NPR: 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.

Is an artist's life relevant to her reputation as an artist? Not so much, perhaps, but many of us want the bio anyway, especially when the artist in question is as tantalizingly elusive as Vivian Maier (or Mayer, or Meyer, as she variously spelled it to confound the curious), a reclusive Chicago nanny whose posthumously discovered trove of street photographs swelled into a cause celebre after her death in 2009.

It would take a heart of stone — or zero tolerance for soap — to resist Any Day Now, a full-throttle weepie about a West Hollywood gay couple trying to adopt a neglected boy with Down syndrome.

In Woody Allen's new movie, the only woman over 20 who is neither a harpy nor a groupie is the very late Gertrude Stein. But here's the thing: Having suffered through at least two decades of the director's celluloid shrews and floozies, I got a big kick out of seeing an elderly lesbian literata play den mother to the film's inevitable kvetchy Allen stand-in.

Kristen Wiig is a very pretty, very funny woman with reassuring crow's feet etched around her surprisingly anguished blue eyes. Saturday Night Live fans know Wiig can act out (Target Lady!), but if you've been paying attention, she can also act — she played, of all things, a steadying force in Drew Barrymore's underrated roller derby movie, Whip It. The warring impulses within Wiig set a wonderfully skittish tone for the painfully hilarious new movie Bridesmaids, a screwy tale of female friendship and wedding planning from hell.

In The Beaver, a stately family drama with a black comedy struggling to break free from within, Mel Gibson deploys a seemingly magical hand puppet — plus more charm than he's allowed out in public in years.

Gibson plays Walter Black, a toy-company executive (hold that thought) whose professional and family life have gone exponentially south as his long-festering depression hits rock bottom.

From the Walt Disney Company's wholesome-produce department, the pleasantly retro teen movie Prom comes bearing no offense. Which is nice for parents seeking healthy alternatives to, say, Glee or, worse, Pretty Little Liars — if slightly worrying to those of us who grew up on the necessity of youthful rebellion.

For all I know, the actor Robert Pattinson may be hell on wheels onstage, where he's done Shakespeare and Cole Porter. But thus far in his film career, he's mostly demonstrated uncommonly lovely bones and a thorough mastery of looking tenderly down upon the desolate damsels nestled in his arms. No one has yet asked him to do any serious screen acting — with or without sparkly sprinkles on the preternaturally pale skin that, along with his apparent reluctance to play celebrity, has proved so alluring to American teenage girls.

Bruno, the peevish sad sack at the center of the charming Italian comedy The First Beautiful Thing, has all the fixings of a decent life, including a stable job teaching at a vocational school and a faithful live-in girlfriend who seems more entertained than annoyed by his stubborn eye for the half-empty glass.