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.

Rocker docs lie thick on the ground these days, most of them landlocked in a tired arc of childhood stress, rapid rise to stardom filled with drugs and debauchery, followed by decline and, for those who survive, extravagant rue-ing the day. And given the short, sharp life of Janis Joplin, any account of her has to spend time in that terrain. But though Janis: Little Girl Blue — Amy J. Berg's loving, exhaustively researched documentary about the whiskey-voiced blues interpreter — gives Joplin's dark side its due, the film rarely succumbs to mawkish wallowing.

Like his 2002 melodrama Far from Heaven, which it resembles in all sorts of good ways, Todd Haynes' Carol opens onto a busy city street scene in full 1950s dress. The camera quickly settles on a young man in a fedora as he rounds a corner and enters a plush eating establishment. A story is brewing there, but one in which Fedora Man will turn out to be no more than a peripheral player, our guide to two elegantly clad women apparently enjoying a gossipy afternoon tea.

Angelina Jolie Pitt's By the Sea opens with a long shot over a sharp precipice that fairly screams upcoming crisis for the handsome couple driving along its scenic edge. That's about as lively as things get in this undercooked mood piece about a disintegrating marriage between a stalled writer and his glum wreck of a wife. It helps not one whit that the two are played by Hollywood's starriest couple, who radiate about as much onscreen chemistry here as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman did in Eyes Wide Shut.

Some day soon after a brisk run in theaters and, with luck, a clutch of well-deserved Oscars, John Crowley's Brooklyn may find its sweet hereafter as a Turner Classic Movies selection of the month on endless repeat. I mean this as the highest compliment: Though it's set in 1950s coastal Ireland and New York, from soup to nuts Brooklyn comes as close as any contemporary drama I can think of (other than Todd Haynes' breathily semiotic Far From Heaven) to the finest women's movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

The terrific Italian film The Wonders gives a starring role to bees — great swarms of real bees, not CGI killer bees. They sting on demand, but it's not that kind of movie. The bees make honey under conditions well below health and safety code, and along with some home-grown produce and a few sheep, their output just about sustains a quasi-hippie family living in an isolated rural spot on the border between Umbria and Tuscany.

"You should learn how to feel sad without actually being sad," Laurie Anderson's Buddhist teacher told the performance artist after the loss of her beloved rat terrier, Lolabelle.

Anderson's new film, Heart of a Dog, is in part a personal essay that tries to figure out what that injunction means, and how to live up to it in the wake of multiple losses. You don't have to be a Tibetan Buddhist or a pet lover, though, to spend 75 enthralling minutes with the endlessly associative contents of Anderson's head and heart.

The Assassin, a gorgeous new work by Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien, is a martial arts film influenced by Hong Kong wu xia films and short novels based on early Chinese legend. The movie, which won Best Director at this year's Cannes Film Festival, has a few short, sharp fight sequences involving knives with a vicious curve to them. But it won't surprise anyone familiar with Hou's oeuvre that he invites us to slow down, to watch and listen to what goes on, and doesn't, in between.

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.

Slight and familiar but sweet enough for Saturday night, Before We Go is the umpteenth re-up of Brief Encounter, not that there's anything wrong with that. It's also the directing debut of Chris Evans, and quite possibly an effort to run as far from Captain America as he can, into a chatty two-hander whose only action is a late-night ramble around New York City.