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The Ghost Writer, City Island among new DVD reviews 

THE GHOST WRITER (2010). No other filmmaker living today better exemplifies the integral need to separate the art from the person than Roman Polanski. The Oscar-winning director is clearly a rapist and pedophile, but he's also a moviemaker of the highest order (well, that silly Johnny Depp occult flick aside): To ignore his movies on moral grounds is perfectly understandable, but to deny oneself the pleasures of Chinatown or some of his other classics also qualifies as self-inflicted punishment. The Ghost Writer doesn't rank in the upper echelons of Polanski's output, but it's a solid thriller boosted by Polanski's ability to establish and sustain a suffocating atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia. Ewan McGregor stars as the unnamed title character, hired to flesh out the memoirs of a disgraced former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) after the previous ghost writer dies under odd circumstances. Holed up in an isolated mansion with the PM and his team — wife (Olivia Williams), personal assistant (Kim Cattrall) and assorted underlings — the writer tries to stay focused on the project at hand but ends up deciding to investigate his predecessor's mysterious death himself. The smart script by Polanski and Robert Harris (adapting his own novel) occasionally resorts to the obvious (the identity of a key villain is fairly easy to suss out), and it's odious and in bad taste when Polanski includes some bits that reflect on his own lot in life (at one point, the poor PM finds that he can't travel the globe freely for fear of being arrested). But McGregor is once again fine in his standard role as the naive, wide-eyed wonder boy (see also The Men Who Stare at Goats, Deception, Moulin Rouge, etc.), and there are nice contributions from Tom Wilkinson and a 94-year-old Eli Wallach.

DVD extras include a 12-minute behind-the-scenes piece; a 9-minute interview with Polanski; and an 11-minute interview with Harris.

Movie: ***

Extras: **

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CITY ISLAND (2010). Andy Garcia delivers his finest performance in this charming comedy from writer-director Raymond De Felitta. He stars as Vince Rizzo, a corrections officer at a prison facility who's secretly taking acting lessons on the side. Knowing that his wife (Julianna Margulies) wouldn't understand, he keeps it a secret from her, leading her to believe he's instead having an affair. Things become even more complicated when he brings one of the prisoners (Steven Strait) home to live on the property, not bothering to tell anyone — not even the convict himself — that he's the jailbird's father. The indie set apparently loves its "dysfunctional family" comedies, but this one works because of stellar performances down the line as well as De Felitta's easygoing aptitude with dialogue. The comedic high points are the two bits centered on Marlon Brando — one involving Vince, the other voiced by Vince's acting teacher (Alan Arkin).

DVD extras include audio commentary by De Felitta and Garcia; a 16-minute interview with De Felitta and cast members; and 16 minutes of deleted scenes.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION (2010). This turgid adaptation of Peter Cameron's novel centers on a timid college professor who comes into contact with the eccentric members of an upper-class family isolating themselves in Uruguay. With a shove from his assertive girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara), Omar (Omar Metwally) travels to South America to visit the family after they refuse to grant him permission to write a biography about one of their own, deceased author Jules Gund. Among these he meets are Jules' wife (Laura Linney), his mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and his brother (Anthony Hopkins). Metwally's charisma-free performance turns the pivotal character of Omar into a dullard, which throws off every scene in which he's interacting with the other players. Not that the bigger names in the cast fare any better: Hopkins seems as disinterested in this project as he was with The Wolfman, while Linney's unwavering snappishness renders her one-note. Gainsbourg has her moments, but the only truly satisfying performance comes from Lara, although that's largely because her frank character is the only one to cut through the stale genteelness and show any signs of life.

DVD extras include audio commentary on select scenes by director James Ivory and a making-of featurette.

Movie: *1/2

Extras: *1/2

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