opening Band Films

Originally published on Thu November 28, 2013 5:29 pm

To many baffled outsiders over 40, Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna was a weirdo riot grrrl bopping up and down onstage in her bra and panties, bellowing atonal revenge lyrics at anyone who'd keep her and her fellow women down.

To her ardent young following of 1990s Third Wave feminists, though, Hanna was an alt Messiah, hacking out a space for women in the punk-rock mosh pit and sounding an enraged alarm on behalf of victims of sexual assault.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu November 21, 2013

A Side Of Bettie Page You've (Somehow) Never Seen

Bettie Page Reveals All digs deep into the storied life of the 1950s model, seen here in one of the many photos featured in the documentary.
Music Box Films

Originally published on Thu November 21, 2013 5:03 pm

A tantalizing nugget lies half-buried in Mark Mori's engaging documentary about Bettie Page, the 1950s pinup who's inspired an endlessly self-renewing retro-cult of fans both male and female.

In the middle of a screening of Mary Harron's The Notorious Bettie Page, it seems, a voice was heard yelling "Lies! All lies!"

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Movie Reviews
4:02 pm
Thu November 14, 2013

A Rome Portrait, And What A 'Great Beauty'!

In The Great Beauty, aging journalist and cynic Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is forced to look back on his own lavish life after a former love dies.
Gianni Fiorito Janus Films

The ghost of Federico Fellini hovers wickedly over The Great Beauty, a fantastic journey around contemporary Rome and a riot of lush imagery juggling past and present, sacred and profane, gorgeous and grotesque.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu November 7, 2013

One Big Lie, And All Of Lance Armstrong's Others

Alex Gibney's documentary started as a flattering profile of competitive cyclist Lance Armstrong, but all that changed after Armstrong admitted to years of doping — and lying to everyone about it.
Frank Marshall Sony Pictures Classics

"I didn't live a lot of lies. But I did live one big one. It's different, I guess. Maybe not."

So said disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong to filmmaker Alex Gibney early this year, just hours after he confessed to Oprah that he'd doped during his seven wins of the Tour de France.

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