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“The Ghost Writer,” McGregor, Desplat, Polanski.

“The Ghost Writer,” McGregor, Desplat, Polanski. (photo)

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Expectations are as important as any other factor in whether I will enjoy a film or not. I think this holds true for most. When we expect the careful craft and many-layered mystery of film like “Chinatown” when going into a film like “The Ninth Gate,” we tend to be disappointed. I adore both of those films by the rogue director, Roman Polanski, but it was only after I cleared my palate and watched “The Ninth Gate” for what it was (a comical fantasy-mystery, not a serious thriller-mystery) that I saw it’s merits.

[Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor in “The Ghost Writer,” Summit Entertainment]

“The Ghost Writer” has all the usual pros and cons of expectation: marketing efforts (which can lead you completely astray), prejudice of well known actors, the director’s prior films, but also the added baggage of the director himself. He was even in the news again in September when he was arrested by Swiss police while trying to attend the Zurich Film Festival (at the bequest of US authorities) for his 1977 crime.

To review, Polanski, the genius who gave us “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown,” and “The Pianist,” escaped the Nazi established, Kraków Jewish ghetto in 1943 and managed to survive the holocaust, though his mother was killed in Auschwitz. He moved to the US, began making films, and in 1969 the Manson family butchered his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, to death. Then, he drugged and had sex with a 13 year old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house and fled to France to avoid harsh jail time.

Later, he settled with the girl (monetarily) who, now a married woman wanting to move on, has since publicly requested for his charges to be dropped. Back to the present Zurich debacle, Polanski was released by the Swiss on $4.5 million bail though he is on house arrest and still “pending extradition” to the United States for trial.

It’s amazing you can make films under such conditions. And gladly, due to a brain fart, though I knew a favorite composer Alexandre Desplat (“A Prophet,” “The Beat That My Heart Skipped”) was scoring, and that Ewan McGregor was staring, I’d forgotten all about “The Ghost Writer” being a Polanski film until half way through when the signs had become too glaring for even a total flake to ignore.

Not only stylistically, but as Manohla Darghis points out in her NY Times review, “Fingers are pointed, though sometimes it seems not only at Lang but also at Mr. Polanski, who is under house arrest in Switzerland awaiting word on whether he will be sent back to Los Angeles to face sentencing…. Certainly the shots of Lang’s detractors, with their furiously distorted faces and accusatory placards (“guilty,” “wanted”), gives the film an extra-cinematic tang, though as with so much here, it’s also evident that Mr. Polanski is having his fun.”

Surely he is having his fun. And still superbly directing actors too. Ewan McGregor is fine as ever as the patsy ghost writer. Tom Wilkinson’s Paul Emmett is awkwardly menacing observing his professorial niceties, anxious fingers tapping and lying like a Lord. Pierce Brosnan shines in subtle maneuvers, his British accent cranked up like a caricature for the camera’s, what a fraud, such an American puppet. A shot of Kim Cattrall’s ass, then a leering Brosnan, legs spread on the couch, celery stalk firmly planted in his fresh squeezed juice is brilliant, his smile in that moment worth a thousand words out of the memoirs the ghost writer plans to pen for him.

From the night time opening, with Desplat’s high strung orchestration leading into the mystery of a murder at sea, it was clear to me I would enjoy this film. Though, it could benefit from a good deal of trimming, and I didn’t come in with all those decades of expectation.

Check out the IFC interview with Ewan McGregor where he talks about Polanski’s perfectionism, how corrupt modern politics are, and he clears the record on a comment he made about his penis.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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