Hereditary: Don’t lose your head over this scary movie

I’ll start with a confession. I don’t like horror films. Not because they frighten me, but because generally they don’t. So, my judgement on this one may be a little flawed as I haven’t got many terms of reference to compare it to.

I was persuaded to go see it by the hype that surrounded its release, the glowing critical reviews, a friend who also wanted to see it and, of course, the obligatory Cineworld Unlimited card which means it’s easier to take a risk on seeing something you might not otherwise choose to part with a ten pound note at the box office for.

Unfortunately, watching Hereditary hasn’t changed my opinion of horror films.

I found it very slow paced, almost glacial in places, waiting for something to happen. Not necessarily something frightening, just anything at all. The scares are few and far between, and when they do materialise, they didn’t have me jumping out of my seat in shock.

The only scene I found truly unsettling, without giving too much of a spoiler, concerns one of the central characters losing their head in what appears to be an unfortunate accident. But the dread it leaves you with stems from the impact of that loss on the rest of the family and has nothing to do with the threat which is supposedly driving the main plot.

My main gripe would be that this could have been a fine film on the consequence of loss and the impact of mental trauma on an otherwise stable family unit, because the performances of the cast in this regard are excellent. That’s not likely to be box office gold though, I’ll admit.

I wouldn’t describe any of the characters as likeable, but they are believable – except they never think to put a light on when hearing bumps in the night or waking from a nightmare, as any person not playing a character in a horror film would surely do.

The supernatural element didn’t work for me at all. You either fall for this stuff or you don’t, and I’m a complete sceptic when it comes to ouija boards, communing with spirits, summoning the dead and all that, so the whole thing just tumbled towards ridiculousness at the end. I was stifling a giggle at the point I should presumably have been trembling in fear.

The recent British horror, Ghost Stories, was so much better, perhaps because the mundane surroundings were more familiar or because the central character in that film is a sceptic like me, who sets out to disprove a series of psychic events rather than accept them at face value.

I won’t reveal what happens to him in the end, but suffice to say it is a far more satisfying and believable conclusion than you’ll find in this load of old nonsense.

The Greatest Showman

This was the first film I went to see after signing up for a Cineworld Unlimited card, so I convinced myself it was ok to take in a cheesy, critically-panned musical because it was technically ‘free’ – as in, not free at all, but I wasn’t paying for the actual ticket to see this specific film. It’s just part of the deal, it’s on the card, don’t blame me for the choice, I’m just getting my money’s worth.

You get the picture? I was slightly embarrassed about it.

Halfway through the opening number, I was over all that, and just enjoying the ride.

There’s no messing around, once the adverts and the trailers are out of the way, the film opens and is straight into the opening song, Hugh Jackman strutting his stuff as P T Barnum marshalling the performers in his circus ring to the literally stomping beat.

This fades neatly away into Barnum as a boy, and we’re drawn back to the beginning of his rags to riches tale.

Where other movies might have spent an hour on the journey from childhood to adulthood for the star of their show, here it’s all dealt with in the space of a single song, and it’s no worse for that. Significantly better, it could be argued, as it is another quickly hummable earworm.

By this point, you’ll either be heading for the exits or eagerly awaiting the next set piece, and if it’s the latter, you never have to wait too long.

This isn’t a film that gets bogged down in detail or too much exposition. It’s a big, bold, bright, colourful, unashamed piece of old fashioned entertainment, and on that level it really works.

Each song manages to lodge itself in your memory on first hearing, and some would simply stand out on their own in any company: ‘Never Enough’ and ‘This Is Me’ are a couple of absolute showstoppers.

They’re written by the songwriting team that powered La La Land to Oscar glory, but this is much more fun.

Crusty old critics might have looked own their noses at it, but I predict The Greatest Showman will be popping up in Boxing Day TV schedules for the rest of recorded time.

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Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. Now that’s a casting decision I’d never have seen coming. I mean, he doesn’t look like him. He doesn’t sound like him. How could it ever work?

I can’t deny that part of the fascination of seeing this film was to see how on earth they transformed Oldman into the legendary British wartime leader, but he pulls it off, and impressively so.

I soon stopped wondering how uncomfortable the fatsuit must have been to wear and started wondering how Churchill was going to get on with winning that damn war… not the one against Hitler, but the one with his opponents in Parliament most of whom didn’t seem all that keen on having old Winston taking the reins at all.

The behind the scenes chicanery and political manoeuvring is well portrayed and it does leave you wondering what might have happened if those who opposed Churchill’s rise to the premiership in 1940 and his public rallying call to ‘never surrender’ to Nazi Germany had won the day.

The film also reveals the conflicts within Churchill himself and Oldman portrays the vulnerabilities and the moments of doubt with a skill that makes the outward bombast and the iconic, theatrical speechifying all the more impressive.

The stirring words still have the power to send shivers down your spine and, considering we know the outcome of the war after Dunkirk, there is still a surprising amount of tension throughout the film as the moment of destiny approaches and the political disagreements that preceded it play out on screen.

Perhaps we do spend too much time looking back at these heroic moments of our past than is good for us. But aside from the warm nostalgic glow of a past triumph that most of us watching never lived through, maybe we should also lament that a character such as Churchill was very much of his time, and we will never see the like again.

How would he have fared in the age of intensive and intrusive media scrutiny and daily trial by Twitterstorm and social media? With all his undoubted faults and foibles, would his turbulent political career have even lasted long enough to make it through to this particular Darkest Hour?

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I hadn’t been to the cinema for a while and then a new Star Wars film comes out, so you just have to, don’t you?

I am of that fortunate generation that was growing up in the 1970s when the original film made its big screen debut, and I can still remember the thrill of queuing up with mum outside the Odeon in Bradford waiting to get in. The anticipation was immense, not even dampened by the bewildering ‘short’ film about American bikers that preceded the main event, which seemed to go on for ages, even though it was probably only about twenty minutes. Then, before the curtain went up (yes, the Bradford Odeon screen had a curtain back then) all the house lights went out, a mirror ball descended from the ceiling and dazzled us all in a fantastical starscape (I was 11, ok, cut me some slack) before the iconic 20th Century Fox flashed up in front of us, the now familiar fanfare parping into my ears for the first time, and then: A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

It was the best thing I’d ever seen at the time. So good, I went to see it three more times at the Odeon, and I’m sure I won’t be the only Bradfordian whose emotional attachment to that magnificent building, now long closed and in a sad state of disrepair, held up by scaffolding while politicians and bean counters debate its future, can be traced back to the unforgettable experience of seeing George Lucas’ masterwork for the first time in 1978.

And now here I am, almost forty years later, watching the latest instalment of a saga that shows no signs of ever ending, and thank goodness for that.

Not at the Odeon, no screen curtain or mirrorball at Cineworld either (though no interminable short about American bikers to sit through beforehand, so not everything about modern life is rubbish) but still that same sense of childlike excitement as the film gets underway as they always do.

20th Century Fox logo – check. Parping fanfare – check.

A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

These most recent instalments have undoubtedly given the franchise a new lease of life after the trio of underwhelming prequels. The Force Awakens was a glorious homage to the original, reintroducing iconic characters we probably all thought we’d never get to see on screen again, played by the actors who first gave them life. Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) were back!
Except, in the case of Mark Hamill, he wasn’t. We had to wait another two years for The Last Jedi to see him in action, as The Force Awakens focused on Han’s story, his part in bequeathing us the new villain of the piece, Kylo Ren, and the gut-punch ending where, just as it was forty years ago, one of our beloved heroes fails to make it to the final credits.

But he’s here now, all grizzly and grumpy and seemingly rejecting all the efforts of Daisy Ridley’s character Rey to coax him out of self-imposed exile and save the Rebel Alliance with his mastery of the Force.

Speaking of which, they don’t half take a pounding in this instalment, those rebels. And we almost lose Princess Leia herself at one point, as her ship takes a direct hit and she floats out into the vacuum of space.

At that moment I though, ‘ah, so this is how they’re going to write Carrie Fisher out,’ but no, Leia does make it to the final credits after all, leader of what’s left of the rebel forces, which at this stage would seem to be small enough to fit in a Tatooine land speeder rather that an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Of course Luke turned up to save the day at the end. Does that count as a spoiler? I doubt it. It’s a Star Wars movie. You basically know what you’re getting before you buy your ticket. Good guys gotta do what good guys gotta do.

And that’s why we love them, isn’t it?

Roll on the next instalment. Can’t wait. Who knows, maybe it’ll even be on at the Odeon in Bradford.

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