Flicks to Pick

A guide for taking the guesswork out of MSPIFF


Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome

Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 8 p.m.; and St. Anthony Main, Saturday, April 26, at 9:45 p.m.

In the VH1 age, the movie house can seem an overly spacious place for the music documentary and its small-screen conventions. But Robert Patton-Spruill's Welcome to the Terrordome, a masterful exploration of Public Enemy's career, shares the quenchless ambitions of the hip-hop pioneers, and when draped around the colossal shoulders of Chuck D., Flavor Flav, and Professor Griff, the silver screen seems perfectly sized. Divided evenly between archival, candid, and performance footage, and featuring cameos by the Beastie Boys, DMC, Henry Rollins, and a miscellany of music nobility, Patton-Spruill's unobtrusive lens makes even the Muppet-esque Flavor Flav seem tenderly human and dynamic. As a harrowing montage of Flav's conflicts with his bandmates emerges once more into grudgingly jovial brotherhood, he suddenly seems less the anomalous court jester than the invaluable foil to the often humorless posturing of Chuck and Griff. There are some lean spots—Griff's section leaves his role in the crew unclear to the uninitiated, and an impotent turn on the mic near the film's end does little to substantiate his claims that he's more than a third-word man. But when the film's final movement ascends to unabashed adulation, the intellectual and political complexity evidenced in the previous reels is swiftly distilled into something as incisive as a knife blade. What would seem a tongue bath in a lesser documentary is a hard fought and downright joyous ovation here, leaving little doubt that Public Enemy is the most effective and tireless crew ever to blow amps and minds in the same rhyme. David Hansen


Young @ Heart

Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome
Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome
Oss 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
Oss 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

St. Anthony Main, Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

From the washed-out images to the twee voiceover (courtesy of director Stephen Walker), this British television documentary about the titular Massachusetts-based senior-citizens' chorus so slavishly embodies the creakiest clichés of British television documentaries that you begin to wonder if it's not all a big put-on—if Christopher Guest didn't direct the damn thing under a pseudonym. Fortunately, Walker's subjects—nearly all in their 80s and 90s, with a greatest-hits collection of medical ailments and a set list that runs the gamut from the Beatles to Sonic Youth—more than carry the day. Set over the six weeks leading up to the chorus's latest concert, Young @ Heart adopts the will-they-pull-it-all-together-by-showtime formula of so many backstage docs, with the caveat that, for these performers, neither time nor Father Time is on their side. The film's appeal is at once sentimental and perverse: It's not every day that you get to see a 92-year-old woman soloing on "Should I Stay or Should I Go," or a deeply affecting rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" performed by an octogenarian with congestive heart failure. Not surprisingly, a feature remake is already in the works. —Scott Foundas


Family Motel

Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 7 p.m.; and St. Anthony Main, Sunday at 7 p.m.

A Canadian film about homeless immigrants might reasonably be expected to be a miserablist slog, but Family Motel succeeds by suffusing its bleak scenario with warm touches of humanity. Documentarian Helene Klodawsky's first fiction feature delves into the hard-knock life of Somali transplant Ayan (Nargis), whose two custodial jobs can't quite cover paying rent, sending cash back to her husband in Africa, and keeping up her teenage daughters' (real-life sisters Asha and Sagal Jibril) dental work. The family is eventually forced to trade its modest apartment for a state-sponsored room in a shady motel, where the film comes into its own. Constantly churning with restless energy and peopled with a cast of weirdoes that stays just this side of caricature, the motel emerges as a sinister fourth lead. Rich colors, stylized shots, and a strong sense of community bring to mind early Spike Lee joints like Do the Right Thing and Crooklyn. Like those films, Family Motel digs into a dysfunctional, dangerous society and comes out with a handful of hope just big enough to make it all worthwhile. —Ira Brooker

The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun

St. Anthony Main, Sunday at 5:25 p.m.

Living alone in the dilapidated Hesbjerg Castle that he purchased more than 40 years ago, octogenarian bachelor Jorgen Lauersen Vig has convinced the Moscow Patriarchate to live out a dream by donating his hulking Danish home to the Russian Orthodox Church for use as a monastery. With his snowy shag rug of a beard and Scrooge-like glasses hanging precariously from the tip of his nose, the bookish Vig is a weird bird whose quiet eccentricities hold an underlying sadness. (He's never experienced love, perhaps because his mother never kissed him or maybe because he's overly neurotic about dreadful-looking noses.) In beautiful and occasionally quite comical contrast, in walks strong-willed Sister Ambrosija and her cleanup posse. To get the building up to monastic snuff, she demands that the roof and boiler be replaced, yet the equally stubborn Vig thinks he can fix it all himself. Unlike far too many human interest docs today, director Pernille Rose Gronkjaer's fantastic little character portrait doesn't rest on the strength of its personality, as prudent attention is paid to aesthetic nuances (some of the long-shot tableaus are priceless, such as a chorus of nuns singing in squalor) and the growing quasi-love the titular bickerers have for each other. —Aaron Hillis


The Edge of Heaven

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