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.

Pages

Movie Reviews
4:02 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 8:08 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:02 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?

Read more
Movie Reviews
4:57 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?

Read more
Movie Reviews
1:15 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 3:40 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 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 8:43 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 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 1:42 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 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 4:29 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 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 4:03 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!"

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:02 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
12:15 am
Fri October 25, 2013

'Capital' Thrills In A Global Game Of Thrones

A former economics professor (Gad Elmaleh) gains entree into the house-of-cards world of high finance when he suddenly becomes head of a venerable French bank.
Cohen Media Group

Costa-Gavras' propulsive 1969 thriller Z, a thinly veiled account of the assassination of a Greek democratic politician by a military junta, shaped the political passions of many in my upstart generation. It also instilled in one impressionable young critic-to-be the conviction that the revolution would come packaged with the likes of Yves Montand as boyfriend material.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 17, 2013

In 'All Is Lost,' Plenty To Be Found

Robert Redford plays the sole character in All Is Lost; a man who is stranded at sea, on a badly damaged boat — and completely on his own.
Daniel Daza Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 1:40 pm

Other than a single shouted expletive toward the end of All Is Lost, the only words we hear from its central character — a sailor adrift alone on the Indian Ocean — come right at the beginning, in a note of apology to unknown recipients for unspecified sins.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 10, 2013

An 'Escape' Into Something Decidedly Un-Disneyfied

Isabelle (Annet Mahendru, left) and Sophie (Danielle Safady) are the young Frenchwomen who thoroughly distract Jim from his wife and children.
Mankurt Media

Originally published on Fri October 11, 2013 12:43 pm

Escape From Tomorrow, a dystopian fantasy about a laid-off worker on the lam at Disney World, comes bloated with marketing bluster: The movie, as its PR people have been trumpeting for months, was shot guerrilla-style at Disney parks in Anaheim and Orlando.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

'Out In The Dark,' Where Nothing Is Black Or White

Nicholas Jacob (Nimr) and Michael Aloni (Roy) are star-crossed lovers of a different stripe in the Israeli drama Out in the Dark.
Ran Aviad Breaking Glass Pictures

Originally published on Sun September 29, 2013 6:25 am

Paving the way for a brand-new subgenre — the gay romantic thriller — the atmospheric neo-noir Out in the Dark tells of a Palestinian university student who seeks refuge from the homophobia of his traditionalist West Bank village in the more gay-friendly atmosphere of metropolitan Tel Aviv.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 19, 2013

'Enough,' Almost, But At Least There's Gandolfini

After James Gandolfini's death this past June, the actor's turn in Enough Said, where he stars opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a man looking for a second chance at love, has taken on a tinge of the bittersweet.
Lacey Terrell Fox Searchlight

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 3:40 pm

It was writer-director Nicole Holofcener's good fortune, and her bad luck, to have snagged James Gandolfini for Enough Said, her comedy about two imminent empty-nesters dipping their toes into fresh romantic waters. Given his untimely death, the film is likely to be remembered less for its own modest virtues than as a last chance to say a bittersweet farewell to its star.

Read more
Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu September 12, 2013

Meet Brandon Darby, Grass-Roots Activist (And FBI Rat)

Brandon Darby, a onetime leftist activist who eventually became an FBI informant, has had his share of both detractors and admirers — many of whom appear in a new documentary about his life and work.
Music Box Films

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 8:13 am

For a while in Jamie Meltzer's mesmerizing documentary Informant, I wondered whether subject Brandon Darby, the lefty activist turned FBI informer, was being played by an actor.

But no: It's Darby, and he's a handsome fellow, with haunted eyes blazing out of a bone structure to die for, and with a Montgomery Clift dimple in his chin. Staring straight into the camera, he testifies with the intense calm of a messiah or a madman, which all too often comes to the same thing. Among other things, this powerfully confused man is a study in American extremity.

Read more
Movie Reviews
10:10 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

Dentist, Heal Thy Sister (And Vice Versa)

Reach Out And ... What Was It Again? Josh Pais and Rosemarie DeWitt are a brother and sister with serious life changes to negotiate in Touchy Feely.
Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri September 6, 2013 1:40 pm

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

Mommy Issues, Or: It's Always Sonny In Cougartown

It's a family film: Xavier Samuel and Robin Wright play one of two intergenerational couples at the center of Anne Fontaine's Adore, a film that dares to ask: "Does it count as a mommy issue if you're sleeping with her lifelong best friend?"
Exclusive Media

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 8:48 am

Overused and much misused, the word "provocative" has become a double-edged sword, especially when it's swung in the direction of independent cinema. At its best, the genuinely provocative film — off the top of my head, anything by Bunuel, Shaun of the Dead, Holy Motors -- shocks in order to expand our vision of the world it encompasses. At its most dispiriting, it's an exercise in cheap thrillage, designed to goose a presumptively stuffy bourgeois audience while positioning a director as some sort of iconoclast.

Read more
Movie Reviews
5:28 pm
Wed August 28, 2013

'Closed Circuit' Targets Big Brother, But Swings Pretty Wide

Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall play lawyerly allies with a complicated past — one that threatens to increase their present peril — in the surveillance-state thriller Closed Circuit.
Jay Maidment Focus Features

A massive explosion rocks a covered market, but Central London still looks mighty handsome in the British thriller Closed Circuit. So does the actress Rebecca Hall. Decked out in blacks, creams and grays, she and her city both are sleek, elegant and more than a little forbidding, even if they're softened by pockets of olde worlde soul.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

In 'Drinking Buddies,' Drifting Through The Suds

Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at a Chicago brewery — and teeter on the brink of a relationship. But in this film, the work is more compelling than the play.
Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 1:07 pm

"She's so pretty, she could be in any movie," a fan gushed after a screening of Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies. There's a lot more to Olivia Wilde than her feline loveliness, which, combined with a challenging stare that dares you to dismiss her as fluff, reminds me of a young Michelle Pfeiffer. But not much of that is allowed out to play in this strained comic drama about two young couples struggling to answer universal questions in particular ways.

Read more
Opinion
3:42 am
Sun August 18, 2013

Forget The Tea: Delightful Debauchery In British Pop Culture

JJ Feild plays an actor who plays Mr. Darcy in the movie Austenland.
Fickle Fish Films

Originally published on Sun August 18, 2013 4:20 pm

The raucous comedy Austenland, in theaters this week, pokes fun at Americans' reverence for what they have been taught to see as a gracious British heritage — muslin, bonnets, tea time at the stately home with the blue-bloods, good manners.

As well it might. For most of the English 99-percenters I grew up with, heritage meant feet up in front of the telly, watching Top of the Pops.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

To 'Austenland,' Where Jane Jokes Go To Die

Keri Russell's Jane Hayes daydreams of the Regency life, complete with suitors as handsome and rough-hewn as Bret McKenzie's Martin, in Austenland, a big-screen adaptation of the Shannon Hale novel.
Giles Keyte Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Thu August 15, 2013 4:45 pm

Austenland, a clunky broadside aimed at the cult of Jane Austen, is worth seeing primarily for its end credits, a mix of pop oil and water so joyfully dippy it might have produced a stifled giggle even in Herself.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:52 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

For Two Mismatched Newlyweds, A Very Odd 'Year'

The typical romantic comedy might end with the wedding, but for Josh (Rafe Spall) and Nat (Rose Byrne), that's just the beginning of the story of I Give It a Year.
Jules Heath Magnolia

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 4:55 pm

I Give It a Year is about what you'd expect from the warped mind of Dan Mazer — Sacha Baron Cohen's close collaborator on Da Ali G Show­, Borat and Bruno. Which is to say: a raucously funny comic romance that's deaf and blind to the blithe spirit of romantic comedy.

Read more
Movie Reviews
4:26 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

Poseidon's Little Squirt Is Back, And He's Still At Sea

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman of Perks of Being a Wallflower) and his pal Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) are two of the unusually talented teens resident at Camp Half-Blood, a summer retreat for — well, demigods, not to put too fine a point on it.
Fox

Returning from sleep-away camp, my teenage daughter, who'd hitherto declared reading a foreign pursuit, announced that she was now a "bookie." Ruthlessly suppressing my inner jig, I nodded casually and asked how this literary epiphany had come about. A cabin full of reader-girls, it seemed, had turned her on to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. And so it came to pass that, over the next few weeks, my child holed up at the library and indulged a burgeoning obsession with Greek mythology.

Read more
Movies
11:28 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Emotional Terrorism, From The Shelter Of Home

Andre (Niels Arestrup) shares a home with his Moroccan-born adopted son Mounir (Tahar Rahim), who has struggled to find work outside his father's home-based medical practice.
Distrib Films

Our Children, a quietly devastating Belgian domestic drama, opens with a shattered young woman on an IV drip. Then the action moves swiftly back to that same woman, radiantly in love and eager to tell Andre, the man her beloved calls father, that she's planning to marry his boy.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

For Old-School Kvetch Comics, A Catskills Cradle

Jackie Mason is one of a host of comedians interviewed in When Comedy Went to School, a documentary about a generation of Jewish comics and the Catskills resorts that nurtured them.
International Film Circuit

For the charming but skin-deep documentary When Comedy Went to School, filmmakers Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank gained enviable access to pioneer stars of Borscht Belt standup.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:32 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

Cate Blanchett, Trifling With The Kindness Of Strangers

Sony Classics

Jasmine, once a wealthy Manhattan socialite, comes to us a jabbering wreck in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. We meet her staggering off a plane in San Francisco to stay with her down-market sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins).

The bottom has fallen out of Jasmine's glamorous world, in which she oozed style and made the trains run on time for her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), a financier who gave lavishly to charity with others' money. The name Madoff never comes up, but Hal went to jail, Jasmine is left with mountains of debt, and it's not hard to do the math.

Read more
Movie Reviews
5:04 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

A 'Girl Most Likely,' Unlikely To Succeed

Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening are daughter and mother in a dysfunctional-family comedy about a playwright whose life needs a reboot — and the people who help her push the button.
Roadside Attractions

In Girl Most Likely, a likable but warmed-over comedy about rediscovering the nutso family you thought was holding you back, the gifted Kristen Wiig plays Imogene, a playwright on the skids after a brief sojourn into minor Manhattan celebrity.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:04 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

Strange Doings Among Chess-Mad '80s Coders

Patrick Riester plays one of the alpha geeks competing in a game-writing tournament in Computer Chess, a willfully odd comedy from mumblecore pioneer Andrew Bujalski.
Kino Lorber

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 3:33 pm

"I don't mind putting something pleasant out into the world," said filmmaker Andrew Bujalski in a recent New York Magazine interview.

You don't hear that too often outside the sphere of general-audience entertainment, let alone from a writer-director widely credited with pioneering mumblecore, the slackerish mini-movement that never really was.

Read more

Pages