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“The Good German.”

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"You can never really get out of Berlin."
Like "Bubble," the film with which Steven Soderbergh kicked off the year, "The Good German" is an interesting exercise and a less interesting film. Both "Bubble" and "The Good German" find Soderbergh, never the most distinctive of auteurs, attempting a kind of directorial ventriloquism. "Bubble," with its rawness, its conscious naivete and untrained actors, was a faux first film. "The Good German," which is filmed in gorgeous black and white and offers Cate Blanchett doing her best Dietrich, is an R-rated version of a 40s studio production. It all looks great, but damned if we know why anyone bothered.

George Clooney plays Jake Geismer, a war correspondent who arrives in Berlin in July of 1945 to cover the Potsdam Peace Conference. The city’s a bombed-out mess that’s been carved up into districts, each controlled by one of the Allied forces. The shell-shocked population is still trying to deal with the surrender and with surviving through whatever means are necessary. For Lena (Blanchett), Jake’s former lover, that’s meant prostitution — as a friend reminds her, a few months ago she was available for "a can of tuna." Now she’s latched on to Tully (Tobey Maguire), a GI who dabbles in the black market, who promises he can get her out of Berlin, and who happens to have been assigned as Jake’s driver.

Despite the odd "Casablanca" nod, "The Good German"’s real template is "The Third Man," with its post-traumatic stress and its great and terrible lessons on morality. Jake, like Holly Martins, is too arrogant and blustery and blind to be the hero he believes he is — he likes to lead with his chin. He arrives on the scene and is immediately undercut by Tully, who grins and golly-gees him while musing in a voice-over about what a patsy Jake is. (Like the city, the film is divided up into territories, with each of the three main characters getting his or her chance to briefly narrate and turn the perspective in their direction.) Maguire resembles, well, Peter Parker, but he talks like a street-corner pimp — his coldblooded, opportunistic Tully is an appalling, irresistible character, a horrible little shit who everyone nevertheless describes as good-natured, as if dazed by the power of his boyish grin. We wish he was in more of the movie, but of course, this is a romance of sorts, and it belongs to Blanchett and Clooney.

It’s really too bad that Lena and Jake are so limp as once-lovers — Lena, dead-eyed from the things she did to stay alive through the war, has plenty of the secrets, and Jake spends most of the movie trying to pry them out of her so that he can save her from them. But the plot curlicues don’t add up to much once straightened out; one can’t help but reflect at the end that if Lena had just told Jake what she wanted in the beginning, we could have avoided a dozen tortuous chiaroscuro entrances. Either way, the climactic revelations are, even with the freedoms of a modern sensibility, underwhelming, and certainly nothing on Carol Reed‘s Vienna hospital scene.

Given current world events, a drama set in occupied territory could have pungent present-day applications, but "The Good German" avoids easier parallels than a general thought that to the victor go the spoils, even if the victor would rather pretend otherwise as he or she gathers them up. "Forgetting’s a two-way street," Jake is told, and effacing inconvenient history is simpler than atoning for it. Unfortunately, "The Good German" offers no great revelations about history, actual or cinematic. It’s a lovely, hollow novelty.

Opens in limited release December 15th.

+ "The Good German" (Warner Bros.)

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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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