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.

From two who brought us those sensitive little human dramas, Star Trek and Transformers, comes a sensitive, decent, well-crafted little drama about frailty and forgiveness.

No, really: In his first outing as a director, writer-producer Alex Kurtzman has filled in a heavily worn premise with wit, heart and — along with Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert — a lively way with ordinary speech.

Quvenzhane Wallis, the pint-sized African-American star of the wonderfully inventive film Beasts of the Southern Wild, was plucked from a Louisiana elementary school, and she's a find on many levels.

Six years old when the film was in production, Quvenzhane has a halo of wiry hair and enormous black eyes that flash fear and ferocity in quick succession. She's a mini-warrior in proudly flexed biceps and white rubber boots, and when, late in the film, well-wishers tog her up in a girlie dress and braids, she deflates, though not for long.

Woody Allen's slack new movie, To Rome with Love, comes fortified with a fine bit of nonsense involving a shower, a loofah and a nervous Italian tenor who's terrified of performing in public.

Allen repeats the joke at well-spaced intervals, and he's right to: It represents what's best in his comedy, a goofball grace note in which he invites us to join in his delight in the sublime absurdity of artistic endeavor. Around my local screening room, it seemed that just about everyone obliged.

The Anglo-Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski may be an unfamiliar name, but you may have seen his wonderfully atmospheric first two features. If you haven't, add them to the Netflix queue without delay: Pawlikowski's 2000 feature debut, Last Resort, made utterly plausible and romantic an unlikely love story between a Russian immigrant and an amusement-arcade manager in a decaying detention center on the English coast.

On its surface alone, Andrey Zvyagintsev's Elena is an intensely compelling slice of noir about moral rot and class warfare in post-Soviet Russia. Deeper down, the movie seethes quietly with the moody influence of other East European masters of the timeless ineffable. If Zvyagintsev were a less inscrutable filmmaker, he might have titled his new film Crime Without Punishment — but we'll get to that.

Ever thought about murdering popular culture and its hangers-on? If your current homicidal fantasies include whacking the gelled hipster who loudly water-coolers yesterday's idiot reality show for anyone who will listen — and many who'd rather not — you may find yourself rooting for Frank, the unlikely dragonslayer of Bobcat Goldthwait's bracing new black comedy God Bless America.

Outsourcing gets a new twist in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a likable if market-driven ensemble comedy about a pack of cash-poor British elders who ship out for India, hoping for one last stab at self-renewal in a supposedly glam hotel.

The lonely seniors have two things in common: the usual big-screen bucket-list array of wishes for love, sex, closure and adventure — or at a minimum, retirement without total penury — and the fact that they're all played by the cream of today's British acting talent, albeit mostly operating below full steam.

In 1945, shortly after my father was demobilized from the British army, my parents packed their bags and went to help found a kibbutz near Galilee, in the north of what was then Palestine. Along with a crew of other young Jewish socialists and refugees from European anti-Semitism, these two city dwellers set to work draining swamps and replacing them with fish ponds and fruit orchards, building collectives out of spartan shacks and collective dining halls, and raising their children in communal nurseries.

It is said of one well-liked Hollywood purveyor of cheerfully inept romantic comedies that he doesn't actually direct movies — he hosts them. That quip sprang unbidden to mind at a screening of the genially terrible Darling Companion, a therapeutic intervention passing as family dramedy for our times.

A little short of two decades ago, I served with Whit Stillman on the Dramatic Competition jury at the Sundance Film Festival, alongside actor Samuel Jackson and directors Atom Egoyan and Darnell Martin. During voting meetings, we were a fractious bunch, but otherwise we all got along great. Never had jury duty been so much fun — when I wasn't fretting about whether Stillman had seen my surly review of his 1990 first feature, Metropolitan.

Pages