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.

A tantalizing nugget lies half-buried in Mark Mori's engaging documentary about Bettie Page, the 1950s pinup who's inspired an endlessly self-renewing retro-cult of fans both male and female.

In the middle of a screening of Mary Harron's The Notorious Bettie Page, it seems, a voice was heard yelling "Lies! All lies!"

The ghost of Federico Fellini hovers wickedly over The Great Beauty, a fantastic journey around contemporary Rome and a riot of lush imagery juggling past and present, sacred and profane, gorgeous and grotesque.

"I didn't live a lot of lies. But I did live one big one. It's different, I guess. Maybe not."

So said disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong to filmmaker Alex Gibney early this year, just hours after he confessed to Oprah that he'd doped during his seven wins of the Tour de France.

Costa-Gavras' propulsive 1969 thriller Z, a thinly veiled account of the assassination of a Greek democratic politician by a military junta, shaped the political passions of many in my upstart generation. It also instilled in one impressionable young critic-to-be the conviction that the revolution would come packaged with the likes of Yves Montand as boyfriend material.

Other than a single shouted expletive toward the end of All Is Lost, the only words we hear from its central character — a sailor adrift alone on the Indian Ocean — come right at the beginning, in a note of apology to unknown recipients for unspecified sins.

Escape From Tomorrow, a dystopian fantasy about a laid-off worker on the lam at Disney World, comes bloated with marketing bluster: The movie, as its PR people have been trumpeting for months, was shot guerrilla-style at Disney parks in Anaheim and Orlando.

Paving the way for a brand-new subgenre — the gay romantic thriller — the atmospheric neo-noir Out in the Dark tells of a Palestinian university student who seeks refuge from the homophobia of his traditionalist West Bank village in the more gay-friendly atmosphere of metropolitan Tel Aviv.

It was writer-director Nicole Holofcener's good fortune, and her bad luck, to have snagged James Gandolfini for Enough Said, her comedy about two imminent empty-nesters dipping their toes into fresh romantic waters. Given his untimely death, the film is likely to be remembered less for its own modest virtues than as a last chance to say a bittersweet farewell to its star.

For a while in Jamie Meltzer's mesmerizing documentary Informant, I wondered whether subject Brandon Darby, the lefty activist turned FBI informer, was being played by an actor.

But no: It's Darby, and he's a handsome fellow, with haunted eyes blazing out of a bone structure to die for, and with a Montgomery Clift dimple in his chin. Staring straight into the camera, he testifies with the intense calm of a messiah or a madman, which all too often comes to the same thing. Among other things, this powerfully confused man is a study in American extremity.

Overused and much misused, the word "provocative" has become a double-edged sword, especially when it's swung in the direction of independent cinema. At its best, the genuinely provocative film — off the top of my head, anything by Bunuel, Shaun of the Dead, Holy Motors -- shocks in order to expand our vision of the world it encompasses. At its most dispiriting, it's an exercise in cheap thrillage, designed to goose a presumptively stuffy bourgeois audience while positioning a director as some sort of iconoclast.

A massive explosion rocks a covered market, but Central London still looks mighty handsome in the British thriller Closed Circuit. So does the actress Rebecca Hall. Decked out in blacks, creams and grays, she and her city both are sleek, elegant and more than a little forbidding, even if they're softened by pockets of olde worlde soul.

"She's so pretty, she could be in any movie," a fan gushed after a screening of Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies. There's a lot more to Olivia Wilde than her feline loveliness, which, combined with a challenging stare that dares you to dismiss her as fluff, reminds me of a young Michelle Pfeiffer. But not much of that is allowed out to play in this strained comic drama about two young couples struggling to answer universal questions in particular ways.

The raucous comedy Austenland, in theaters this week, pokes fun at Americans' reverence for what they have been taught to see as a gracious British heritage — muslin, bonnets, tea time at the stately home with the blue-bloods, good manners.

As well it might. For most of the English 99-percenters I grew up with, heritage meant feet up in front of the telly, watching Top of the Pops.

Austenland, a clunky broadside aimed at the cult of Jane Austen, is worth seeing primarily for its end credits, a mix of pop oil and water so joyfully dippy it might have produced a stifled giggle even in Herself.

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