Thursday 29 February 2024

Things I read and saw in February


In February, I watched Past Lives, The Holdovers, Maestro, and American Fiction

It probably says something about me—I know not what—that people say the biggest films of 2023 are Oppenheimer, Barbie, and Killers of the Flower Moon and I either dislike them or, at best, feel indifferent (in the case of Killers of the Flower Moon). My favourite film of 2023 is Anatomy of a Fall, followed by The Holdovers. What is wrong with those people who sneer at The Holdovers and call it a cosy film? Most modern films exasperate me with their badly written dialogue, probably resulting from dismissive attitudes about dialogue in film (hello, Denis Villeneuve), so it’s refreshing to watch something with such good dialogue. 

Past Lives mostly has boring and mundane dialogue except for one great scene, between the main character and her husband in bed. About 2-3 good scenes, and one great scene. 

Maestro I can only comment on as a pleb—for I have not seen much of Leonard Bernstein to critique Bradley Cooper’s performance—but perhaps ignorance is an advantage in that, not distracted by the differences between the actor and the man he portrayed, I could judge the film as a film and I thought it was a mess. Why is it called Maestro when it’s more about the wife? 

American Fiction is funny and enjoyable, though sometimes a bit ham-fisted. I like though that the main character is named after Thelonious Monk and Ralph Ellison. 

But my favourite is Anatomy of a Fall, a film I still think about long after. 


In February, I read Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man (also known as Survival in Auschwitz), then read G. Wilson Knight’s The Imperial Theme on my work trip, and returned to Primo Levi with The Truce, the sequel. 

If This Is a Man is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, not just because of its importance as a testimony and a record, but also because of Primo Levi’s talent as a writer and insights about people. Reading the book, I thought of the differences between it and a famous memoir by a Vietnamese man who was imprisoned by the communists—both wrote about their own experiences, but if the Vietnamese writer was a storyteller and no more, Primo Levi got one to think about what it meant to be human. 

G. Wilson Knight’s book is brilliant, especially for those of you who love Antony and Cleopatra


My favourite museum in Geneva is the Patek Philippe Museum, followed by Musée Ariana. 

The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire and Maison Tavel in Geneva were not without interesting things, but they made me realise how lucky, how spoilt I was, living in London. 


Today I saw my first Shakespeare production onstage: Simon Godwin’s Macbeth, with Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma as the Macbeths. 

That would be the fourth version, after Trevor Nunn (Ian McKellen – Judi Dench), Joel Coen (Denzel Washington – Frances McDormand), and Orson Welles (Orson Welles – Jeanette Nolan).

It’s too early to comment at length. My immediate reaction is that it’s very different from Trevor Nunn’s production, which to me is perfect as a Shakespeare production can be. I did enjoy it, and I liked the comic touch in Ralph Fiennes’s performance as Macbeth—I hadn’t seen the potential for something comic, darkly comic, in the text and in the other performances—but it worked.

One complaint is that the porter scene is removed. Another complaint is that Simon Godwin increased the presence and significance of the witches, but they didn’t look right—they didn’t look striking, frightening, unnatural, like they’re not the inhabitants of the earth—compare them to the witches in Trevor Nunn’s production, or Kathryn Hunter in Joel Coen’s film. 

But I need to think some more about the play. 


  1. The best movie I saw in February was the 1948 Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger film The Red Shoes, which I've been intending to watch for years and had never gotten around to. It was as amazing as I'd always heard it was.

    The best book was a collection of Thomas Lovell Beddoes poems. Very strange fellow, but his best things (almost all just fragments) are almost Shakespearian.

    1. I watched The Red Shoes a few years ago and liked it. Can't remember much though.

  2. That Patek Philippe Museum is something else isn't it? I didn't really want to go, but I'm glad I did, one amazing thing after another.

  3. Completely agree about Primo Levi. One of the greatest books ever. Harrowing, philosophical, and deeply literary account of the unspeakable.

  4. Have only watched 3 films from 2023:
    Past Lives
    The Holdovers
    Godzillla Minus One

    I found Past Lives to be totally forgettable (except for the scene you mentioned).
    The Holdovers was better. Though I doubt I'll ever watch it again. I thought the plot with the student and his 'dead father' was a little manipulative.
    Godzilla was the film of the year for me. A great re-imagining of the original Godzilla. Am glad I was able to watch it with my 11 year old nephew-in-law. We were both moved to tears at the ending.

    I am waiting on the release of the bu ray of Monster. Most likely Godzilla willl move to the #2 spot since I've yet to see a bad Kore-eda film.

    By the way, I would recommend watching an older film that is in the mold of The Holdovers: The Browning Version (1951). Well written and very moving. It is on my annual viewing list.

    Also, I did read Primo Levi many years ago and agree completely with your take on his writings.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation.
      Past Lives has a few good scenes but I can't help thinking that it's so highly acclaimed because the Korean concept of fate is "exotic" and appeals to Westerners.
      I didn't like it at all till the one great scene.


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