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Mike D

Mike D has written 124 posts for Inkstain

Kim Jong-Il: Movie Buff, Supervillain

By 1978, Shin Sang-ok, South Korea’s most celebrated filmmaker, was 51 years old and washed up. He had bankrupted his studio, run afoul of the censor board, and been divorced by his wife and collaborator, actress Choi Eun-hee. And then he and Choi were kidnapped by North Korea. The story of how the couple’s careers were forcibly revived, as told in Paul Fischer’s book, A Kim Jong-Il Production, provides not only a riveting look inside a murky state, but a glimpse into North Korea’s movie obsession, and a lens through which to see the current regime’s outrage at the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy The Interview. The book’s titular “production” is North Korea itself, which Fischer depicts as “a theatre state” propped up by symbols and spectacles, its ideological cornerstone a film treatise: Kim’s 1973 book, On the Art of Cinema.

Peter Carey on Cultural Amnesia

The day after Peter Carey was asked to ghostwrite the autobiography of Julian Assange, he started to write a novel instead. Someone else’s memoir, he says, would have been out of his skill set — “the novelist, of course, wants to be totally in control” — but he was nonetheless inspired by the Wikileaks founder, his fellow Australian. “Americans were saying that he was a ‘traitor.’ I was appalled by the imperial hubris and ignorance, and I was thinking, ‘Guys, be careful what you sow.’ ”

Shake It Off: The Happiest Grammys

“Just think: while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and dirty, dirty cheats in the world, you could have been getting down to this sick beat.” Thus speaks Taylor Swift on the breakdown of Shake It Off, the perky first single from her 2014 album, 1989. When the song was released last August, the American public, fed up with bad news, decided they agreed. Shake It Off went in at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Swift’s sanguine, non-confrontational message—“Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”—became a slogan for a year of pop music where conflict was taboo.

Literary Lyrics–Pop Goes Uptown

“Catch on fire above the green empire of the kraken / Flow with the isosceles to the beat of six knees knocking.” These lyrics may seem to have been unearthed from a triple-concept album dating back to the height of prog-rock, but you’ll find them on Mark Ronson’s new effort, Uptown Special, which was released Jan. 13. Its lead-off single, “Uptown Funk,” featuring Bruno Mars, currently sits at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it’s something of a Trojan Horse: apart from it and a funk-tastic rave-up featuring rapper Mystikal, the album’s other nine tracks have words penned by … Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon.

Revenge of the Monoculture

“We’re all nerds now,” The New York Times declared last year — just as New York Magazine did in 2005, and The Guardian before it in 2003. The story of the continued mainstreaming of nerd culture (or perhaps less pejoratively, geek culture) is so compelling, remakes are often in order; it’s a franchise whose protagonists, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, altered our world forever with blockbuster films where outsiders triumph.

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Mmmmmmm … Bacon. Francis Bacon.

A middling science-fiction remake is an unlikely venue for high art, and yet Francis Bacon’s paintings are on such prominent display in RoboCop that something is clearly afoot. Indeed, the movie’s production designer has called Francis Bacon’s Triptych inspired by Oresteia of Aeschylus, with its distorted human forms flowing in and out of floating, grid-like spaces, RoboCop’s “underlying visual metaphor” — heady stuff for a movie that at times is indistinguishable from a first-person-shooter video game. Once thought to be very much of its time, Bacon’s art is proving relevant to ours.

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Andy Summers, Circa Zero

“I’ve been through the whole thing you can do with a rock band,” says Andy Summers. He’s not kidding. Even before joining The Police, the guitarist had jammed with Jimi Hendrix in L.A. and with Eric Clapton in London, recorded a crossover album with an orchestra of Hungarian refugees in Munich, broken his nose in a tour-van crash in Yorkshire, thrown up on Richard Branson’s Persian rug after celebrating a record deal and had a tour manager kidnapped by yakuza promoters in Japan. And now, at 72, after playing psych-rock, prog-rock, pub-rock and The Police’s 2007-08 reunion jaunt — the seventh-highest-grossing tour ever — he’s started a new band.

Hugh Laurie

In the packed, neo-Gothic Union Chapel in north London, Hugh Laurie sits onstage at a piano, introducing the solemn blues song Six Cold Feet in the Ground. His guitarist, Toronto’s Kevin Breit, starts laughing so hard at Laurie’s wisecracks that he screws up his prelude to the tune—twice.

Canada’s Love Affair with India Pale Ale

Behind the colourful name of India Pale Ale is a colourful history: from the 1820s, the beer was brewed in the English Midlands and shipped in casks down to Brazil, around the Cape of Good Hope, and up to India, where, having aged over the rough journey, it was enthusiastically quaffed by English colonists. Nearly 200 years later, in another former colony, it’s surging in popularity. But why are so many Canadian brewers now making IPAs?

The Unfulfilled Promise of Amy Winehouse

It’s hard not to feel cheated by Amy Winehouse’s death. Not that she owed anything to her fans — apart from those who bought tickets for her shambolic concerts in recent years — but because of the unfulfilled promise, and promises, she leaves.