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.

Clocking in at a hefty 155 minutes, a film about Bulgaria's transition from Communism to capitalist democracy might in principle be a tough sell outside the former Soviet Union. But Maya Vitkova's Viktoria, a handsome, formally adventurous family saga, tells that tale through a powerful maternal melodrama spanning three generations of implacable women bound by blood, spilled milk and the tumult of a world in transition.

In Lorene Scafaria's The Meddler, Susan Sarandon plays Marnie Minervini, a recent widow who moves from the East Coast to Los Angeles to "be near" (read, boss around) her daughter Lori (a very good, if underused Rose Byrne), a depressed screenwriter who's just broken up with her boyfriend. We meet Marnie lying in bed gazing up at the ceiling, and that's more or less the last wordless time we spend with her.

You can spend perfectly lovely time with Our Last Tango purely as a dance movie, with all the sexy pleasures that tango delivers. But for Maria Nieves Rego, one half of Argentina's premier tango couple, the dance of love in her 50-year partnership with choreographer Juan Carlos Copes curdled into a long-running duet of hate.

Time was when every other drama about troubled youth came packaged with evil, inept or uncomprehending government functionaries itching to make matters worse. In Emmanuelle Bercot's sympathetic Standing Tall, one sorely lacking caseworker shows up briefly to rub salt in the prior wounds of a damaged youngster. He is quickly dispatched though, and from then on the film tags along with a team of dedicated workers trying to rescue the teenager from a rotten past, a lousy future, and his own hair-trigger temper. There's not a saint among them, but their devotion rarely flags.

There's little reason to believe that Julie Delpy saw, let alone lifted the premise of, the Duplass brothers' 2010 black comedy Cyrus before she made Lolo, a pert little number about a Parisian teenager pulling out the stops to pry his doting single mother loose from a promising new boyfriend who's ready to move in. For all the similarities of premise and plot, Lolo is as breezily French in execution as Cyrus is deadpan Amer-indie. And anyway, the oedipal drama, however bent out of shape, never goes out of style.

Home for the holidays: An aging prodigal child approaches, swearing like a trooper and dragging all manner of other baggage behind her battered wheelie. Once she finds the right front door — it's been a while, with ample reason, since last she visited — a warm, if nervous, welcome awaits from an extended family of noisy Texans gathered for Thanksgiving. In another kind of movie, tears and laughter will follow as a family closes ranks to heal its black sheep, and thereby itself.

Chances are, if you've seen a Kelly Reichardt film, it would be Wendy and Lucy, a small, languorous, utterly heartbreaking 2008 drama with a big star, Michelle Williams, as a young homeless woman trying to make her way to the Pacific Northwest with her beloved dog. Wendy and Lucy is an art film with a delirious sense of place, but it's also a road movie, and far from Reichardt's first. One way or another, every extreme indie she makes pays sly, ardent homage to genre.

In Cemetery of Splendor, a new film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, an older Thai woman, Jen, is led around the grounds of a ramshackle building in provincial Thailand by an ecstatic young psychic named Keng. As they move about, we see only piles of dead leaves and old or broken statues, the detritus of a hospital that was once a school attended by the older woman, which she remembers fondly. The psychic, however, sees a former palace that, it seems, is buried beneath the building. She describes it in such opulent detail that even her somewhat skeptical companion is won over.

For a while Race, a handsomely mounted drama about a pivotal moment in the life of track star Jesse Owens, bowls along as a crisp, if conventional, account of a black athlete who triumphs over poverty and racism to get the gold. An unprecedented four gold medals to be precise, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But that's getting ahead of ourselves. In Cleveland, there are angry, red-faced bigots to get in the way, and the statutory tough-love coach, serviceably rendered by Jason Sudeikis, to smooth the path to glory.

In one of several lovely grace notes in Glassland, a domestic drama from Irish writer-director Gerard Barrett, a handsome young man hands his pretty mother a glass of white wine. They clink, they chug, he watches fondly as she dances alone, they slow-dance together. The sequence is touching rather than erotic, and it repeats later in the film with another kind of poignancy.

The Icelandic film Rams is about two grizzled farmers who enjoy unusually warm relationships with their sheep. Expect no nudges or winks: Though it's amply salted with dry wit, the movie is a heartfelt inquiry into why two brothers who live side by side have not spoken in 40 years.

In the insufferably arch neo-noir Western Mojave, Garrett Hedlund — a vision in sexy boots, artfully disheveled tresses and a morose green gaze — ventures into the desert, there to brood on his depraved, deprived life as a Hollywood director of note. Having crashed his car, Thomas lights a fire, but further brooding is interrupted by the arrival of a stranger named Jack. We know Jack does not mean well because he is unwashed, hirsute, sorely in need of cosmetic dentistry and played in overdrive by Oscar Isaac.

If nothing else The Benefactor, an absorbing if uneven psychological drama from writer-director Andrew Renzi, provides Richard Gere with a liberating opportunity to come on like Al Pacino. As Franny, a wealthy Philadelphia philanthropist without boundaries who gets his way through hysterical giving, Gere throws himself around with overbearing flamboyance, clearly relishing the chance to inhabit a man who's always on but understands nothing.

In 2011, the British director Andrew Haigh made Weekend, an achingly wistful chamber piece about a lifetime of unfulfilled longing poured into a brief encounter between two very different gay men. Weekend comes highly recommended, as does Haigh's new film, 45 Years, which also spans a few days, here slogged through by an aging couple forced by startling news to reassess their long marriage. Neither film has a plot in the received sense, nor does either lead us to a foregone conclusion.

The lively little fellow we meet in the Brazilian film Boy and the World has a circle for a head topped with three goofy hairs, two vertical slits for eyes, a striped tee-shirt and black shorts. That's it, but he contains multitudes, and this lovely animated poem to migrant labor will show you them all. Together with his loving parents, who are drawn with equal economy, Boy lives poor but happy in a rural idyll depicted in slashes of brilliant color, much like the free drawing of a child. The wind rustles; cobalt butterflies hover; he plants a seed; he's happy.

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