Cars is the stick with which Pixar's detractors love to thrash it: the franchise, they say, is the weak link in the mighty studio's output, a John Lassiter vanity project that would never have seen the light of day if he weren't the boss. I used to subscribe to this viewpoint, but having a kid has softened my cough. These films do seem to speak to small boys, and while watching Cars 2 for the 25th time, I began to warm to it strangely. The whole cars-are-people thing may not make much sense to me (where, then, are the actual people?), but the first two movies had heart, tolerable story lines and even a sense of humour if you can stomach the aimless ramblings of the rusty old tow truck Mater.
That rusty tow truck does not feature much in Cars 3, which strikes a more sombre tone as it tackles the problem of ageing. Ace racer Lightning McQueen (voiced as always by Owen Wilson) is used to winning, but in this season's Piston Cup he finds himself eclipsed by a new generation of cars led by the cocky Jackson Storm.
When McQueen crashes spectacularly, everyone assumes his career is over. But Lightning is determined to fight back, and seeks out an old friend of Doc Hudson's called Smokey (Chris Cooper), who shows him how older cars must box clever to compete. There's a nice twist involving a female car called Cruz, and the animation in the racing sequences is very good. I saw it with my four-year-old boy, Max, who was intrigued by the film's philosophical themes, and absolutely loved those crashes.
Based on an obscure novel by Thomas Cullinan, and a 1971 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood movie, Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled is a dreamy and pleasantly eccentric film, a Civil War comedy of manners with hints of horror. Coppola won best director for it at Cannes, and it is a deftly handled piece, which completely subverts the sleazy misogyny of the Siegel original.
In that film, it was Clint Eastwood's wounded, woman-bedevilled soldier we were supposed to feel sorry for, but Coppola's story is told from the female perspective.
It's 1864, and the inhabitants of a starchy Virginia girls' school have survived the war by laying low. When the youngest of them, Amy (Oona Laurence) is out foraging for mushrooms, she comes across a wounded man wearing Union blue. She helps him back to the school, where his presence causes excitement and discord. The headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), is all for turning the man over to the Confederates, but the girls urge her let him stay, and she relents.
Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) turns out to be a suave and courtly northerner, who flatters the women and coyly flirts with them. But while each assumes that she is his favourite, McBurney would appear to be playing his own game. Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Angourie Rice play young, frustrated women whose various foibles are skilfully revealed during Coppola's elegant, well-acted and wickedly funny drama.
Depressingly few Irish films have explored our extraordinary history, but Brendan Muldowney's Pilgrimage proves that small budgets are no excuse. In 13th century Ireland, a French-speaking emissary arrives from Rome. A remote community of monks have been guarding a holy relic, and now the Pope wants it brought to him. Some of the monks will accompany the relic on its journey, but along the way they fall foul of a Norman commander with other plans.
Current Spider-Man Tom Holland is the resourceful Brother Diarmuid, but the most charismatic turn comes from Jon Bernthal, playing a mute monk with body tattoos that suggest a colourful past. The film's palette is dull and boggy, and the polyglot narrative of English, French and Irish adds to the mystery, and intentional confusion. It's a tense, atmospheric, cleverly crafted period thriller.