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.

Nobody shuts up for a nanosecond in The Death of Stalin, a wickedly gabby black comedy about the noxious power vacuum that followed the Soviet dictator's sudden collapse from a stroke in 1953. We've come to expect untamed banter from director Armando Iannucci, creator of In the Loop and Veep, who, with his frequent collaborators David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows, adapted The Death of Stalin from two French graphic novels by Fabian Nury and Thierry Robin.

In case you're wondering whether the last-minute dropping of Kevin Spacey ruined Ridley Scott's movie about the 1973 kidnapping of billionaire J. Paul Getty's grandson, I can testify that there's barely a technical seam showing in All the Money in the World. Scott is a master craftsman who re-shot Spacey's scenes in nine days without turning a hair.

What is known for sure about American military scientist Frank Olson is that on November 28, 1953, the bacteriologist and father of three plunged to his death from the 13th floor of the Statler hotel in New York City, not long after he was secretly drugged with LSD on the orders of his CIA superior. Whether Olson was pushed, or jumped, or was nudged into committing suicide remains unclear.

A guy walks into an Alaska bar at night. The bar is called Chums, and his two pals are deep in heated discussion about an upcoming election and the fabulous age of business dominance to come in its wake. The dialogue is not played for winks at the audience, and Sweet Virginia is not, now or later, one of those jokey neo-noirs that keeps poking the genre in the ribs. Next thing you know, a stranger — young, good-looking, intense — comes in demanding the Early Bird Special.

Una, an intelligently talky, properly claustrophobic chamber piece directed by Benedict Andrews and adapted by Scottish playwright David Harrower from his 2005 stage play Blackbird, revisits a middle-aged man's past sexual abuse of a precocious adolescent when the victim confronts him many years later. In form and subject, if not in tone, the film recalls David Mamet's 1994 Oleanna, a stridently partisan polemic adapted from Mamet's play about a college professor's alleged sexual assault of a female graduate student.

Home Again, a shambles of a first feature written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, purports to tell the story of a woman reinventing her life in Los Angeles as she confronts middle age. On more levels than one, though, the film is about the enduring potency of Hollywood connections.

For a short while, the French-made film Polina toes the line of traditional ballet narrative: a heroine's journey from exceptional promise through bundled hurdles, all the way to the triumph of the tutu. Then the movie takes a sharp left turn into a whole other fairy tale, a vibrantly watchable modern dance musical with bits of histrionic life thrown in and the chance to see Juliette Binoche strut some smooth moves of her own. The almighty tutu gets no more than a cameo as a soft bed for two young principal dancers whose hormones run wild.

Al Pacino as a jaded, aging rocker re-juiced by a road trip to settle accounts with himself and his long-lost family? By all means roll your eyes — the star has one brow goofily raised himself — but don't give up on Danny Collins. In a (slightly) lower key than he's wont to play, Pacino puts a sweet spin on Danny that makes him more worth attending to than you might expect from the drifting geezer we meet, decked out in regulation gold chains and a bleary cocaine haze.

At 55 years old, Patricia Clarkson retains the golden glow and throaty delivery of a siren out of 1940s women's melodrama. But her home turf lies along the edgier margins of indie cinema (High Art, Far From Heaven, The Station Agent) and television (Six Feet Under, Parks and Recreation). There, Clarkson has thrived as a character actress who can do arch, sinister, smart, sexy, goofy and wistful on demand.

Tucked into the dance documentary Ballet 422, there's a nice cutaway you might miss if you blinked: An ordinary-looking young man wearing a backpack waits quietly for his late-night train on a New York platform. Another weary student or barista on his way home in the city, perhaps.

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