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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

It's hard to imagine an upside to the civil war now causing unspeakable suffering in Syria. But the conflict has turned out to be a break for the makers of Inescapable, a feverish political thriller written and directed by Ruba Nadda, a Canadian of Syrian origin whose last film was the languorous 2009 romance Cairo Time.

As Ugly Americans go, Manhattan corporate attorney Sam Chao (Daniel Henney) has a lot going for him. He's a handsome dude with perfectly symmetrical features, a toned bod we get to peek at all but naked, and facile charm to burn.

It took years for our fictions to consider the Holocaust narrative. And for an even longer time, a stunned silence hovered over the fate of "Hitler's children" — ordinary Germans during and after World War II. That embargo, too, is lifting, with a significant trickle of novels, movies and television dramas that imagine what it felt like to be the inheritors of the worst that humans can do to other humans.

In the decade since Israeli director Eytan Fox made Yossi & Jagger, the precursor to his sublimely tender new drama Yossi, Israel has undergone two significant changes. A tacit and active homophobia has given way, at least in the open cultural climate of Tel Aviv, to a matter-of-fact acceptance of gay rights. At the same time, Israeli cinema has bloomed, becoming a thriving international presence in just about every genre.

If Tolstoy was right about every unhappy family being unhappy in its own way, the cinema of domestic dysfunction will likely never die. But it has gotten awfully droopy, mired in familiar plotting, quasi-wise psychobabble, or — in the case of so many comedies — a knowing prankishness (I'm looking at you, Judd Apatow) that wearies the soul.

There isn't much to say about Struck by Lightning, except that it's one of those interchangeable teen movies that lands in theaters in early January, the morgue for films nobody knows what to do with. That it was released at all is likely due to the clout of Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt on Glee and who wrote the screenplay, along with a companion young adult novel, as a vehicle for what appears to be his own blossoming savior complex.

We know from the outset that there's a death coming in Michael Haneke's Amour, a magisterial study of mortality that carried off the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival — and currently tops best-picture lists all over the world. But when we first meet Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), retired Paris music teachers in their 80s, they're in the pink and enjoying a piano recital given by one of Anne's former pupils.

You might know Lizzy Caplan, eternal sidekick, as Jason Segel's girlfriend on television's Freaks and Geeks. Or as the struggling comedienne from Party Down, or the vampire vegan on True Blood, or from the movie The Bachelorette earlier this year?

It would take a heart of stone — or zero tolerance for soap — to resist Any Day Now, a full-throttle weepie about a West Hollywood gay couple trying to adopt a neglected boy with Down syndrome.

In Hyde Park on Hudson — a sly, modestly subversive dramedy about a crucial weekend meeting between England's King George VI and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the eve of World War II — the diffident young monarch (Samuel West) confides his frustration over his lifelong stutter while the two men enjoy a postprandial drink expressly forbidden by their womenfolk.

"Wrinklies," a widely accepted British term for elderly people, is by a generous margin more affectionate fun than the anodyne euphemisms we use here in the United States, where many of us fear crow's-feet almost as much as we do death. It's no accident that Americans have no equivalent term of endearment beyond the horribly neutered "senior citizen." Or that Hollywood movies mostly ignore the old — or consign them to the demeaning Siberia of crazy old coots (Jack Nicholson) or wacky broads (Jane Fonda, Betty White and so many more).

Ungracefully aging rockers have long been stock figures of fun at the movies, with Bill Nighy topping the burnout charts in Love, Actually. Lately, though, a slew of former rock kings have enjoyed fresh renown via documentaries like Anvil, The Other F-Word and the upcoming Beware of Mr. Baker, many of which chart a Christ-like saga of meteoric rise, catastrophic fall and painfully slow resurrection. That's if their shot livers don't kill them first.

When my nieces were small, I took them on a day trip to the Museum of the Moving Image on London's South Bank. We had fun touring a puckishly curated journey through the history of cinema, until my younger niece flushed the toilet in the noir-inflected bathroom — and set off the famous shrieking strings that amp up the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, creating the most terrifying moment in American cinema.

After he'd finished reading Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, did director Joe Wright scribble on the last page, "Needs more pep?"

Wright is, after all, the man who put the cute little ampersand in Pride & Prejudice and gave us a giggly Lizzie Bennet rendered by Keira Knightley. Knightley is back again in the title role as the Russian chick who loves and loses and throws herself under a train.