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
6:03 am
Fri October 31, 2014

'Before I Go To Sleep' Is An Amnesia Thriller You'll Hope To Forget

Amnesiac Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) struggles to trust her husband Ben (Colin Firth).
Laurie Sparham Clarius Entertainment

The bloodshot eyeball that opens to greet a brand-new day — and I mean brand-new day — in the thriller Before I Go To Sleep belongs to wealthy English homemaker Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman). Christine suffers from psychogenic amnesia, the fright-moviemaker's best friend. She can store memories during the day, but they reliably vanish overnight, marooning poor Christine in what is either a hapless attempt to upstage Memento or a remake of Groundhog Day in noir.

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Movie Reviews
2:03 am
Fri October 24, 2014

In 'Force Majeure,' Society Crumbles Under An Avalanche

Force Majeure follows the aftermath of a split-second decision made by a father during an avalanche.
Magnolia Pictures

Off to the side of the wickedly funny Swedish black comedy Force Majeure lurks a minor but significant figure with a sour, slightly saturnine face. The man is a cleaner in a fancy French Alps ski hotel and he hardly says a word. But his wordless hovering inspires dread, nervous laughter or both. Which pretty much sums up Force Majeure's adroit shifts of tone, and quite possibly its director's take on the ways of the hip urban bourgeoisie.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu October 16, 2014

Beauty And Loss In 'The Tale Of Princess Kaguya'

The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Hatake Jimusho GNDHDDTK/Gkids

Originally published on Fri October 17, 2014 9:48 am

My first encounter with the lovely 10th-century Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter was in the Sesame Street special Big Bird Goes to Japan. A kind and beautiful young woman named Kaguya-hime appears out of nowhere to take the Yellow One and his canine pal Barkley on a jaunt to Kyoto. They have fun, and then the mysteriously sad woman reveals that she is royalty in civilian dress and must return to her home on the moon. Bird and Barkley were marginally less inconsolable than were my toddler daughter and I.

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Movie Reviews
5:23 pm
Thu October 9, 2014

Bill Murray Doesn't Do Much, But He Does It So Well In 'St. Vincent'

Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent.
Atsushi Nishijima The Weinstein Company

Originally published on Fri October 10, 2014 8:17 am

The grumpy geezer Bill Murray plays in Ted Melfi's gentle comedy St. Vincent is not exactly a stretch. Vincent is a down-on-his-luck gent festering in a falling-down row house on the butt end of Brooklyn. Familiar stuff happens: A little boy named Oliver with bowl-cut hair and a noticeably absent father moves in next door with his mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy).

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu October 2, 2014

Good-Hearted But Simplistic, 'The Good Lie' Fails To Satisfy

I feel like a churl for voicing qualms about The Good Lie, a big, eager puppy of an issue movie that plants its paws on your chest and licks away at your cheek in eager expectation of praise. The story it tells, about a group of Sudanese refugees who, after a grinding journey to escape endless civil war at home, find refuge in Kansas, can't help but grab our sympathies. But this fact-based movie smothers an epic humanitarian crisis in a gooey parable of American largesse administered by Reese Witherspoon, serious brunette.

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Movie Reviews
8:53 am
Fri September 19, 2014

Crossing The Desert, Making 'Tracks'

Originally published on Fri September 19, 2014 10:07 am

Scenic and a touch bloodless, Tracks is a tastefully off-Hollywood version of the upcoming Wild. Wild is bound to make a lot more noise, and not just because it has Reese Witherspoon in the lead as a grief-stricken Cheryl Strayed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to get over her beloved mother's death. Tracks is a little too subdued for its own good.

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Movie Reviews
11:03 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Getting Each Other And The Bonds Of 'The Skeleton Twins'

Working back through a raft of bad-seed twins to 1962's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? the sibling drama has, with few exceptions, been ignored or pathologized to death in movies. I see why: no prospects for sex, unless we're talking incest. Yet that relationship, with all its potent friction of solidarity and competition, comes stuffed with dramatic potential that the fairly new director Craig Johnson means to mine in The Skeleton Twins, an intermittently absorbing dramedy about a brother and sister who have reached adulthood in years, if not in maturity.

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Movie Reviews
9:03 am
Fri September 5, 2014

In 'Rocks In My Pockets,' A Family History Of Depression And Art

In Rocks In My Pockets, a lively animated documentary billed (a touch reductively) as "a funny film about depression," Latvian-American Signe Baumane describes in detail one of her several attempts to commit suicide after she turned 18.

The minutiae of her planning are more graphic than you might care to hear, and the tone, delivered in Baumane's fetchingly accented voiceover, is breezy and droll. "One must be considerate to one's fellow citizens," she says, her voice rising to comic hysteria edged with existential panic.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

'The Notebook': A Grim Fable Of Cruelty In Wartime

At first blush, the Hungarian film The Notebook (no relation, trust me, to that other Notebook) seems to be gearing up as a standard World War II weepie with clumsy plotting. It's 1944; the war is almost done; a father returns home on leave; brief scenes of domestic bliss follow. Then, out of the blue, Dad (Ulrich Matthes), seemingly worried that his twin sons would be "too conspicuous in wartime," packs them off to live with their grandmother in the countryside. Handing them a notebook, he tells them to record everything that happens to them.

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Movie Reviews
5:31 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

'Land Ho!' Takes An Agreeable Stroll Through Familiar And Unfamiliar Terrain

Mitch, a vulgar and cheery retired surgeon played by Earl Lynn Nelson, buys two plane tickets to Iceland, reviving the friendship between and sense of adventure in him and his ex-brother-in-law.
Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Fri July 11, 2014 10:49 am

In a more market-driven neighborhood of the movie business, Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz's comedy about two retired gents let loose on Iceland would surely be released under the title Geezers Do Geysers. And the modestly budgeted, charming Land Ho! is a caper of sorts, made less in snooty-indie opposition to the Grumpy Old Men franchise than as a fond goosing of the buddy movie, plus kooky innovation.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

Trudging Uphill With Two Men And The Weight Of History

The cast and crew of Beyond the Edge re-enacted Sir Edmund Hillary's (Chad Moffitt) historic climb on site at Mount Everest, and at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand's Southern Alps.
Mark Whetu Sundance Selects

Originally published on Thu July 3, 2014 7:02 pm

With or without his knighthood, the legendary climber Sir Edmund Hillary stood 6-foot-plus in his stockinged feet and looked a bit like a mountain crag himself. The New Zealand beekeeper — who with his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay was in May 1953 the first to reach the top of Mount Everest — was possessed of a jutting lantern jaw, piercing eyes and an obstinate determination that served this self-described "rough old farm boy" well when holding his own against the posh British leaders who ran the expedition to crest the world's highest peak.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

A Not-Quite-Satisfying Look At A Notorious Career In Crime

In 2013, James "Whitey" Bulger was found guilty of racketeering, drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, and participation in 11 murders. He was sentenced to two lifetime sentences in prison plus five years.
Magnolia Pictures

Many years ago I taught a course in the sociology of deviance to a class of fledgling Boston-Irish policemen. I enjoyed them enormously because they didn't write down everything I said and cough it back up on the test. A waggish friend called them "your heroic coplets."

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

'The Last Sentence': A Man Making History, But Made By It As Well

Actor Jesper Christensen plays Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt in The Last Sentence, a biographical film that highlights the journalist's stance against Hitler and fascism during World War II.
Nille Leander Music Box Films

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 10:19 am

Like his magnificent 1996 film Hamsun, Swedish director Jan Troell's latest bio-pic is a richly detailed portrait of a great man riddled with flaws and undone by adulation.

On the face of it, Torgny Segerstedt seems the very inverse of Knut Hamsun, the Norwegian writer revered, then reviled during World War II for his Nazi sympathies. Segerstedt, a former theologian turned high-living editor of a Gothenberg newspaper, made it his mission to put out the word about the threat posed by Hitler to his country, and to liberal democracy everywhere.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

'Burning Bush' Finds The Fuel For A Desperate Act

Jenovéfa Boková (as Vlaďka Charouzová), Adrian Jastraban (as Vladimír Charouz), and Tatiana Pauhofová (as Dagmar Burešová) in Burning Bush.
Kino Lorber

Originally published on Fri June 13, 2014 1:09 pm

I was a college sophomore in London when Jan Palach, a shy young Czech student, set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square in January 1969. The British campus revolt was in full flow, but the images of Palach's burning body, and the mass silent vigils that followed his death a few days later, made me feel how puny were the stakes of our revolution next to the failed protest against Soviet occupation, following the Prague Spring, that triggered Palach's desperate final act.

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Movie Reviews
5:33 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Bringing A Book Phenomenon To The Screen, With Sadly Ordinary Results

Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) take on a variety of challenges in The Fault in Our Stars.
James Bridges Twentieth Century Fox

Originally published on Thu June 5, 2014 7:56 pm

Josh Boone's The Fault in Our Stars is the kind of careful, listless adaptation that makes a critic want to rave at length about the wonderful novel on which it's based.

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Movie Reviews
9:52 am
Fri May 30, 2014

'Maleficent' Tells The Fairy Tale From The Wicked One's Perspective

Maleficent rehabilitates the most maligned figure in the fairy tale canon.
Frank Connor Disney

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 2:00 pm

Of all Disney heroines, Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty, was the least inspiring. Not her fault: How much spark can you wring from a Forever Nap, especially one that's cut off by a kiss from a prince named after the Duke of Edinburgh?

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Movies
5:03 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Love Blooms In Midlife, But Halfheartedly

Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche do their best in the watery Words And Pictures.
Doane Gregory Roadside Attractions

No fewer than three comedies about finding love in midlife open this week, all of them shiny with major stars. Is it time to stop whining about the dearth of romantic comedy for mature audiences? Only if you prefer quantity to quality.

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Movie Reviews
5:04 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

From The Traditions Of Melodrama, A Woman Of Resolve

Marion Cotillard stars in The Immigrant.
Anne Joyce The Weinstein Company

I teach in a film school, and if there's one genre I find it hard to get students on board for, it's classic melodrama. Perhaps because they've been reared on distancing irony and the suspension of belief, they misread the symphonies of pent-up emotion, the passionate address to questions of good and evil, of class, gender and race as phony.

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Movie Reviews
3:00 pm
Sun April 27, 2014

'Walking With The Enemy': An Occupation Poorly Rendered

Charles De'ath, Charles Hubbell and Burn Gorman in Walking With The Enemy.
Liberty Studios

By the time the Nazis got around to taking Hungary in 1944, the country was already fatally compromised by its economic alliance with Fascist Germany and Italy on the one hand, and a shaky pact with Stalin on the other. Imagining that its loyalty to a protective leader, Regent Horthy, would save them from the fate suffered by other European Jews, Hungary's highly assimilated Jewish community fell prey (along with the Regent himself) to the extreme right-wing Arrow Cross party.

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Movie Reviews
6:52 pm
Thu March 27, 2014

'Vivian Maier' Brings Nanny-Photographer's Life Into Focus

In their new documentary Finding Vivian Maier, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel profile a reclusive photographer and her undiscovered photo archive.
Vivian Maier Courtesy of IFC Films

Originally published on Fri March 28, 2014 11:53 am

Is an artist's life relevant to her reputation as an artist? Not so much, perhaps, but many of us want the bio anyway, especially when the artist in question is as tantalizingly elusive as Vivian Maier (or Mayer, or Meyer, as she variously spelled it to confound the curious), a reclusive Chicago nanny whose posthumously discovered trove of street photographs swelled into a cause celebre after her death in 2009.

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