Your Weekly Roundup of New Movies: “The Story of Film: A New Generation” Is the Latest Chapter in a 120-Year Dream

What to see and what to skip.

THE STORY OF FILM: A NEW GENERATION

**** In 2011, documentarian Mark Cousins set out to elucidate a little thing called film history. The Story of Film: An Odyssey lasted 15 hours, ran on Turner Classic Movies and cemented former BBC host Cousins as a recognizable film appreciator. Now, the tastefully soft-spoken cineaste is back with a three-hour addendum—The Story of Film: A New Generation. This roving, languid video essay on 2010s cinema finds its strength in Cousins’ ability to unpack scene after scene—it’s part sermon, part clinic (imagine a David Attenborough film about movies). He strolls inquisitively through choice clips and categories, decelerating to the tempo of “slow cinema” like An Elephant Sitting Still, lovingly unpacking Booksmart’s comedic verve, and marveling inclusively at where VR and mo-cap are whisking cinema. While perhaps unnecessarily split into titles that Cousins views as extensions of historically great films and ones that are truly “new,” the documentary is always more commemorative than critical. It can sometimes be hard for cinephiles to trust other cinephiles during a movie testament this high-minded (skepticism and fandom often go hand in hand). But Cousins is always humble and affectionate enough to avoid excesses of snark, pretension or even genre bias. He’s just the shepherd through the latest chapter of a 120-year dream. May none of us ever wake. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. On Demand.

ALL SORTS

*** This Washington-made cubicle comedy prefers paper clips to staplers, but its kinship with Office Space is undeniable. All Sorts is a fresh, diversely cast trip through lightly dystopian corporate offices that haven’t aged much since 1999—characters in this sophomore film from director J. Rick Castaneda still use ‘90s Windows tech. As we follow newly employed data-entry clerk Diego (Eli Vargas), the film’s influences and priorities split. There’s a cute but shallow romantic plot that owes more to The Office than Office Space, with teddy bear Diego falling for his co-worker June (Greena Park), who’s transcendently skilled at file sorting. That talent opens a literal door in an office full of hidden passages and eccentric drones—and eventually leads to a filing tournament. Ultimately, All Sorts is a series of atmospheric comedy montages—e.g., rifling through all the contortionist positions from which a worker could type to avoid falling asleep. Almost all these gags last two beats past the laugh, but they keep the film grounded within its small budget—and a little closer to Real Genius’ goofball charm than Being John Malkovich’s alienation. A job can only be so awful before weirdness prevails and everyone makes the best of it. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Clinton Street Theater. 8 pm Saturday, Sept. 24.

GOD’S COUNTRY

*** A century of Westerns have relied on land squabbles—and in the West of 2022, you have to watch where you park. That’s what starts the trouble between Sandra Guidry (Thandiwe Newton), a college professor living in a remote canyon home after her mother’s death, and the deer hunters who want to use her driveway. One of God’s Country’s great strengths is how far and wide it escalates this elemental conflict. Most of the film’s complexity comes from director Julian Higgins and co-writer Shaye Ogbonna adapting the original James Lee Burke short story to center on a Black woman largely alone in the snowy remoteness. Still, some of the resulting ideological struggles feel more grafted on than organic. As Sandra fights for her safety, God’s Country becomes a cascading polemic, expositorily touching on #MeToo, diversity in academia, police violence, and recent American history in ways that sometimes drown out her character. Fortunately, the ideas can’t drown out Newton. You’ve never seen the Westworld star given the chance to show such versatility: Sandra is vulnerable, grieving, inspiring, caretaking, self-sabotaging and hard-bitten as frozen earth. With a nod to Do the Right Thing, this is one of the few modern Westerns that becomes something new while invoking age-old American conflicts. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21, Clackamas, Eastport, Oak Grove, Progress Ridge, Vancouver Mall.

PEARL

*** When the makers of the A24-bred, tastemaker-approved indie horror flick X announced they were readying an already filmed prequel for release, critics largely dismissed the claim as further evidence of just how much time everyone had to spare amid pandemic doldrums. You’d think that director Ti West (The Innkeepers, The Sacrament), who obsessively re-created ‘70s aesthetics for X, would be a poor fit for Pearl, a small-town character study set near the end of the First World War. Yet from the film’s overwrought orchestration to the Technicolor sheen of its opening credits, West seamlessly borrows the cinematographic palette from MGM’s glory days to brighten this old-fashioned yarn about a plucky farm girl’s dreams of silent-movie stardom. Co-screenwriter and star Mia Goth’s Baby Jane/Norma Desmond rictus grins and disarming naturalism make it hard to root against Pearl (even as the inevitable violent spree looms), and the playful but never jokey film draws strength from the persistent dread roused by our darkest fears: alligators, maggots, German accents and, yes, the unforeseen bloodlust of a fresh-faced psychotic. The scares are still big; it’s the pitchforks that got small. R. JAY HORTON. Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Tigard.