Sunday, March 18, 2007

TANBR Recommends: Installment #2

This is my first TANBR Recommends, and there were several ways I could have gone with it. At one point, this even became a "TANBR Doesn't Recommend," in which both the institution of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the neologism "bracketology" were mentioned. In the end though, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. These are a few things I think are cool.

Zodiac (specifically the performance of Dermot Mulroney in it)

David Fincher's Zodiac is a textured portrait of obsession, and it feels, more than any other movie I've seen, like a non-fiction book. By that, I don't mean that it's accurately researched or that it's a documentary or even that it's compelling. Abstractly, its five or six act structure, its refusal to have a traditional protagonist, and its obsession with time--though time doesn't always even make sense within its universe--feels exactly like a non-fiction work obsessed over and tinkered with by an expert until that work means significantly less to anyone but him. Much like the Zodiac case is to the characters of the movie itself.

The performances are particularly great. Jake Gyllenhaal, although he's too young for the role, turns in focused, vulnerable work. Mark Ruffalo, one of our most underrated actors, is effortless but aggressive and heavy.

Dermot Mulroney sucks in it.

Over the past twenty-one years, Mulroney has worked steadily and has even been in some great movies, About Schmidt, Living in Oblivion, and Career Opportunities among them. But his acting has never been good in anything. Ever. His Virginia accent creeps through no matter who he plays, and now that he's in his forties, his extreme features (I'm thinking the rings around his mouth) are more pronounced, lending themselves to his exaggerated, delayed reactions. His secret is that he has no problem taking a small role, and he works a lot (four movies featuring him are slated for 2007 release).

The best is when you can predict how bad Mulroney will be from the poster.

It's a strange type of celebrity: most people can picture Dermot Mulroney, but few have any opinion of him. Allow me to be the first to tell you: he sucks. Since you may have never even debated this, watch Zodiac armed with this fresh knowledge, and be amazed at how terrabull he is. Spouting cliched police chief dialogue and pointing fingers, he owns all of his scenes. And I mean that in the worst possible way.

Peeing outside

Once every few weeks, I mow my uncle's lawn for him. At some point in the two hour endeavor, I feel the need to relieve myself--but usually he isn't there, and I don't have keys to the house. So I pee behind his shed on the outside trim of the grass I've just cut. Obviously, this is the most satisfying part of my whole day. There isn't anything perverse about this pleasure--the possibility that someone will catch me or anything like that. It has to do with the thrilling new context of such a rote exercise. Outside seems like both a completely natural and a weird, contrived place to micturate. Using your penis is always fun, but using your penis in a new way? That's enough for TANBR to recommend.

Making fun of the NCAA Women's tournament

Every year I convince at least one person that I'm genuinely invested in the women's version of March Madness. I'll bait that person with something like, "How's your bracket looking?" They'll volley with, "Pretty good. I predicted Virginia Commonwealth over Duke so..." And then I'll spike, "Virginia Commonwealth? They're not even in it...oh, the other one--no, I'm talking about the women's bracket. That's the new shit."

On paper, that joke is lame. But in person, the look of recognition on the other person's face is priceless. Because it's not possible that someone could care more about women's basketball than men's. Pat Summit speeds on the highway on the way home so she can catch Old Dominion-Butler. Comparing the women's Big Dance to the men's Field of 64 is like comparing "'Til Death" to "The Dick Van Dyke Show." That isn't funny because it still isn't accurate in suggesting how much more important the men's tournament is. I know, when God smites me with a daughter (who will surely want to play soccer), I might change my tune. I believe sports is a powerful, uniting force, and I want women to be able to share in that joy of being athletes. But look at the highlights on "Sportscenter" and try not to laugh at how empty the stands are.

I wasn't making fun of you, Courtney Paris. Everyone else, but not you. Please don't haunt my dreams.

The bald beard
Probably the only time I'll recommend anything involving Rick Ross.

Growing a full beard, even though your head is bald, is the right kind of compensation. Just ask Baron Davis. Like the earring, it's yet another look that only black men can pull off.

iPod Solitaire

I've had an iPod for three years now, and I can think of few material possessions that have improved my quality of life more. People more eloquent than I have rhapsodized about its technological brilliance and social significance. It's such an intelligent machine that we mistake shuffle's coincidences for spooky prophecy. Just thumbing the wheel along my lifetime of music floods me with memories to relive. I fell asleep to Murmur last night. I hadn't listened to it in five years, and it's more incredible as a result.

Anyway, everyone writes and talks about the iPod, but no one has done either about what I think is the best improvement over the last generation: the solitaire game.

You caught me. I just wanted an excuse to put a picture of an iPod up.

Bring it on, Apple. Your device was isolating enough already. Now give me a game whose sole purpose seems to be to drive me away from civilization.

Oh, here we go. Naysayers. Yeah, the click-wheel isn't the most convenient way of shuffling through cards. In fact, it's tedious. And yeah, you can only play three-card draw. Using the click-wheel to scan along each and every card is lame, but it's like masturbating with your left hand. It still feels good when you're on the toilet. (Yes, I listen to my iPod and play solitaire on the toilet. Usually while listening to Salt 'N Pepa's "Push It" or Lynyrd Skynyrd's "That Smell." Let's move on before this gets any more scatalogical.)

Bonus: So much to like here. The president being a tool, the obnoxious narrator, and the phone in the background with the CTU ringtone. Pretty high-tech stuff indeed.

The Arcade Fire- Neon Bible
I'm late on this, since every critic and/or blogger has already extolled on its many virtues, and the American public bought up 100,000 copies of it, which is astonishing for a band built only on Internet buzz, but Neon Bible is the first great record of 2007. It's a cohesive, ambitious work, and it can't be digested all at once. Upon first listen, you're basically left with a sense that this is a contemplative, foreboding, grand statement. A grand statement that is still flawless on a second-by-second musical level. Maybe it's time for rock to come back when a band can try (and mostly succeed) to address the Human Condition while still being too humble to put its name on the album cover. This sounds like U2 in 1988.

The Arcade Fire- "Keep the Car Running"
The Arcade Fire- "Intervention"

Between this, The Shins, and the upcoming Modest Mouse album, I guess indie's first quarter release schedule is now the answer to hip-hop's fourth quarter. Do student loan checks come in March or something? Somebody needs to research this.

Human Giant

The comedy team of Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel, and Aziz Ansari have a show premiering on MTV this week, and I'm recommending it before I've even seen it. Their Internet comedy contributions--and yes, the occasional VH1 soundbite--have been so consistently hilarious that a half-hour show with a real budget can only help. Here's some of their best stuff:

Knowing a Foreign Language
It's not convenient enough to make it your minor in college or anything (bad idea), but you get this tangible rush whenever you unexpectedly use it. I feel like James Bond whenever French people are talking among themselves, and I insert myself into the conversation coyly. The down-side is that knowing a foreign language never comes up in your day-to-day life, so you have to resort to creating contrived ways to drop it around people you know, which is kind of pathetic and kind of what I'm doing right now.

- Tank

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