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.

Among the photographs featured in the voluminous archive of photographer Elsa Dorfman, there's a joyful selfie — taken in 1988 before either the word or the practice became a thing — of Dorfman and her frequent subject, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Arms linked and holding hands, the two friends stand side by side, grinning broadly in unself-conscious camaraderie. Ginsberg is less known for his chipper outlook than for his sonorous meditations on lost America, and that goes double for filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line).

Every so often, brightly lit Hollywood comedies set in West Coast mansions will slip in five minutes of light-relief banter between a Latina housekeeper and her wealthy white liberal boss. Mild joshing ensues about the cluelessness or prejudice of the employer, perhaps with a good-natured roll of the maid's eyes thrown in. That done, everyone slips back into their assigned slots in the social pecking order. Point taken, but not really.

There's a whiff of John Cheever-ish unease in Wakefield, a quietly unsettling drama about a man who disappears from his suburban home, only to spy on his family's response from a house across the street. In fact, the movie is based on a 2008 New Yorker short story by E.L. Doctorow, which in turn was inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale with the same premise, written in 1837.

Frank Langella has all manner of elastic gifts, but he's never been the sort of actor to disappear into the many roles he's played over a distinguished career. There's an underlying stern implacability to just about every deplorable villain (and occasional hero) Langella has tackled: intractable obstinates all, who bend others' wills to their own and give no quarter.

The friction between art and life is director Damien Chazelle's ongoing obsession. It's a fine thing to ponder, though I didn't much care for his 2014 melodrama Whiplash, which worked up an overblown froth from the daffy proposition that you can bully a fledgling musician into becoming a genius drummer.

After the disaster that was 2004's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Bridget's hot mess of a life lands safely back in the spry hands of Sharon Maguire. Maguire, reportedly the model for Bridget's fizzy friend Shazzer, directs this new sequel with the same antic flair she brought to Bridget Jones's Diary when the novel-based franchise began in 2001. That film earned many detractors on many grounds, and Bridget Jones's Baby will too.

Poland, the late 1980s, the last gasp of Soviet rule.

In a concrete Warsaw high-rise, politics have little bearing on daily life beyond a lingering mood of diffuse anxiety. Residents come and go, bumping into one another as they lie, cheat, covet, steal, snoop, betray, commit adultery and otherwise find freshly updated ways to violate every one of the Ten Commandments. There's even a murder, yet these are — in their way — good citizens wracked by guilt, self-doubt, and a generous dose of original sin as they break the most ancient code of behavior still in force.

Tony Robbins is huge. Really: the life coach/motivational speaker/practical psychologist/whatever-you-want-to-call-him stands 6'7" in his socks. He's built an empire to match — one that includes an apparently vast global following and a raft of best-selling books on how to do almost anything. His packed seminars sell for $5,000 a pop to those with problems common enough, sensational enough, or devastating enough to merit a life-makeover from Robbins and his team.

In the opening scenes of Athina Rachel Tsangari's Chevalier, six well-heeled Greek men on a fishing trip pose with the massive bream they've just caught in a scenic cove off the Aegean sea. We see them help each other out of their wetsuits while amiably joshing about who has the biggest this, that and the other. Affability soon fades, and once the luxury boat weighs anchor and sets out on the return trip to Athens, the men will enter into a bizarre and increasingly hostile competition that will strip them of much more than their rubber gear.

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.

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.

Early on in Davis Guggenheim's tender celebration of women's education activist Malala Yousafzai, we see the bright-eyed Pakistani teenager working her laptop in her family's new home in Birmingham, England. Fending off accusations of bossiness and "violence" from her younger brothers, the Muslim girl who stood up to the Taliban giggles as she dials up web photos of her crushes Brad Pitt, Roger Federer, and a hunky cricketer whose name I didn't catch.

In the unnervingly bleak, marvelous new film Time Out of Mind, Richard Gere plays a homeless man trying to survive on the streets of New York City. Though he doesn't — not now, at least — think of himself as homeless, George comes to us fast asleep in a bath in an apartment not his own. Thrown out without ceremony by a landlord's enforcer (Steve Buscemi), George keeps trying to weasel his way back into the building, insisting that someone called Sheila ("my lady") would be back soon to support his claim to residence, he insists.

Midway through Peter Bogdanovich's enjoyably giddy romantic comedy, a smitten Manhattan playwright (Will Forte) treats a pretty young woman (British actress Imogen Poots) to a lesson in ancient history, when "women were treated like chattel" but "prostitutes were sacred." You'll have to see the movie to learn whether the scribe knows that he's talking to an aspiring actress who moonlights as a lady of the night.

The Salt of the Earth, a documentary about famed photographer Sebastiao Salgado, ends with tranquil images of his family farm in Brazil, a leafy earthly paradise restored from the ravages of severe drought. That's where Salgado went to recover from his experiences in war-torn Rwanda, and, perhaps, a life spent bringing back pictures of the self-inflicted horrors of mankind: genocide, drought, famine and the unspeakable suffering they bring to those caught in their wake.

Even when he's walking through the shambling shtick he can do in his sleep, Hugh Grant always gives good value.

In Marc Lawrence's sweetly undemanding new comedy The Rewrite, the British actor is in familiar mode, rumpled and stammering as Keith Michaels, a once-successful screenwriter now left behind in Hollywood's mad scramble for "edgy comedies with a kick-ass young woman." Down to his last option, Keith reluctantly accepts a gig as a writer-in-residence at a public university in upstate New York.