Looking over the life story of screenwriter Robert Towne who died this week made me realize again how much of his work I enjoyed over the years. He wrote (or ghost wrote) many of my favorite films. Chinatown, The Parallax View, McCabe and Mrs Miller, two Missions Impossible, Heaven Can Wait. Many more, sometimes as a script doctor and therefore uncredited. He was nominated four times for an Oscar and won once, for Chinatown, naturally. Check out the list of his films on IMDB. It goes on and on. You might be surprised how many were part of your life.

Meanwhile, here's another week when animation rules. But of course it is summer. Inside Out 2 has been breaking box office records and is joined this week by Despicable Me 4 (which if you count the two Minions offshoots is actually #6). Judging by its opening day results, it's going to be a huge hit too.

I'll start with Eddie Murphy though, and please also note the Indigenous-themed film below.


DESPICABLE ME 4: 3 stars

FANCY DANCE: 4 stars

BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F: It's a welcome return. Eddie Murphy is again the fast-talking Axel Foley, still with what the producer says is "that twinkle in his eye" even though it's now 40 years since he first played him and 30 years since the last time. Beverly Hills Cop III flopped, almost killed the series and probably caused the long delay in bringing on this one. But Axel is at it once more, travelling yet again from Detroit where he's first seen at a Red Wings Hockey game and has occasion to mention Winnipeg twice, to Beverly Hills where things are as quirky as ever (see the PRE NUP license plate) and also different. People these days don't want swashbuckler cops he's told; they want social workers.

Courtesy of Netflix

He's both old style and new. Lots of cars and real estate get damaged when he gets into chases in cars, a traffic controller, a snowplow, a golf cart and a helicopter. He's also trying to patch things up with his estranged daughter (Taylour Paige) who is the reason for his return to Beverly Hills. She's a lawyer and he's learned that she's in danger from a cabal of corrupt cops. There are old friends that he re-connects with (Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser and Bronson Pinchot) and many references back to earlier films for the fans to enjoy.

Courtesy of Netflix

There are also additions: Kevin Bacon as a suspicious cop and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a new-style cop. The film feels light but also fresh, not just a nostalgia romp. Murray is the prime source of that. With his wide grin, demonstrative facial expressions and sparking quips, he elevates the mid-level material. He also co-produced the film. Mark Molloy directed. (Netflix) 2 ½ out of 5

DESPICABLE ME 4: If you've got kids or grandkids you know you're going to be under pressure to take them to this. The series has become an animation power and box office reports from it's first day suggest this will be one of the biggest yet. As a film it's extremely hyper, crammed with jokes and not a lot of concern that the story doesn't meld together all that well. It's a series of incidents, thanks to the script by Mike White (who won three Emmys for his HBO series The White Lotus). Your kids will love it for that short-attention-span razzle dazzle and, of course, for the Minions. They're like bratty kids (as usual) and are briefly elevated here into parodies of super-heroes and therefore even more attractive.

There's extra focus on home and family in this one, also attractive to the little ones.

Courtesy of Universal

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has reformed. He's working with the Anti Villain League, has settled down with his wife (Kristen Wiig) and his adopted daughters Agnes, Margo and Edith and has a new baby, Gru Jr., who perpetually scowls at him and smiles at his mother. Kids will get it.

Courtesy of Universal

But trouble comes when an old enemy a bombastic self-aggrandizing Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell, with a shakey French accent) escapes from prison and comes for revenge. Gru and his family are relocated to a witness-protection safe house. The kids, like most children forced to move, don't like it. They're mall rats in a couple of scenes and unsure of themselves at school. They befriend an uppity neighbor kid while Gru and wife get involved with a country-club set. But LeMal looms and part insect that he is, threatens to turn the family into cockroaches. Too many story threads and less of the emotional flavor we got in the first film. I don't expect that'll hurt it though. (In theaters) 3 out of 5

FANCY DANCE: Here's a very good and powerful story about Indigenous people here in North America. Not from a political angle, land claims and age-old prestige as protectors of the earth, those sort of things, but the struggles of daily life, in this case on and near a reservation in Okalhoma. And with that one huge topic: missing and murdered Indigenous women hovering over all. We get that through the affect on friends and family.

Courtesy of Apple TV

Lily Gladstone, who made history as the first Indigenous woman nominated for a lead -actor Academy Award, uses her best laconic voice to play Jax who is looking for her sister. She puts up Missing posters, knows nothing about where she's gone but fears the worst. She's taken in her sister's daughter and tries to keep up her spirits. Child welfare officials (white, of course) are trying to take her away and put her with authorized care givers. “You do not meet the standards,” she's told. Daily slights like that are clearly revealed by director and co-writer Erica Tremblay.

The story becomes a search, like a detective story. Jax and the niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) set out to find the sister and mother. Roki is also getting ready for a Pow Wow where she will dance and fully expects to be re-united with her mother. Jax doesn't want to shatter that faith but on her own uncovers a bleak story about what actually happened. The pow wow represents tradition and re-claiming a culture and history. The film does that too by showing real life as it is today.

It's taken a long time to get to us, after making an impact at Sundance last year. It's now streaming on Apple TV+ which also had it in a few theaters recently to get it better known. It should be. 4 out of 5