Italia '23 part cinque: Milan
London Film Festival 2023

Simian Substitute Site for October 2023: Brazen Monkey Karaoke


Books: One of the unspoken ideas behind our ongoing Audiobook At Bedtime project is that it’s there to help us wind down at the end of the day. As such, you don’t want to be listening to anything too disturbing or downbeat – for example, even before the events of this year, we thought that Sinead O’Connor’s autobiography would be a little too heavy for the timeslot. Yet here we are with David Milch’s autobiography, Life’s Work, which opens with a prologue in which he admits that he’s trying to get the story of his life down on paper before the Alzheimer’s makes it impossible. Milch is a TV writer who’s created at least two stone-cold classic shows (NYPD Blue and Deadwood) and several near misses that were still interesting regardless (Luck was a mess narratively, but I always enjoyed hanging out with its characters). The audiobook pulls off a little stroke of genius early on, by having the audibly ageing Milch himself read out his prologue, but then passing the baton to Michael Harney for the rest of the book. Harney gets Milch’s tone down perfectly from the off: confident enough to pull off the more hard-boiled bits of prose (“He never played pool with my father again. He never walked again.”) while showing a more sensitive side as he picks his way through Milch’s troubled childhood. Once we get into the author’s career (starting out on Hill Street Blues), the book turns into a solid primer on the art of TV writing – building characters, interweaving stories, pushing at the boundaries of what’s acceptable. If you’ve ever marvelled at a turn of phrase in a Milch show, you’ve got several hundred of them to look forward to in here.

Telly: Another one of our ongoing projects – Taskmasters Of Many Lands – has just hit Quebec. With thanks once again to the good but simultaneously naughty people at Reddit, we’re most of the way through season one of Le Maître du Jeu, the Canadian version featuring Louis Morissette as the eponymous maître and Antoine Vézina as his assistant. You can pick the odd hole in their relationship – for example, Morissette is that rare example of a Taskmaster who’s less physically imposing than their assistant – but they’ve quickly established their own spin on the roles, as they should. Morissette is utterly charming but capable of surprising everyone with the occasional arbitrarily cruel judgement: while Vézina has eschewed the usual deadpan approach and is having just the right amount of fun. As for the series 1 contestants, they establish themselves pretty quickly, from Jo Cormier’s overheated attempts to create a catchphrase (‘tout le monde gagne!’) to Christine Morency’s maniacal laughter, which makes her sound like an idiot but carefully distracts you from how cunning her approach to tasks can be. For an English language viewer, the fan-generated subtitles - take a bow, the_little_kicks – are massively helpful, providing detailed notes for any gags that require a knowledge of Canadian culture or geography. Unless it turns out that they’ve spunked away the country‘s five best comics in the first series, I think we’ll be coming back for the second - hopefully by then they'll have stopped nicking all their tasks from the UK version...

Travel: As an excellent birthday present from my sister, The BBG and I recently spent a Saturday afternoon on a London Craft Beer Cruise. It’s a simple idea – you spend two and a half hours on a boat going up and down the Thames, during which time you can guzzle six 175ml measures of some of London’s finest craft beers. Is there a catch? Well, just a small one – they only run these cruises between June and August, a detail that wasn’t apparent to either my sister or us until we tried to redeem the Virgin gift voucher for the experience in... early September. However, when we enquired about booking for next year we found they were sneaking in one last cruise day in 2023, as an Oktoberfest special. We leapt at the chance, and then worried about whether we’d just be drinking bog standard German lager all day. Happily, it turned out that the cruise stuck to the craft beer brief - serving beers from old favourites like Anspach & Hobday, Orbit and Lost & Grounded, but showcasing their work in German styles like Berliner Weisse and Rauchbier. And to keep it hipster, instead of an oompah band accompaniment we got a playlist of tunes from the current generation of New Orleans inspired brass bands (though sadly not our two favourites). It’s a terrific afternoon out in London, and you won’t be able to do it yourself now until at least June, but if you can you should.

In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for October 2023 is Brazen Monkey Karaoke, which insists that it's "London's number one private karaoke room experience," with branches in Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Holborn. Have a look at their 194 page song list and see if you agree.

But wait! No time for karaoke, Doctor Jones! For what appears, horrifyingly, to be the 35th year in a row I’m about to take some time off work and do some serious bingewatching at the London Film Festival. As ever, you’re invited to join me here, as daily coverage will be appearing from Wednesday October 4th.

LFF is probably all you’re going to get here this month, with a few other pieces getting bumped to November (notably The BBG’s roundup of food and drink from our Italy trip). If you’ve got a problem with that, the comment box is down there, though I probably won’t get to read anything on there for at least a fortnight.


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