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
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Movie Reviews
3:00 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

Almodovar, Extending An Invite To The Mile High Club

When their aircraft develops mechanical trouble, three flight attendants — Fajas (Carlos Areces), Ulloa (Raul Arevalo) and Joserra (Javier Camara) — set out to put passengers at ease ... using some unorthodox methods.
Sony Classics

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 4:54 pm

I'm So Excited! a less-than-exciting new romp from the great Pedro Almodovar, dusts off one of the hoariest plot tricks in the farceur's playbook: Trap a bunch of upstanding citizens in a confined space with no exit, and watch their ids — along with their secrets and lies — come out to play.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

A 'Hijacking' Where Business And Personal Collide

Pilou Asbaek (right) plays ship's cook Mikkel, a new dad who desperately wishes to return to his family, but is instead forced to prepare menus at gunpoint as the cargo vessel's owners negotiate for its release.
Magnolia Pictures

You might expect big action from a movie about the hijacking of a cargo ship by Somali pirates. But after a preliminary flurry of roughing-up, the Danish drama A Hijacking is mostly about the excruciating process of getting to "yes" when language is the least of the barriers between two very different mindsets.

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Movie Reviews
1:22 pm
Fri June 14, 2013

It Takes A (Gay) Village In 'Call Me Kuchu'

David Kato, a teacher and LGBT rights activist — as well as the first openly gay man in Uganda — is at the forefront of Call Me Kuchu's story.
Cinedigm

Horrific and uplifting, the excellent documentary Call Me Kuchu is partly framed as a portrait of David Kato, Uganda's first openly gay man. An activist of enormous courage and persistence — against odds that make the U.S. fight for marriage equality seem like a cakewalk — Kato was a savvy political strategist, with wit, charm and joie de vivre to burn. And he loved a good party, with his friends in drag where possible. But he was terrified of sleeping alone on his farm.

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Movie Reviews
3:01 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

Covert Conflicts, Decried In 'Dirty Wars'

Reporter and author Jeremy Scahill, shown in Somalia, visited a range of conflict-plagued areas for the film Dirty Wars, an outgrowth of his writing on American anti-terrorism efforts abroad.
IFC

After the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the soldiers of the paramilitary force JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) who carried out the operation were lionized as national heroes.

They earned more ambivalent treatment in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. And according to Dirty Wars, a documentary based on a book by investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, their shadowy outfit has pretty much taken over America's global war on terrorism — and in flagrantly unconstitutional ways, he claims.

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Movie Reviews
3:02 pm
Thu May 30, 2013

Anarchists Tempt A 1 Percenter In 'The East'

Brit Marling plays Sarah, a former FBI agent working for a private intelligence agency in The East. Shiloh Fernandez plays Luca, a member of the environmentalist vigilante group that Sarah infiltrates.
Myles Aronowitz Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

In The East, a slightly batty, weirdly involving new thriller about corporate espionage and eco-terrorism, rising star Brit Marling (last seen as Richard Gere's daughter in the drama Arbitrage) plays Sarah, an ambitious young private intelligence operative and former FBI agent.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

To 'Fill The Void,' A Choice With A Personal Cost

Domestic drama: Among the ultra-Orthodox world of Tel Aviv's Haredi Jews, Rivka (Irit Sheleg, left) and her daughter Shira (Hadas Yaron, second from left, with Hila Feldman and Razia Israeli) are confronted with a dilemma after a death in the family.
Karin Bar Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Sun May 26, 2013 6:29 am

Driving home from a screening of the ravishing new Israeli film Fill the Void, I caught sight of a young man in full Hasidic garb, trying to coax his toddler son across a busy Los Angeles street. My first thought was, "He's a boy himself, barely old enough to be a father, and they both look so pale."

My second was, "I wonder what his life feels like?" This is the more open mindset that director Rama Burshtein asks from audiences going into her first feature, a love poem to the ultra-Orthodox world as seen from within.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Greta Gerwig, Blithely Spirited As 'Frances Ha'

In Frances Ha, Greta Gerwig stars as a young dancer trying to find her way on her own in New York City. Noah Baumbach shot the film in black and white because it helped him "see the city with new eyes," he says.
Pine District, LLC

Originally published on Fri May 17, 2013 11:14 am

Long a darling of the New York indie scene, Noah Baumbach came to filmmaking with a solid pedigree: His father is a film theorist and his mother was a movie critic at the Village Voice (where I've contributed myself).

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Movie Reviews
2:54 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

'Venus and Serena': Champs Atop Their Game

Serena Williams (left) and her sister Venus Williams in action during their first-round doubles match on Day 2 at Wimbledon in 2010.
Hamish Blair Getty Images via Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 12:02 pm

What's left to know about Venus and Serena Williams? Probably not much that the tennis titans would be willing to share, given how heavily exposed they've been already, and how eager the press has been to wedge the sisters into ready-made narratives about race, celebrity and the daughters of a Svengali.

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Movies
3:03 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

'Love Is All You Need,' Unless Character Matters

Spoiler alert: These two initially incompatible people (played by Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm) will eventually fall for each other in Love Is All You Need, a romantic comedy that isn't either, and whose titular premise we regret to report is not always true.
Sony Pictures Classics

When a husband steps out on his wife while she's getting chemo, she's entitled to a weekend in the Mediterranean with Pierce Brosnan, right?

Right, but I believe he went there quite recently with Meryl Streep, did he not, albeit without the cancer? I didn't much care for Mamma Mia!, but the garish musical at least embraced its vulgarity with a full heart and a toe-tapping ABBA soundtrack. And now that I've seen Love Is All You Need, I'd settle for Streep doing the splits.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 25, 2013

Between Two Worlds, A 'Reluctant Fundamentalist'

A probing conversation between Changez (Riz Ahmed), a young Pakistani activist, and Bobby (Liev Schreiber), an American agent, forms the core of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
IFC Films

Originally published on Fri April 26, 2013 9:08 am

Coming as it does amid intense public debate about the alienation of immigrants in America, the release of Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is both timely and slightly eerie.

The movie, based on a well-received novel by Mohsin Hamid, charts the political and spiritual journey of Changez, a driven young Pakistani who arrives in New York determined to succeed, American-style.

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Movie Reviews
2:59 pm
Tue April 23, 2013

'At Any Price': What Cost A Win?

They might look like team players, but Dean (Zac Efron) and his ambitious father (Dennis Quaid) have markedly different goals for the future of their expanding family farm — and the people who run it.
Hooman Bahrani Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Thu April 25, 2013 3:29 pm

Like last year's fracking drama Promised Land, the new movie At Any Price is about farm people getting pushed around by corporations — except that there's no Matt Damon to rescue them, cleanse his soul and snag Rosemarie DeWitt in the bargain.

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Movie Reviews
3:23 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

A 'House' Divided, Over Stories Lived And Told

Bored high school English teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) encourages a talented student to exploit a classmate's family for literary inspiration.
Cohen Media Group

Originally published on Fri April 19, 2013 1:38 pm

Among the semi-literate journals submitted by his high-school students, jaded French literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is jazzed to find a rough diamond from a new pupil, Claude (Ernst Umhauer).

In weekly installments, the ingratiating but enigmatic teenager, who looks as though he just stepped out of a Pasolini movie, chronicles his efforts to insinuate himself into the family of one his classmates, an amiable but awkward underachiever named Rapha (Bastien Ughetto).

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 11, 2013

A Class-Concious Romp With 'The Angels' Share' Of Charm

An unsuspected talent gives Robbie (Paul Brannigan, third from left) a chance to pull off a rather unlikely heist. (Also pictured: Jasmin Riggins, William Ruane and Gary Maitland.)
Entertainment One

Responding to the death of Margaret Thatcher earlier this week, film director Ken Loach told The Guardian: "Mass unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed — this is her legacy. She was a fighter, and her enemy was the British working class."

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

'Before And After' Dinner, Andre Is Still Talking

In his wife's new documentary, theatrical director Andre Gregory comes across as an eternal child, hooked on his capacity to enchant but rarely able to listen to anyone else.
Cinema Guild

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 5:27 pm

In 1981, avant-garde theater director Andre Gregory collaborated with his friend Wallace Shawn and French filmmaker Louis Malle on an oddball project they called My Dinner with Andre.

Now enshrined as a classic — and one of the most-lampooned films in the history of American cinema — the movie is a talky two-hander in which Gregory (or someone very like him) gassed away about his globe-trotting adventures in spiritual enlightenment, while Shawn (or someone very like him) listened in disbelief, then grew entranced.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

Past Pains, Buried Deep 'Down The Shore'

The mysterious Jacques (Edoardo Costa, left) upends Bailey's (James Gandolfini) life when he arrives in the latter's seaside New Jersey town in Down the Shore.
Transmission Pictures

If you want to tell a story, the professional tale-spinners say, make something happen.

That's true, but a happening can be defined as elastically as the teller needs it to be. Sometimes it's a shift in a character's inner landscape — a change in her responses to the common hurts and losses that she's lugged around from childhood — that moves us more than a third-act gunshot ever could.

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Movie Reviews
3:08 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

An 'Admission' That Moms Might Not Know Best

High-strung Princeton University admissions counselor Portia (Tina Fey) finds old love — and a surrendered child — when she visits the Vermont prep school where old schoolmate John (Paul Rudd) is a teacher.
David Lee Focus Features

Half an hour into Paul Weitz's new comedy, Admission, it dawned on me that I was watching an Americanized About a Boy -- which admittedly was also directed by Weitz. Both movies are adapted from other people's novels; both cobble together families out of the waifs and strays of modern life.

But where About a Boy was both funny and wise about urban alienation, Admission settles for skin deep.

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Movies
9:33 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Whatever Happened To The Real Gingers And Rosas?

The '60s London of the unhappy adolescent Ginger (Elle Fanning, with Annette Bening's mentoring May) was more complicated than students Ginger's age understand today. Film writer Ella Taylor, who lived through that decade, came late to an understanding of the toll it took on young women like Ginger.
A24

A few weeks ago, I asked a class of college undergraduates what the 1960s meant to them.

"That flower-power thing?" one young man volunteered brightly.

The further we get from that misunderstood decade, the more the many strands of its rebelliousness get reduced to a pop-culture T-shirt slogan, a cartoon strip starring tie-dyed youth with stoned eyes and floor-mop hair.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu February 28, 2013

'Hava Nagila: The Movie' Pays Homage To Unlikely Jewish Touchstone

Young newlyweds are serenaded with the strains of "Hava Nagila." The unlikely origins of the popular Jewish standard are explored in Roberta Grossman's documentary feature Hava Nagila: The Movie.
International Film Circuit

Originally published on Sun March 3, 2013 6:47 am

I grew up on "Hava Nagila," and I'll admit it's not the catchiest of tunes. The ingenuous Hebrew lyrics ("Come! Let us rejoice and be happy!") don't wear well in our age of knowing irony and ennui.

Hip young Israelis wince at the very mention of the song, and for many Diaspora Jews, a few bars of the tune are all it takes to recall that excruciating moment late in a fancy wedding or bar mitzvah, when the band invites all remaining guests (tipsy uncles included) to kick up their heels — and then go home already.

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