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
11:15 am
Fri July 31, 2015

In 1968, The 'Best Of Enemies' Faced Off In A Brutal, Televised Feud

In 1968, ABC paired two pundits from opposite ends of the political spectrum β€” William F. Buckley Jr. (left) and Gore Vidal β€” for a cut-throat intellectual faceoff. The documentary Best of Enemies explores this media milestone.
ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Late in a series of bruising televised debates on ABC tied to the momentous Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968, Gore Vidal beamed one of his supercilious side-eyes at William F. Buckley Jr. and called him a "crypto-fascist." Buckley bared his teeth, branded Vidal a "queer" and threatened to rearrange his face.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 23, 2015

'Phoenix': An Unconventional Noir About Two Troubled Pasts

Ronald Zehrfeld (Johnny) and Nina Hoss (Nelly) in Christian Petzold's Phoenix.
Christian Schulz/Schramm Film IFC Films

When Christian Petzold makes a thriller, it's nothing like the jokey, disclaiming neo-noirs we see so much of these days. His movies, set in critical periods of German history, are also love letters to the classic film noirs of Hollywood's Golden Age: The Postman Always Rings Twice looms over his 2008 film Jerichow, which features his longtime muse, Nina Hoss, as a woman with a crippling secret who plots murder with an Afghanistan war veteran.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 16, 2015

An Aging And Soulful 'Mr. Holmes' Puts A New Spin On Sherlock

Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes.
Agatha A. Nitecka Miramax/Roadside Attractions

Originally published on Fri July 17, 2015 1:19 pm

For a man said to possess neither the appetite nor the skills required for human connection, Sherlock Holmes has, in most of his incarnations, enjoyed a solid support system, haters included. Well, forget that: The team and the haters are all gone in Bill Condon's bittersweetly revisionist Mr. Holmes. Watson appears only from the waist down β€” don't ask. Dear, departed Mrs. Hudson is succeeded by Mrs.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 9, 2015

A Documentarian Wonders: 'Do I Sound Gay?'

Filmmaker David Thorpe (middle) explores whether there's such a thing as a "gay voice."
IFC

In the wake of a bad breakup, journalist and gay activist David Thorpe did what many of us do: He took intense inventory of his own flaws and insecurities, then stepped up one of them into a Thing. A good Thing, as it turns out, whose end result is the charming documentary Do I Sound Gay?, in which Thorpe wryly treats his anxieties about his "gay" voice as an exercise in self-improvement, and winds up with a compelling portrait of internalized homophobia and liberation.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 2, 2015

Beyond A Voice And A Sad Story, 'Amy' Listens To A Life

Amy Winehouse
A24

Originally published on Thu July 2, 2015 4:54 pm

Booze, drugs, Svengalis galore, rampant co-dependence: The bare bones of a crash-and-burn rocker bio-pic poke through Asif Kapadia's richly absorbing documentary about the short, sharp life of Amy Winehouse. Here and there Amy flirts with prurience, but prurience is hard to avoid with a young woman who, willy-nilly, lived her private life in public. And if ever there was an artist whose life and work fed one another for better and worse, it was Winehouse.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu June 18, 2015

One 'Overnight,' Two Couples, Countless Boundaries Violated

Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling in The Overnight.
John Geleserian The Orchard

Originally published on Thu June 25, 2015 3:31 pm

"I thought you wanted to loosen up," Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) asks Alex (Adam Scott) close to the end of Patrick Brice's The Overnight. "I do," Alex replies warily. "But I guess I'm just wondering what loosen up means at this point."

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu June 18, 2015

Difficult Times With A Difficult Father In 'Infinitely Polar Bear'

Mark Ruffalo, Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide in Infinitely Polar Bear.
Claire Folger Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Thu June 18, 2015 5:26 pm

Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo), the bipolar father of two at the center of Maya Forbes' amiable domestic comedy Infinitely Polar Bear, comes to us attired in a scarlet swimsuit with matching bandana as he bangs furiously on the window of a car containing his departing wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), and small daughters Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide). When his family visits soon after, Cam is an institutionalized zombie, medicated to the gills, his weight ballooning from the side effects of Lithium.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu June 11, 2015

In One New York Apartment, Six Brothers See The World Through Film

Krsna Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Bhagavan Angulo, Mukunda Angulo, Narayana Angulo and Govinda Angulo in The Wolfpack.
Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri June 12, 2015 2:38 pm

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:01 pm
Thu June 4, 2015

A Strong Central Performance Elevates A Pacifist's Story

Kit Harington and Alicia Vikander in Testament Of Youth.
Laurie Sparham Sony Picture Classics

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 28, 2015

Self-Improvement Gets Romantic In 'Results'

Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce in Results.
Ryan Green Magnolia Pictures

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 21, 2015

A Journey Of Self-Discovery In 'When Marnie Was There'

When Marnie Was There
2014 GNDHDDTK

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:01 pm
Thu May 14, 2015

Bad Karma In 'Every Secret Thing'

Dakota Fanning in Every Secret Thing.
Starz Digital

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 7, 2015

'Saint Laurent,' A Radical Man Of Fashion

Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent.
Carole Bethuel Mandarin Cinema-EuropaCorp-Orange Studio-Arte France Cinema-Scope Pictures, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Thu May 7, 2015 4:06 pm

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 β€” believe me, nothing β€” in common with The Devil Wears Prada.

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Movie Reviews
3:33 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

Revisiting The Melodrama Of 'Far From The Madding Crowd'

Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd.
Alex Bailey Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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 steamed-up adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1874 pastoral novel.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 16, 2015

Two Unmoored Souls Too Gloomily Drawn In 'Felix And Meira'

Hadas Yaron and Luzer Twersky in Felix and Meira.
Oscilloscope

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 9, 2015

'The Sisterhood Of Night' Wonders What These Girls Are Up To

Olivia DeJonge, Georgie Henley, Willa Cuthrell, and Kara Hayward in The Sisterhood Of Night.
Olivia Bee The Sisterhood Of Night

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 clichΓ© 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 dark, apparently to grow a satanic cult or something.

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Movie Reviews
8:33 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
3:03 pm
Thu December 11, 2014

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

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Larry "Doc" Sportello Ҁ” a private investigator with a pot smoking habit Ҁ” 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
3:03 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 11:36 am

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
3:03 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 β€” like many who have suffered hurt early and often β€” endlessly kind.

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Movie Reviews
12:03 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
3:03 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 7:48 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
3:23 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 6:17 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
3:03 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
6:53 am
Fri September 19, 2014

Crossing The Desert, Making 'Tracks'

Originally published on Fri September 19, 2014 8:07 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
9:03 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
7:03 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
3:03 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
3:31 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 8:49 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
3:03 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 5:02 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 β€” who with his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay was in May 1953 the first to reach the top of Mount Everest β€” 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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