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
10:51 am
Fri March 27, 2015

A Photographer's Eye For Tragedy And Hope In 'Salt Of The Earth'

Elephant in Kafue National Park, Zambia, 2010.
Sebastiao Salgado Amazonas Images/Sony Pictures Classics

The Salt of the Earth, a documentary about famed photographer Sebastiao Salgado, ends with tranquil images of his family farm in Brazil, a leafy earthly paradise restored from the ravages of severe drought. That's where Salgado went to recover from his experiences in war-torn Rwanda, and, perhaps, a life spent bringing back pictures of the self-inflicted horrors of mankind: genocide, drought, famine and the unspeakable suffering they bring to those caught in their wake.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Don't Give Up Too Easily On The Scruffy 'Danny Collins'

Singer Danny Collins (Al Pacino) with his manager Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer).
Bleecker Street

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 12:03 pm

Al Pacino as a jaded, aging rocker re-juiced by a road trip to settle accounts with himself and his long-lost family? By all means roll your eyes — the star has one brow goofily raised himself — but don't give up on Danny Collins. In a (slightly) lower key than he's wont to play, Pacino puts a sweet spin on Danny that makes him more worth attending to than you might expect from the drifting geezer we meet, decked out in regulation gold chains and a bleary cocaine haze.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu March 12, 2015

Lesser-Known Players Get Their Bows In 'The Wrecking Crew'

George Harrison and Joe Osborn in The Wrecking Crew.
Magnolia Pictures

In the mid-1960s, pop music moved its center of gravity from New York to Los Angeles. It was a seismic shift, but growing up in the cold drizzle of post-World War II London, what did I know from the West Coast Sound? I was just a rapt kid with my ear glued to Top-40 radio, dreaming of sun, surf and sex via the Beach Boys, the Mamas and Papas, Sam Cooke, The Supremes. In my fevered imagination, Spector's towering "wall of sound" had to have been recorded in a cathedral.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu March 5, 2015

Weeping, Shooting And A Belly Full Of Gum In 'October Gale'

Scott Speedman and Patricia Clarkson in October Gale.
Jeremy Benning IFC Films

At 55 years old, Patricia Clarkson retains the golden glow and throaty delivery of a siren out of 1940s women's melodrama. But her home turf lies along the edgier margins of indie cinema (High Art, Far From Heaven, The Station Agent) and television (Six Feet Under, Parks and Recreation). There, Clarkson has thrived as a character actress who can do arch, sinister, smart, sexy, goofy and wistful on demand.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

'The Rewrite': Hugh Grant Operating At Maximum Hugh Grant

Marisa Tomei and Hugh Grant star in The Rewrite.
Anne Joyce Watch Image

Originally published on Fri February 13, 2015 12:57 pm

Even when he's walking through the shambling shtick he can do in his sleep, Hugh Grant always gives good value.

In Marc Lawrence's sweetly undemanding new comedy The Rewrite, the British actor is in familiar mode, rumpled and stammering as Keith Michaels, a once-successful screenwriter now left behind in Hollywood's mad scramble for "edgy comedies with a kick-ass young woman." Down to his last option, Keith reluctantly accepts a gig as a writer-in-residence at a public university in upstate New York.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu February 5, 2015

'Ballet 422' Is A Dance Documentary Long On Art, Not Drama

New York City Ballet principal dancers Sterling Hytlin, Tiler Peck, Amar Rama and choreographer Justin Peck.
Jody Lee Lipe Ballet 422/New York City Ballet

Originally published on Fri February 6, 2015 9:38 pm

Tucked into the dance documentary Ballet 422, there's a nice cutaway you might miss if you blinked: An ordinary-looking young man wearing a backpack waits quietly for his late-night train on a New York platform. Another weary student or barista on his way home in the city, perhaps.

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Movie Reviews
4:04 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

A Parisian Finds Her Place In A Rarely Seen Part Of 'Girlhood'

Karidja Toure in Girlhood.
Strand Releasing

Early on in Celine Sciamma's striking Girlhood, a deft twist confounds what you might expect from a teen movie set in a mostly black, poverty-stricken suburb of Paris. Shut out of conventional paths to realize her ambition to be "like others, normal" and fed up with the tyranny of a bullying older brother at home, 16-year-old Marieme (Karidja Toure) takes up with a gang of tough-talking girls whose charismatic leader, Lady (Assa Sylla), fights other girls and wields a knife.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu January 22, 2015

'Mommy' Tells The Story Of A Troubled, Transfixing Bond

Anne Dorval and Antoine Olivier Pilon in Mommy.
Shayne Laverdière Roadside Attractions

At first blush, Diane (Anne Dorval), the working-class, French-Canadian woman in her forties who dominates Xavier Dolan's Mommy, seems no more than a tired movie cliché, the single-mom slattern who drives other parents in her orbit to come on like the Harper Valley PTA.

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Movie Reviews
9:33 am
Fri January 2, 2015

'Leviathan' Shows A Film And Filmmaker Unafraid Of Big Questions

Alexey Serebryakov as Kolya in Leviathan.
Anna Matveeva Sony Pictures Classics

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.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu December 18, 2014

A Beautiful, Desolate 'Winter Sleep'

Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) consults his sister Necla (Demet Akbag) about the subject of his next newspaper column.
Adopt Films

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 8:01 pm

My favorite movie of 2014 is three hours long, and it's about Turkish people who live in caves. Winter Sleep is all talk and vistas of steppes so beautiful and so desolate, they'll make you weep. Don't go away: Like all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's work, the film, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, is about life itself, in general but with thrilling particularity. You want to know why we can't get along, don't you?

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu December 11, 2014

The 1970s, Ugly And Adrift In 'Inherent Vice'

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Larry "Doc" Sportello — a private investigator with a pot smoking habit — in Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson's film adaptation of the novel by Thomas Pynchon.
Wilson Webb Warner Brothers Pictures

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.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

A Claustrophobic 'Pioneer' From A Land Suddenly Grown Rich

Aksel Hennie and Wes Bentley star as offshore divers in Pioneer.
Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri December 5, 2014 12:36 pm

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.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu November 27, 2014

In 'The Babadook,' A Mother's Sacrifices And A Monster's Roar

Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman in The Babadook.
Matt Nettheim Brigade Marketing

Fun though it is that women in American film have begun to dip their fingers into the macabre genres, they're way behind Australia's curve. If you're old enough to remember Jane Campion's 1989 debut feature Sweetie (about a family almost as crazy as its psychotic daughter) or Jocelyn Moorhouse's 1991 Proof (about a blind photographer), you'll know that women filmmakers from down under have long embraced the sick and twisted — so long as it's firmly grounded in the domestic.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu November 20, 2014

A Frustrating Love Letter In 'Monk With A Camera'

Nicholas Vreeland in Naples, Italy.
Kino Lorber, Inc.

In the late 1970s, a young American took leave of his well-heeled, cosmopolitan life to become a Tibetan monk in a remote Indian monastery. Given the times, this was hardly an unusual step, especially among trust-funders who could afford to step away from the daily grind for a spell longer than the obligatory backpacking trek to Katmandu.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu November 13, 2014

In 'The Homesman,' A Most Unromantic American West

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones in The Homesman.
Dawn Jones Roadside Attractions

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 have suffered hurt early and often — endlessly kind.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 am
Fri October 31, 2014

'Before I Go To Sleep' Is An Amnesia Thriller You'll Hope To Forget

Amnesiac Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) struggles to trust her husband Ben (Colin Firth).
Laurie Sparham Clarius Entertainment

The bloodshot eyeball that opens to greet a brand-new day — and I mean brand-new day — in the thriller Before I Go To Sleep belongs to wealthy English homemaker Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman). Christine suffers from psychogenic amnesia, the fright-moviemaker's best friend. She can store memories during the day, but they reliably vanish overnight, marooning poor Christine in what is either a hapless attempt to upstage Memento or a remake of Groundhog Day in noir.

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Movie Reviews
1:03 am
Fri October 24, 2014

In 'Force Majeure,' Society Crumbles Under An Avalanche

Force Majeure follows the aftermath of a split-second decision made by a father during an avalanche.
Magnolia Pictures

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.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu October 16, 2014

Beauty And Loss In 'The Tale Of Princess Kaguya'

The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Hatake Jimusho GNDHDDTK/Gkids

Originally published on Fri October 17, 2014 8:48 am

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 marginally less inconsolable than were my toddler daughter and I.

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Movie Reviews
4:23 pm
Thu October 9, 2014

Bill Murray Doesn't Do Much, But He Does It So Well In 'St. Vincent'

Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent.
Atsushi Nishijima The Weinstein Company

Originally published on Fri October 10, 2014 7:17 am

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).

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu October 2, 2014

Good-Hearted But Simplistic, 'The Good Lie' Fails To Satisfy

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 by Reese Witherspoon, serious brunette.

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Movie Reviews
7:53 am
Fri September 19, 2014

Crossing The Desert, Making 'Tracks'

Originally published on Fri September 19, 2014 9:07 am

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.

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Movie Reviews
10:03 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Getting Each Other And The Bonds Of 'The Skeleton Twins'

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 dramedy about a brother and sister who have reached adulthood in years, if not in maturity.

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Movie Reviews
8:03 am
Fri September 5, 2014

In 'Rocks In My Pockets,' A Family History Of Depression And Art

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 comic hysteria edged with existential panic.

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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

'The Notebook': A Grim Fable Of Cruelty In Wartime

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 them a notebook, he tells them to record everything that happens to them.

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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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