Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Drive

As Summer ends in Late August, and movie studios hemorrhage terrible films from the bottom of their scrap heap, an interesting transition starts happening. A subtle industry shift from blockbusters to Oscar-worthy films, as if to atone for the terrible movies you've had to stomach in recent weeks. Gone are the 3D and Superheroes, dispatched in favor of stories with plot and characters. It's a beautiful thing to behold. Lately, I've had the pleasure of seeing Contagion (a gripping thriller for nerds and public alike, if a bit fluffy) and Warrior (incredible from start to finish, despite my preconceived notions to the contary). On Friday, I enjoyed one of my most anticipated Fall films: Drive, starring Ryan Gosling.

The premise of the film is simple. Ryan Gosling is a stunt-driver who moonlights as a getaway driver in LA. He knows the streets of LA the way you know your tiny hometown, the extent of which is clear from the very first sequence. He has a samurai-like quality to him that other reviewers have latched on to, a principled stoicism that is interesting to watch and impressive to pull off. As the film progressed, I started to draw other similarities, albeit tangentially to another retro-chic car-lustful film; Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. 

While the protagonists could not be more different; Kurt Russell as the raving, psychopathic 'Stuntman Mike' contrasts pretty vividly with Goslings reserved intensity, the two films start equally slowly, before gradually reaching a steady burn that turns to a raging boil in the final act. Both films also rely heavily on music to maintain a mood, Drive leaning heavily on synthesizers and 80's effects, while Tarantino and company stick to AM Rock and Roll playlists. Both share a penchant for shocking, brutal violence and exhilarating chase scenes that go to great lengths to put you inside the car. It is in telling the story that the two films begin to take different paths. 

The first thing I noticed in Drive was the director Refn's unapologetic use of silence, not only from Gosling himself, but even in scenes he isn't a part of. Scenes between Albert Brooks and his goons, or Carey Mulligan and her young son are slow in nearly every sense of the word, utilizing slow-motion, slow camera pans and little dialogue, yet they manage to hold our attention. Apart from being just plain cool to see two characters leer at each other across a room or gaze wordlessly into each others eyes, it serves to infuse these scenes with an intensity that makes the bursts of action seem more potent (I know I almost fell out of my chair the first time a gun was fired). It is in these scenes that weaker actors and weaker directors would be tempted to fall into more traditional storytelling, with the false fear that audiences wouldn't have the patience for a more thoughtful heist/car/love story. Thankfully, Gosling and Refn are completely committed to the tone and pacing of this film, and our patience in them is rewarded in the end.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

EDU: Changing Your Watch Battery

As a lover of watch finery, I knew this day was inevitable. In recent months, my watch collection had slowly dwindled until only the solar-powered remained. The others had succumbed long ago to the limitations of their lithium hearts, and were collecting dust on bureau. Last week, I purchased this inexpensive watch tool kit from Amazon, with the hopes that I could avoid the hassle and expense of spending an afternoon at the jeweler. I was tired of spending half the price of my watch every other year, just to keep it ticking. I'm not sure if this was a symptom of my frugality or impatience, but enough was enough. I set aside most of the morning Saturday to tackle this project, and am happy to report that after two hours and $24, all of my watches are back in circulation.

Here is an excerpt of the watches. There were six in total, spanning 4 brands and three different cover fastening mechanisms.

Here are the tools laid out on my patio. Tweezers, pliers, screwdrivers, hammer, flat metal knife, and some strange torture devices. If I can't change their batteries, I can at least make them talk.

This tool, as I later learned, is for removing pins from a watchband, and not as a means to "get Medieval" on these watches. As I loathe watches with metal bands, I had no use for it.

Now THIS sexy number, actually has a valuable use. It's perfectly suited for removing the cases of "screw-back" watches, of which my Puma is. Simply adjusting the pins to fit the diameter of your watch, align the little pins into the indentations, and twist counterclockwise. This went quite smoothly and I was bursting with pride.

Here is the money shot. A look at the gorgeous innards and intricacies housed within a watch. I don't know what does what, but the battery was easy enough to find and remove. I tried not to touch anything else, and set it aside while I went to work on the rest.

I should have added something to use for scale here, but this battery was SMALL. I'm glad I brought out a paper towel and put everything small into a baggy immediately, or I surely would have lost something important. I did not however, keep track of which battery went to which watch, an oversight we will return to shortly.

Two of these watches had simple screw-backs, which were easy to handle with the included micro Phillips screwdriver. It took a little bit of pressure and care to make sure I didn't strip anything, but they were no match for me. Interestingly, this tiny Timex watch contained the biggest battery by far, for reasons I still don't understand. In fact, every watch I opened had a different sized battery, which made tracking them all down afterwards quite an adventure.

The final three watches (two Skagens and a Lucien Piccard), were, to put it tactfully, huge bitches. They all had pressure fit watch backs, which were firmly sealed and had only the slightest of lips for a tool to slip in and pop the cover off. This problem was compounded by the fact that the tool kit case knife wasn't nearly thin enough to fit. Perhaps I could shuck a loose Oyster with it, but there was no way it would open these watches. In an act of desperation (there was no way I was leaving these three watches behind after coming so far), I found a nifty tool in the kitchen that did the trick.

With this little bugger, I was able to get my "pry" on. If I am reincarnated as a squirrel, I think I'll be ok.

Cut to six watches left open on the operating table while I ran down to Walgreens with my baggy of batteries. They had ONE. -$5. I then walked further to the hardware store to take in their battery collection. Good selection. Four more batteries acquired. -$18.

Before I spent anymore time leaving my watches as prey for curious birds, I would run back home and install what I had found so far, and figure out the final one later. I also wanted to check that the batteries actually worked, specifically two from the hardware store that looked to be from the 90's. I asked the cashier if they were still good, and he claimed that they only started putting expiration dates on them this year. With limited options, I took my chances. Sure enough, both of these batteries were dead. I brought them back to the store for a refund. +$9. So close, yet so far. Miraculously, as I started checking convenience stores (desperate, I know), a lady pointed me in the direction of a neighborhood jeweler, who would surely sell me batteries. After getting into this whole mess to avoid the jeweler, I was tickled that I would be crawling back there, but at least I would salvage some pride by not asking them to install them for me. As luck would have it, they had each of my three remaining batteries, and only charged my $10 for the set. I should have gone here in the first place.

They looked like robot aspirin, but they worked just fine. It took a little while to size up which battery fit where, and get the backs back on (goddamn pressure backs again), but the ticking symphony was a wonderful reward for my hard work. All in all, I learned a LOT, didn't break anything, and saved $50. DO IT.