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
3:44 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

'Master' Actors Deliver Glimpse Into Cult Life

Navy veteran Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) falls under the influence of cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in The Master.
Phil Bray The Weinstein Co.

Originally published on Fri September 14, 2012 11:12 am

Overheard after a screening of The Master:

"So I guess this is an unfinished print?"

"Nope. This is the one they're rolling out."

And it's true that there are moments, especially toward the end of its meandering 137 minutes, when The Master feels like a series of brainy but disconnected thoughts about 20th-century America. That's how writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson works, and for those who don't insist on coherence or closure in narrative any more than they do in life, it's part of the thrilling madness of his method.

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Movie Reviews
3:28 pm
Thu September 6, 2012

'The Words': Serious Questions, Meet Sappy Romance

Frustrated author Rory (Bradley Cooper) and his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), come into possession of a manuscript that Rory decides to pass off as his own.
Jonathan Wenk CBS Films

Originally published on Thu September 6, 2012 3:33 pm

Bradley Cooper has the wolfish grin and raffish charm of a cardsharp — or a baby hedge-fund manager. So at first you may find him a tough sell as a writer of prose so sensitive and "interior" that even an admiring old-school editor tells him it's unpublishable.

Hold on, though. The writer has moral flaws, and a name, Rory Jansen, that's better suited to a designer of racy swimwear than a crafter of lambent sentences about the inner workings of the psyche.

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Movie Reviews
12:32 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

Chilling Future Awaits 'Girl Model' Recruits

Nadya Vall, a 13-year-old Russian girl who is sent off to Tokyo to become a model, is hoping to satisfy her parents' desire to afford a larger home.
First Run Features

Originally published on Tue September 4, 2012 2:38 pm

In Girl Model, an alarming documentary about the trafficking of Russian child models to the Japanese fashion market, a garrulous modeling agent explains his philosophy: To expiate his own past bad behavior, he says with papal solemnity, he approaches model recruitment as a religious calling, not to mention a fatherly responsibility to do right by the girls, give them a better life than they have now and protect them from harm.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 30, 2012

'For A Good Time': More (Dirty) Talk, Less Action

Lauren (co-writer Lauren Anne Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor) are reluctant roommates turned business partners in For a Good Time, Call ....
Ryder Sloane Focus Features

Hot topic du jour, discuss: Do women rule the world?

First the girls took over the schools, with their stellar grades and all. Then they got the lion's share of the jobs. (Not quite true, but the claim generates Web punditry by the ton.)

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Movies
3:03 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

For Chinese-American Adoptees, Matters Of Identity

Fang "Jenni" Lee, raised in Berkeley, Calif., returns to China to help broker the adoption of another little girl.
Linda Goldstein Knowlton Long Shot Factory

Of the roughly 80,000 Chinese children adopted in the United States since 1979, almost all are girls, abandoned at birth by their parents because of China's one-child policy, coupled with inheritance laws that favor boys.

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Movies
3:03 pm
Tue August 21, 2012

A Put-Upon Hardbody, But A 'Teddy Bear' At Heart

Bodybuilder Dennis (Kim Kold) and gym owner Toi (Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard) share a tender moment.
Film Movement

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 6:33 pm

Set in contemporary Denmark and in Thailand, Mads Matthiesen's Teddy Bear is a sweetly muted domestic drama struggling to contain a fierce and ancient folk tale.

The hero, Dennis — a 300-pound bodybuilder with a lovable touch of Shrek — has an absent father and a tiny witch of a mother whose parenting is a twisted cocktail of dominatrix and coquette. (If your mother conducted bathroom business with you alongside at age 38, you'd have issues too.)

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Movie Reviews
3:06 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

'Why Stop Now': Loose Ends, Tied Up Too Neatly

Eli (Jesse Eisenberg) and his mother, Penny (Melissa Leo), fall in with Penny's inept drug dealer, Sprinkles (Tracy Morgan), in the trite new indie drama Why Stop Now.
Jacob Hutchings IFC Entertainment

Originally published on Tue August 21, 2012 10:31 am

What's an American family these days? Many different things, but while television — a domestic medium to its marrow — has an affectionate finger on the pulse of the changing modern family, movies often seem stuck in a sorry dysfunction held over from the late 1960s, when we awoke to find that jolly Beaver Cleaver had morphed into miserable Benjamin Braddock, and while Mrs. Robinson tippled discreetly in the bedroom, Father, far from knowing best, went clueless or missing.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Iranian 'Wave' Rises To Euphoria, Crashes In Despair

An Iranian woman mourns in The Green Wave, a documentary that mixes live action and animation to tell the story of the protests that erupted in the country during its 2009 elections.
Dreamer Joint Venture

Late in The Green Wave, a soulful look back at the brief 2009 people's movement for democratic elections in Iran, a former United Nations prosecutor and human rights activist observes that the protest, despite being brutally quelled by the forces of President Ahmadinejad, was "a tidal wave" that would sweep through the Middle East.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 2, 2012

'360': Intertwined Lives In A Connected Europe

Michael (Jude Law) and Rose (Rachel Weisz) are two of the many characters in 360, a film about interconnected European lives from the director of City of God and The Constant Gardener.
Phil Fisk Magnolia Pictures

For all the glum punditry about our brave new world of connected disconnection, there are endless possibilities for free play — though you'd never know it from the sorry crew of malcontents in 360, an ambitious post-millennial take on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 26, 2012

An Unwitting Folk Hero Finds A Spotlight At Last

In the 1960s, protest singer Rodriguez didn't find an audience in the United States. Unbeknownst to him, though, one of his albums became a massive success in South Africa. Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tracks him down in Searching for Sugar Man.
Hal WIlson Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Fri July 27, 2012 1:06 pm

In 1968, two music producers went to a Detroit dive called The Sewer to hear a Mexican-American protest singer with a small cult following.

The producers' client list was mostly Motown, but they immediately signed Rodriguez (full name Sixto Rodriguez), whose stirring lyrics they hoped would speak to disenfranchised outsiders of all stripes and their champions.

Together, they made two albums — one of which, Cold Fact, provides the soundtrack for the thrilling new documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Tue July 24, 2012

In A Make-Your-Own-Girl Fable, A Real Woman Emerges

Ruby (Zoe Kazan) comes to life when Calvin (Paul Dano) begins writing her into existence on his typewriter in Ruby Sparks. Kazan also wrote the new romantic comedy from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine.
Merrick Morton Fox Searchlight Pictures

Originally published on Tue July 24, 2012 3:57 pm

There's a fine line between satire and the nasty snigger that marks so much of pop comedy these days — which is another way of saying that the corrosively funny takedown of child beauty pageants in the 2006 movie Little Miss Sunshine moved me to forgive (by a hair) its creepiest creation — Alan Arkin's heroin-addicted grandpa. Still, I wonder whether my 14-year-old, who has roared her way through that movie at least a dozen times, can tell the difference between sharp commentary and the juvie desire to shock.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 19, 2012

A Stubborn Old Soul, Stumbling Into Modernity

Pascale (Daniel Auteuil) with his sister Nathalie (Marie-Anne Chazel, right) and daughter Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who, to his dismay, becomes pregnant in The Well-Digger's Daughter. The film is a remake of Marcel Pagnol's 1940 movie.
Kino Lorber

At 62, the actor Daniel Auteuil is French film royalty, a Renaissance man equally at home in comedy, drama, thrillers — or, given his perennial air of faintly amused irony, some combination of all three. An off-kilter looker, Auteuil fairly oozes Gallic urbanity, so it's easy to forget that he launched his prolific career playing a conniving rustic in 1986's Jean de Florette and its sequel, Manon of the Spring, both directed by Claude Berri and adapted from novels by the writer-director Marcel Pagnol.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu June 28, 2012

A Well-Worn Path, But The Journey Has Its Pleasures

In People Like Us, Sam (Chris Pine) connects with Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her son, Josh (Michael D'Addario), without telling them that he is their long-lost brother and uncle, respectively.
Walt Disney Pictures

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Post-Storm, A Fairy Tale And Reality Check In One

Quvenzhane Wallis, who was 6 at the time of production, plays Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild, a fantastical tale about self-reliance and community after a storm in Louisiana.
Jess Pinkham Fox Searchlight Pictures

Originally published on Tue June 26, 2012 4:08 pm

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

'To Rome': Allen, Fiddling Again With Familiar Ideas

In Woody Allen's latest, John (Alec Baldwin, left) begins to live vicariously through complications in Jack's (Jesse Eisenberg) love life.
Philippe Antonello Sony Pictures Classics

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:13 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

A Moody Artist Broods On The Grimy Streets Of Paris

In The Woman in the Fifth, novelist Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke), already suffering from writer's block, falls into increasing states of paranoia as he wanders the streets of Paris.
ATO Pictures

Originally published on Fri June 15, 2012 3:28 pm

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

'Elena': A Femme Fatale, In The Rubble Of Perestroika

Elena (Nadezhda Markina), a dutiful wife to her wealthy husband and a burdened mother to her layabout son, manages to balance the needs of the two, until she learns her husband plans to leave her family nothing in his will.
Zeitgeist Films

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

'America': A Gleefully Violent Pop-Culture Pushback

Turning depression and anger at his spiraling personal life outward, Frank (Joel Murray) — with sidekick Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) — takes literal aim at the crasser forms of American pop culture.
Magnet Releasing

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel': Retirement, Outsourced

Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy play British retirees in residence at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. While advertisements promised a life of leisure in a newly refurbished facility, the Brits arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self.
Fox Searchlight

Originally published on Fri May 4, 2012 1:24 pm

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

'Inventing' A Way Of Life, And A Nation With It

This 1948 photo shows children from Hulda, a collective community, or kibbutz, located in central Israel.
First Run Features

Originally published on Fri April 27, 2012 8:05 am

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.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

'Darling Companion': Boomer Dramedy, Dog-Tired

Beth (Diane Keaton) and her adopted dog, Freeway, are parted when her distracted, workaholic husband, Joseph, loses Freeway in the woods.
Wilson Webb Sony Pictures Classics

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.

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Movie Interviews
9:59 am
Fri April 6, 2012

Whit Stillman: An Indie Auteur Returns, Wink Intact

Whit Stillman, the whimsical director of Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, returns after 13 years with Damsels in Distress -- which he calls "a comedy of ideas, even if they're lame ones."
Gareth Cattermole Getty Images

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.

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