A new tale of Winnie the Pooh, a spy comedy in need of laughs and Scotty’s sordid tales of old Hollywood

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SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD: You just might be saying to yourself “I didn’t want to know that.” Maybe a few times, as you hear the frank, sometimes sordid, stories Scotty Bowers has to tell. Many of them have been known, or at least rumored, for some time. He confirms gossip items about Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, Tracy and Hepburn, and many others. Walter Pidgeon found him working at a Los Angeles gas station, seduced him and thereby started his career as a procurer to the stars. Mostly gays, it seems, but others too. He recalls a threesome he enjoyed with Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. In typically direct language he recalls George Cukor one night putting in an order for multiple “cocks to suck.” But the stunner is what he says he did for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Royal watchers have long speculated about what they were into.


In the film he’s in his 90s, still lively, with a clear memory and a glib tongue. His wife says she wishes he had told her all about this before they got married. She might have backed out. He says he has no regrets; he wasn’t a pimp; he was doing a service. The film supports that do-gooder image. After all, stars back in the golden age of Hollywood weren’t free, but controlled by industry codes, morals clauses in studio contracts and the image demands of the fans. There’s a hustler in Scotty though, and a sad figure with a troubled early life. And here’s a kicker: he was a prime source for Kinsey’s studies of American sexuality. The film is a rich tour of his life dressed up with movie clips (Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, naturally) and many very graphic photos (not of stars, though) from his own collection. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5    

THE KING: There are two stories running in parallel in this film. One is a speedy biography of Elvis Presley, the poor boy who became a music giant (the king of rock and roll) and then suffered a decline with excess. The other is America, born in pioneer idealism, grown into a world power and now sagging as a bully. Each story is told, argued and illustrated extremely well, but the connections aren’t convincing. The director, Eugene Jarecki, is a respected documentarian, writer and commentator on social issues and politics. He covers many in the film; just misses linking them.


It’s a great trip though. He bought a Rolls Royce that Elvis used to own, and drove it cross country picking up a rich variety of passengers for brief rides. There are old Elvis associates like Scotty Moore, new groups playing music, Emmylou Harris talking about Elvis as tragic and alone, Chuck D of the group Public Enemy talking about cultural appropriation, Stax girls singing soul, an old blues singer talking. That’s the music side. On the political we get Dan Rather, James Carville, Alec Baldwin (sure that Trump would not win), and Van Jones trying to straddle the two sides. His Dad hated Elvis, he says, and he blasts the U.S. for its imperialism. Stronger words than he uses on CNN these days. Mike Myers is there for a Canadian view (rather bland, actually) and Ashton Kutcher says sometimes fame is bigger than the talent behind it. There’s a side trip to the poor Mississippi neighborhood where Elvis was born, lots of glitter in Las Vegas where he got fat and a steady rush of news and movie clips. Despite its shortcomings, this is a very entertaining film. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5    

LETTER FROM MASANJIA: This very compelling film is back after its DOXA screening in May. Anyone with an interest in modern China should see it. The story is rife with intrigue, repression and tenacity. It starts in Oregon where a mother buys a Halloween toy made in China, a styrofoam tombstone, doesn’t unwrap it for a couple of years and finds a surprise when she finally does. It’s a note from a man named Sun Yi who says he was being forced to work in a Chinese labor camp. (He had joined Falun Gong, which the government was cracking down on because it considered it a threat). The woman told Human Rights Watch, found no interest there, but incited a big story when she went to a newspaper. Big enough for China to close those labor camps.  


By that time Sun Yi had already been released--that’s him in the photo with Masanjia in the distance—and looking for another chance to tell his story. He wanted to make a film about his arrest, the breakup of his family,  losing his rights in prison and the repression he suffered. Meanwhile, over here in Surrey, Leon Lee, who had made an award-winning film about Chinese organ harvesting, was looking for him. They worked together long distance to make this film, in secret and with an anonymous assistant in China. There’s high drama in it about resilience and standing up and not giving in. Leon Lee will attend the screenings on Fri, Sat and Sun. (VanCity Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5   

Also now playing:

THE DARKEST MINDS: More teenage paranoia in case Divergent and those others didn’t have enough for you. This time teens develop super powers. Government types feel threatened, lock up the kids in camps and unwittingly spark a resistance movement.  That happens when one escapes, finds a band of others out in the post-apocalyptic wilds and shapes them into a force. No it’s probably not as simple as that, I haven’t seen it, but it does seem as derivative as that. Cue the metaphors.   


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