MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 24, 2024: QUEEN OF THE DEUCE

If Chelly Wilson were a fictional character, odds are she’d be deemed “hard to believe” or “too over the top.” But the business-savvy, chain-smoking mom and grandma who came to the United States from Greece in 1939 and operated a string of adult movie theaters in some of the seediest parts of New York City in the 1960s and ’70s is 100 percent real. And, as chronicled in Valerie Kontakos’ documentary Queen of the Deuce, her story is fascinating.

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QUEEN OF THE DEUCE – Review by Loren King

The colorful and unconventional Chelly Wilson’s life story might seem incredible if Queen of the Deuce were not a documentary. The Jewish Wilson fled the Nazis and World War II but the Holocaust claimed nearly her entire family in Greece. She settled in New York City where she sold hot dogs from a truck before buying her first theater, the Cameo, and screening Greek films for the immigrant community. By the 1970s, Wilson owned six X-rated theaters around Times Square and 42nd Street aka “The Deuce.” Author and activist Jeffrey Escoffier credits her as “one of the first, if not the first, to show gay porn in New York City.”

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QUEEN OF THE DEUCE – Review by Leslie Combemale

There’s nothing like discovering that a place I deemed a dangerous dumpster fire of humanity at one time, actually represented resistance, resilience, and survival. The first time I walked down 42nd street was in the 80s, when it had become, as someone put it, “more dangerous than being a soldier in Vietnam”. I should have known there was a whole lot more to the history of The Deuce, as 42nd street is called, than the drug addicts, sex workers, peep shows, and violence in the streets that plagued it by that time. In the documentary Queen of the Deuce, director/writer/producer Valerie Kontakos reveals the importance of one trailblazing woman, Greek immigrant and badass Chelly Wilson, to its development as a porn mecca. She also puts into perspective how Wilson’s success represented so much more than just making heaps of money in a business seen as immoral or unsavory by the average American.

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ANY OTHER WAY: THE JACKIE SHANE STORY (Hot Docs 2024) – Review by Liz Braun

Forty years of living as a recluse nearly erased her legacy, but a new film about Jackie Shane should ensure that the legendary R&B singer is properly remembered. Shane, a transgender performer decades before gender identity was part of the lexicon, was born in Nashville and moved to Canada in 1959 — entering the country for a gig and never leaving. Shane eventually settled in Toronto and had a big presence in the club scene there. And she had a Top 40 hit in the 1960s: Any Other Way. In 1971, Shane vanished from the music scene. What became of this brave and talented performer is one of the mysteries solved in Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story..

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THE PEOPLE’S JOKER – Review by Justina Walford

I firmly believe in the quote, “What is most personal is most universal.” Nothing proves my point more than watching dark, absurdist superhero satire where I’ve only watched half the movies referenced and chuckling like I’m watching my own home videos. Vera Drew did precisely that with The People’s Joker.

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FRIDA (Sundance FF 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

There’s something powerful about seeing a bio-doc based on the words and images of their subject. Even if the subject is believed to be well-known, their own words either supersede or create new context for all former knowledge. These are their thoughts. These are their images. In director Carla Gutièrrez’s new film Frida, she brings famed artist Frida Kahlo into sharper focus through her letters, essays, interviews, and her illustrated diary. Though many might know the broad strokes of her life, the constant pain from an early accident, her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera, and her exquisite, emotional self portraits, there’s more to the know about this exceptional woman and historical figure. In Frida, the audience learns so much more, and nearly all from her own words.

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THE BOY AND THE HERON – Review by Diane Carson

Coming out of retirement for one more film for his iconic Studio Ghibli, Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki has created the magnificent The Boy and the Heron, his most personal story, inspired by his WWII experience. In real life, in 1944 three-year-old Hayao and his family evacuated to a rural are. For his brother’s airplane company, his father built fighter plane rudders, details also found in The Wind Rises. Hayao’s ill mother factors into the fanciful events here, but all this merely sets the stage for two hours of imaginative, glorious animation.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 8, 2023: THE PEASANTS

Polish author Wladyslaw Reymont’s epic, Nobel Prize-winning novel gets an appropriately impressive adaptation in Dorota Kobiela (DK) and Hugh Welchman’s The Peasants. Lushly and gorgeously animated using the same painstaking rotoscope process the duo and their talented crew earned accolades for with 2017’s Loving Vincent, the lovingly crafted film follows the inhabitants of a Polish farming village over the course of a year at the turn of the 20th century. Watching The Peasants is like seeing an Impressionist painting come to life.

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TITINA – Review by Leslie Combemale

For her first feature, award-winning writer/director Kajsa Næss chose to tell a story from the perspective of a celebrity pup from the 20s, the titular Titina, and the result couldn’t be more charming. Titina was a real Italian dog that made a trip to the North Pole via airship designed by his human, engineer Umberto Nobile. Through a mix of animation and short documentary footage from the time, Næss crafts an interesting blend of magical and stark realism, bringing a historic true life adventure to the screen, while celebrating the many simple joys of canine life. Titina registers 11 on a scale of 1-10 for cuteness and charm.

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WISH – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Wishes are powerful—and sharing them with others can help them come true.

Such is the message of Wish, the latest musical comedy from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Wishes are stock in trade for Disney, with songs about how “a dream is a wish your heart makes” and, of course, “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” So centering a story about a kingdom of wishes seems very on-brand. Wish is tough to dislike. Lively and charming, Wish is a sweet cocktail of catchy songs, amusing humor, and especially stellar voice performances from Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose, Alan Tudyk, and Chris Pine. Who knew the onetime Captain Kirk could sing?

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