Seen : Mollys Game

This is a review of Mollys Game a film starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner.  None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

Winter hibernation is a wonderful thing,  although there is less time outdoors, there is also the opportunity to catch up on the films you want to see in the warm glow of the movie screen.

Last weekend, I sat down to watch Mollys Game, a film based on the true story of Molly Bloom played by Jessica Chastain.  Molly was an Olympic class skier, who ended up running high stakes poker games that land her in trouble.

Idris Elba plays her attorney Charlie Jaffrey, drafted in to defend Molly during a court case that threatens to send her to jail, and the exchanges between Molly and Charlie are the highlight of the film.

The story is told with a series of flashbacks to Molly’s childhood, and then her time running poker games in the early 2000’s.  The glamour of the poker scene and the people involved contrasts well with the legal scenes.

Mollys Game is adapted from an autobiography and is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. I always like his TV work, and this film clipped along at a good pace. Despite being around the two-hour mark, it didn’t feel too long.  There is no doubt that Sorkin is a great writer, but I’m keen to see him making more cinematic movies to match his excellent scripts and characters.

The star for me is Jessica Chastain, whose recent output has been excellent. I loved Miss Sloane, and her roles in Interstellar and The Martian were outstanding.

Overall. 8/10. IMDb.

Seen: Darkest Hour

This is a review of Darkest Hour, a film starring Gary Oldman, Lily James and Kirstin Scott-Thomas.

There have been a lot of Winston Churchill ‘impersonations’ recently, Brian Cox in Churchill, John Lithgow in The Crown and now Gary Oldman inhabits the role for Darkest Hour.

The film takes place in the early days of World War Two, with Winston Churchill taking over the role of Prime Minister at a crunch point in the fight against Hitler.  The storyline is well known, against long odds and a seemingly insurmountable situation, Winston manages to rally the British people, and then his party to have the confidence to fight back.  The film ends with boats sailing towards Dunkirk in another passage of war that we know well.

darkest hour

No review of this movie can be written without considering Gary Oldman’s amazing interpretation of Britains most famous wartime PM.  It is an excellent portrayal, aided by prosthetics and some poetic license, Oldman takes on the physicality and persona to great effect.  From the drinking habits, a healthy disrespect for the rules and his nap time, to his irascible treatment of staff – he is amazing throughout.  The speech patterns and mannerisms match completely, and I came away feeling I’d watched a fly on the wall documentary for some of the scenes.

This isn’t a perfect movie, the dreamlike car journeys through London followed by an ill-judged (and made up) scene on the London Underground made me realise this had some license.

All of that said, Darkest Hour will win awards. Gary Oldman is superb, and Lily James plays his secretary Elizabeth Layton brilliantly.  Kirstin Scott-Thomas is imperious as Clementine Churchill and the whole supporting cast are top notch.

Overall. 8/10. IMDb.

Read: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This is a review of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield.

I’ll be honest, this has been sitting in my reading pile for months now. I saw it referenced in an article by Tim Ferris when he was talking about ‘Tribe of Mentors’.  I thought it sounded interesting and bought it on impulse. When it arrived, I thought it looked a little ‘light’ on practicalities for me and held back.

War of ArtAfter a couple of focused business books recently, I decided to give this a try this weekend – and finished it in two sittings.  It is a beautifully precise book, with an economy of language – but it is also engrossing and enjoyable.

The War of Art describes the internal obstacles that inhibit success, collecting them together in a tangible, palpable collective which Pressfield describes as ‘resistance’.  It’s an unseen, malevolent force that blocks so many people from achieving their true potential.

By identifying ‘resistance’, the author also helps shape the attitude and form that the reader needs to adopt, in order to go to battle. By assuming the position of a ‘professional’, he sets you up for the fight.

Fortunately, the professional is not alone in this war with resistance, in the third part of the book we read about the supportive forces we can summon to overcome our adversary.

The book is written as a set of ideas, short paragraphs or vignettes that give an incredible insight into the human psyche.  At turns, the book is practical and helpful and then turns more romantic – summoning muses and angels to help the struggling reader.

The War of Art doesn’t just apply to artists and creators, but to anyone who feels resistance to anything. Resistance to moving on from the past, resistance to healing issues, resistance to moving onwards and upwards in any field.  By defining the challenge and providing inspiration for the battle this book offers an eye=opening approach to the next steps.

I highly recommend The War of Art to anyone who is looking for insight into human psychology and motivation.


Seen : Lady Bird

This is a review of Lady Bird, a film starring Saoirse Riordan and Laurie Metcalf. 

Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson attends a Catholic high school in the ‘mid-west of California’, East Sacramento.

The story, is of Christine’s journey through the last year of high school, as she explores her (sometimes lofty) goals of attending an East-Coast college. Alongside college, there are boys and friends and coming-of-age.  Like other teenage girls, she endures a difficult relationship with her mother, played by the excellent Laurie Metcalf.

Lady Bird

Lady Bird is the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig who wrote the screenplay, with a wonderfully efficient touch – there are few wasted words in the script and the remaining cast are excellent.

For me, the star turn is Saoirse Riordan, who plays Lady Bird perfectly.  She manages the conflict between confidence and teenage angst perfectly and switches between emotions seamlessly.  Riordan has multiple nominations for awards this season, and I see no reason why she shouldn’t be recognised.

I loved Lady Bird, a quiet, thoughtful screenplay which is nicely directed and well acted.

Overall. 8/10. IMDb

Seen – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a review of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. A film starring Frances McDonagh and Woody Harrelson. 

I’ve been to Missouri. A long time ago I visited the state, and I still think the bit I visited was more modern than the fictional town of Ebbing which is the setting for this film.

three billboards

Mildred Hayes (played perfectly by Frances McDormand) is searching for justice for a daughter who was the victim of a hideous crime.  Believing that the local police Chief, Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is dragging his feet with the investigation, Mildred leases three billboards at the edge of town to call attention to the inaction.

What follows is a chain reaction that twists through the darkest turns of grief. Ebbings various residents are both cruel and funny in turn, and tragedy is never far enough from incandescent rage.

From the all-American family man Willoughby to the bum-cop Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell, explosive emotions lurk beneath almost comedic surfaces. France McDormand is fantastic, her anger only giving way to tender scenes when she encounters the spirit of her daughter during a quiet moment.

There is a sense of a Western in much of this film, with many of the big scenes overlooking a modern main-street. Violence is never far away, but never disproportionate to the gravity of the original crime committed.

Three Billboards has been nominated for a raft of awards this season, and rightly so.   Multiple Golden Globes and BAFTA nominations are in the bag, and I fully expect to see this highly rated at the Oscars.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a melancholic film, but there is very dark humour which made me laugh out loud a number of times, and the script is excellent.  The sadness of a mother who has lost her daughter is not assuaged, and McDonagh delivers a great performance as the hero of the piece.

Overall. 10/10. IMDb



Read – Working Out Loud : For a Better Career and Life

This is a review of Working Out Loud : For a Better Career and Life by John Stepper.

I’ve been interested in the concept of Working Out Loud for some time, having heard it mentioned across various blogs and twitter feeds. It aligns closely with having a Growth Mindset (which Stepper references). In order to have a Growth Mindset, we need to disavow the fear that stops us Working Out Loud. By fostering generosity and strong connections with one another, we can build a more collaborative approach to work.

Working Out LoudWorking Out Loud is a useful and well-written guidebook for anyone who wants to improve their personal brand by making their work and themselves visible.

Following the programme laid out by Stepper, its easy to see how you can ‘Build Better Relationships’ which can enhance your career and life in general.

The author starts with three key questions:

1. What am I trying to accomplish?
2. Who can help me with that goal?
3. How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationship?

By answering these questions, the reader can establish a sense of purpose, which the remainder of the book helps support.

There are five elements to Working Out Loud:

  • Purposeful Discovery
  • Relationships
  • Generosity
  • Visible Work
  • Growth Mindset

The book guides the reader through each of these principles with some background to the benefits, and some practical guidance to establish the right course. Towards the end of the book, Stepper talks at length about ‘Working Out Loud’ circles, which are a way of bringing the learnings from the book to life, by connecting with other readers who share your goals.

I really enjoyed the pace and the structure of this book which combined some high level concepts with some actionable processes to get started. At the end of each chapter there were clearly documented takeaways, alongside some ‘do this now’ sections which ranged from a few minutes. These steps were a key to getting started, and generating momentum rather than just reading a dry text book.

I’d highly recommend Working Out Loud to anyone that was embarking on a programme of personal branding, or wants to build stronger relationships in their career. By following the guidelines in the book, I could easily see a movement of people demonstrating real personal growth.

Seen : My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman

This is a review of My Next Guest needs no introduction with David Letterman on Netflix. 

Let’s deal with the things that are still the same. The trousers are still too short, although the socks don’t seem to be white anymore.

That’s it. Everything else is different. A new set, no band, no desk, no pencils, no gimmicks. The beard.

One guest.

Letterman is back. In a new Netflix series, the former Late Show host takes a more thoughtful, deliberate approach to the chat show by inviting just one guest per week to appear.

In the first episode, the guest is a big one. The rush of applause when David Letterman announces the “44th President of the United States, Barack Obama”, is astounding. There is a suggestion that most of the audience doesn’t know who the guest is before the announcement, which is a nice touch, and after a short intro the two sit facing each other and start to catch up like old friends.

Letterman ObamaBoth Obama and Letterman share the recent experience of being out of work, but it’s clear that the former President has enjoyed his time off. He has profited from an extended break with his family, before getting down to the serious business of being an elder statesman. He talks at length about his childhood, the civil rights movement that inspired him to be involved in politics and more.

Cut into the interview are some short film segments, which were enjoyable and informative and showed a side of Letterman I like and added some context to the discussion.

Obama and Letterman largely skip mentioning the current President by name, but during the filmed segments with Congressman John Lewis, there is some more direct commentary on the current administration.

I like this new format for David Letterman, the Late Night format of jokes, skits and short interviews is OK – but it’s really good to see a more ‘long form’ interview with someone that can pull decent guests who are prepared to speak in depth.

There are six episodes in this new season, over the next months we’ll see George Clooney, Malala Yousafzai, Jay-Z, Tina Fey, and Howard Stern follow Obama onto the stage.

Overall. This Episode. 10/10. Netflix.

Read : Hooked – How to build habit-forming products

This is a review of Hooked – How to build habit-forming products by Nir Eyal which details the techniques and science behind how companies create products that people cannot put down.

Hooked - Nir EyalRecently I read spent time reading about the macro view of the business I am involved in, reading Platform Revolution (my review here).

For my next read, I wanted to zoom into the ‘value unit’, the individual nugget that fuels the network effect, and understand what makes some products world-beating.

Eyal explains how products are addictive, with a simple four-step model:

  • Trigger -What internal trigger is the product addressing or what external trigger gets the user to the product?
  • Action – What is the simplest behaviour in anticipation of reward?
  • Reward – Is the reward fulfilling, yet leaves the user wanting more?
  • Investment – What ‘bit of work’ is done to increase the likelihood of returning?

For each stage of the model, there is an explanation of the science behind with some real-world examples of how these are implemented in products we all know.

The great news is that the science is simply explained, and not too academic – and at the end of the chapters there is a list of key takeaways coupled with some practical actions you can take to help the design of your product.

Later in the book, there is a chapter that deals with the ethical concerns of building an addictive product and an excellent case study of how to apply the theory in a real-world situation.

Hooked is concise enough that it can be read in a couple of days, but comprehensive enough that you can walk away with a clear understanding of how products become addictive, and how you can design products that people cannot put down.

I’d highly recommend Hooked to anyone that is looking to increase customer engagement with their product.

If you want a short intro to the content of the book – this video is a great primer:

Seen : Hard Sun

From the creator of Luther, Hard Sun is a BBC drama over six episodes which are all available as a box-set on the BBC iPlayer site.

This time, it’s the apocalypse which looms over the characters who are tackling gruesome and inventive murderers and spree-killers.  Each of the key protagonists is fighting their own demons, with the stories interweaving with the grand conspiracy theory around the impending Hard Sun.

From episode one, the paranoia is cranked up high. Elaine Renko (Agness Deyn) is involved in a vicious fight with a brutal ending before the credits roll. The other main character Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) has his own suitably gritty back story which unfolds over the season.

Jim Sturgess and Agness Deyn in Hard Sun from the BBCAs these unlikely and uncomfortable detectives work together, they face into the secret service, headed by the brilliantly dark and detached Nikki Amuka-Bird as Grace Morrigan from MI5.  Morrigan is both delicate and brutal at the same time, with the most menacing quiet voice I’ve heard for quite some time.

As the episodes unfold,  the impending rumours of some apocalyptic future fuel some quasi-religious and cultish crimes for the duo to solve, whilst managing their personal issues and the secret services bearing down on them.

I enjoyed Hard Sun, in places, it was a touch overacted but the stories clipped along at a good pace and the direction generated some suspenseful scenes.  The casting was good, especially Nikki Amuka-Bird who was thoroughly nasty – even a final episode where we see her humanity has moments of real menace.

There is a comparison with other dystopic views of the near future, and Hard Sun stands up well against others like Black Mirror.

I’d recommend Hard Sun as a good binge watch.  The BBC do this stuff really well, and this is no exception. At the very least it will tide us over until Luther comes back.

Overall. 7/10. BBC iPlayer.


Seen : Comedians in cars getting coffee

I’m late to a party here, but I only discovered Comedians in cars getting coffee on Netflix last week and binge-watched much of the first season at the weekend.

The premise is simple, Jerry Seinfeld introduces us to a different classic car each week, some of them are stunning.  We get a few facts about the car, which highlight what a petrolhead Seinfeld is.

Things then get interesting, Jerry ‘calls’ a friend, picks them up and they nip off for a coffee and some lunch/brunch.

It’s a chat show, in a car, with a coffee – or something.

So far, we’ve seen Jim Carrey, Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock, Tina Fey and a host of others. My complete favourite was Christoph Waltz who seemed utterly entranced by the vintage BMW coupe and equally bemused by the International House of Pancakes.

You eat want you want… Don’t worry, we can fix it with medicine.

The episode with Ricky Gervais (above) was also very funny, with Seinfeld driving around New York in an Austin Healy 3000 and scaring the daylights out of Gervais.

Each of these shows is about 20 mins long, so you can easily much through a few in an hour with a coffee – well worth watching.

My only criticism is that it’s light on women, I think in the 50/60 episodes listed, I could see less than 10 or 12 women.  They need to do a better job of booking some of the very funny women in comedy.

Overall. 8/10. Netflix.