Posts tagged ‘review’

Convenience Killed the Video Store

by ToastyKen

You’d never know based on my current TV watching practices, but I spent 6 years after returning from the Peace Corps without cable and rarely watching any TV.  I lived on movies, mostly rented from a video store.  As a result, I feel that I am somewhat of an expert when it comes to movie rental stores.

I was never a Blockbuster fan, even in their heyday.  They always seemed to have dozens of copies of new releases, but very little selection among their older movie shelves.  But during the majority of my TV-less existence, I was fortunate enough to live in Arcata, CA, home of one of the best video stores on the planet: Figueiredo’s.  They might only have 20 copies of the newest releases, but their shelves were jammed with all kinds of films, which meant that they had a larger selection than your average Blockbuster, but housed in about 1/4 of the space.  Older movies were available in the 3-for-3 deal, which meant three movies for three nights for $3.  Add a few more, and you could create your own 4-for-4 or 5-for-5 deal if you wanted.  They even started renting books on CD towards the end of my time in Arcata, and their selection was far better than the library’s.  They really were a hub of the community, and I fervently hope that they are still in business!

Once I left Arcata, I couldn’t find a video store that came even close to Figueiredo’s.  But pretty soon, along came Netflicks.  And then Redbox.  And we all knew that video stores were going to die off.

So when I was speaking with a fellow teacher, D, who said she still rented older movies for class from Blockbuster, I looked around and realized there was one a few miles away from me.  But when I walked in, I realized that my plan would never work.

The store was half-empty.  They still had dozens of new releases available around the outer walls, but the interior shelves of older movies were ravaged — three of the six shelves had movies turned face-out, fitting a total of 6 or so movies per shelf.  The remaining three shelves had face-out movies, alternating with stacks of movies laid on their sides, spines horizontal.  It was obvious that they were trying to make the little stock they had take up as much space as possible.  The movies that were on the shelves were either newer releases, or classic movies from the 80s — they just cherry-picked the most popular movies.  The rest of the store was bins of movies being sold 2 for $20, or 4 for $20, depending on age and quality.  It was obvious that, as soon as a movie shifted off the “New Releases” wall, most copies went into a sale bin.  So it’s no longer a movie rental chain; it’s now a movie store that rents the newest releases.

After a hour of searching, I couldn’t find the 90s-era movie I was looking to show in my Strategies class, and there were very few options for a computer-themed movie for my computer class.  Despite the fact that I now have a Blockbuster card again, I don’t know if I’ll be using it.  It would be much more convenient for me to just find the movies I want to show my classes and buy them used online.

Sorry Blockbuster.


Women’s Choices

I have to say, I hate the new Beyaz commercial with something close to a burning passion.  How can a commercial for birth control, something that was a key component of the sexual revolution, be so sexist?  How did the ad agency get so far off track with this one?

The premise of the commercial is women walking through a store, shopping/making choices about what they want in their lives.  This should be brilliant, because birth control does, in fact, give women more choices when it comes to their lives.  The main problem, in my eyes, is that each woman in the commercial only gets to choose one thing.

It starts with the line, “You know what you want to do.  But you never know what you might want tomorrow.  It’s good to have choices.”  You see a woman grabbing a diploma from a pile labelled “graduate school.”  Then two women check out a selection of pictures of men labelled “significant other.”  One of the women snatches a picture out of the group just ahead of a second woman, then smirks as she walks away, leaving the second woman to look after her in disappointment and disbelief.  In the next shot, the woman who missed out on the guy smiles and reaches towards a choice that we don’t get to see, but from the angle, you get the impression it is somewhere else in the store.

Then there’s a fourth woman who passes over a picnic basket labelled “picnic by waterfall.”  You see her continue past a display with a stork in it.  The stork, with a lavender bundle held in his beak, steps out of the display and chases her, offering the bundle repeatedly, but she smiles, refuses, and walks away.  You next see her walk up to a model of the Eiffel Tower, labelled “Trip to Paris,” and take hold of the tag.

We then switch to a fifth woman, who looks at a selection of houses and cars, labelled “buy a house,” then chooses one and puts it into her shopping cart.  The final scene is the woman who refused the stork, sitting behind the wheel of a car full of women with the Eiffel Tower model strapped to the roof of her car.

By the time we’re done with the commercial we have been given a slew of symbolic messages about womanhood and our choices.  Right from the start, we learn that women are fickle and don’t know their own minds from day to day.  Next we see that women need to fight over men, who are their only potential “significant others.”  Sure, lesbians typically don’t have to worry about birth control and aren’t Beyaz’s target demographic, but there is still an assumption being made.  And why emphasize sexual competition between women?  Why not have both women choose a partner from among the large selection of possible mates and both be happy with their choices?  Then there’s the insistence of the stork, which I can only assume refers both to a woman’s own biological clock “going off” and the pressure from her family/friends/society to get down to the business of making babies, since that’s what women are made for.

But the worst aspect of the commercial is the fact that it makes it look like you have to choose between grad school and a baby, travel and a baby, even home ownership and a baby, and the fact that a woman doesn’t want to get pregnant at a particular time in her life doesn’t have to be tied to the things she would rather be doing.  Sure, having a child makes some things a little bit more difficult, but it’s not an either/or proposition any longer.  I know several women who went to grad school, owned homes, and had babies all at the same time.  I know multiple cultural anthropologists who took their toddlers with them to live overseas while they worked on their graduate or post-graduate research.  I also know women who do not want to have a child right now regardless of the fact that they currently have a partner, own a house, and have their degree — they’re not putting off kids for the sake of something else.  And I know working and stay at home moms, with and without degrees, who rent and own houses, with boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends/wives, and on their own, who have made the decision to have a child without giving anything up in the process.  And whether a woman doesn’t want a child now or doesn’t want one at all, her decision to use birth control isn’t about the fact that being a mom limits her choices.  It is no longer a trade off that women have to make.

I understand, many anti-teen pregnancy campaigns stress the decisions that teens need to make, and the limits that having a child can impose on young girls’ lives.  But in that case, you are encouraging young girls to think about the consequences of their actions and choose one of two things: birth control, or abstinence.  Beyaz is being marketed to adult women, and selling it with the message that having a child means the death of your dreams is sexist to say the least.  Women today have more choices than ever — I would rather see the women in this commercial fill their symbolic shopping baskets with a variety of choices, instead of having to pick just one.  We have the ability to find the combination that works best for us.  And to suggest that those choices wouldn’t be possible with kids?  The 1950s called, Beyaz, and they want their antiquated gender myths back.

One of the monotone facts rattled off in the background of the commercial is the fact that this birth control includes folate, which helps prevent birth defects for women who conceive while on or just after ending use of Beyaz.  So that means it’s safer for women who are on birth control and accidentally or intentionally become moms.  Why not emphasize the variety of reasons why women choose birth control?  The message could be, if you’re not ready yet for kids, if you’ve had a child and want to wait before having more, or if you’ve finished having kids, Beyaz is the right birth control for you.

Oh yeah, that’s right.  Mirena already stole that idea.  *smile*

My Favorite Books You’ve Never Heard Of


The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd

This is an amazing book that I stumbled across years ago.  It is written as the diary and letters of a young Scotswoman who travels to China to be married to a young military attache at the turn of the 20th century, and follows her life as she moves from China to Japan, through WWI and into WWII.  Her sheltered upbringing is immediately tested during the sea voyage to China, as she sees and experiences things that are completely unlike her previous life.  She continues on to marriage and motherhood, scandal and rejection by the European community.  Despite all this, she finds and creates her own space as a foreign woman in a man’s world.  Whenever someone asks for book recommendations, this is always at the top of my list.


The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

While Kingsolver is a well-known author, I suspect this is one of her less-known novels.  It is actually the beginning of a trilogy, and the best of the three, in my opinion.  While living in the southwest, a woman is handed a little girl by a Native American woman who begs her to take the child.  This three-year-old girl, who acquires the nickname Bean, has already lived through unknown abuse, and the story centers around her de-facto mother, who day-by-day tries to do the right thing to meet all her needs and raise her in a loving home.  The writing is so remarkable, I remember while I was reading this book, I would find myself going about my daily chores and wondering what Bean was doing while I was gone.  Kingsolver re-defines herself with every novel, but her consistently excellent writing and characterization are still present in this novel.


Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

I am a fan of fantasy writing, and of fairy tales, but I don’t think you need to be either to love this retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story.  McKinley has the talent to craft an entire world for her story to happen in — one where there is so much magic in the air, it settles like dust on the houses, and causes havoc on your tea if you don’t have a fairy in your family to de-scale your kettle once a week.  Rosie is the princess whose future has been cursed by Pernicia, and she is being raised by two fairies (who would be called witches in a different world), completely unaware of her true identity.  Despite all the gifts that were given to her at her christening — long, curly, blonde locks, lips like cherries, teeth like pearls, and skin like silk — she is not pretty; instead, she insists she is intelligent and brave.  And this feisty princess turns the fairytale — and her curse — on its head by the time all is said and done, with no prince required to wake the Sleeping Beauty.  I think it’s an amazing twist on the classic fairytale.


Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin

While I absolutely love this book, I will admit it may not be for everyone.  I tried it out on my book club several years ago, without introduction or explanation, and it fell flat for most folks.  The trick to this book is to realize it is a fictional ethnography — which means, I guess, it may only appeal to the cultural anthropologists out there.  The book outlines all the aspects of a future culture that is modeled on Northern California Indian tribes of the past.  There are songs, stories, poems, descriptions of social organization and cultural symbolism, all defining a group of people who are living in a post-apocalyptic world where industry has been abandoned and humans have returned to small-scale tribal societies.  There is a novella within the book, however, so if the rest of the writing turns you off, at least follow the parts of this story.  It details the travels of a young woman from a small, non-religious society to a nearby city that is founded on a controlling, monotheistic faith.  By telling a story in the future, Le Guin tells us something about the past, as well as our present.


The Dork of Cork by Chet Raymo

This book was made into a film called Frankie Starlight, but I doubt it is much better known than the book (despite starring Matt Dillon and Gabriel Byrne).  The term “dork” originally referred to dwarves or little people, and this is the story of a little person named Frank Bois who grew up in the town of Cork in Ireland.  Frank is an author who tells his life story, beginning with his pregnant mother’s arrival in Ireland on an American GI troopship returning from France in 1945.  The twists and turns of her life and his make a great story, but when the adult Frank must come to terms with celebrity and unrequited love, magic happens.  The author’s writing style is poetic and his characters are intriguing — this is definitely a favorite read.


Children of God by Mary Doria Russel

This is actually a sequel, but I first read it years before I read the prequel, The Sparrow, and I think it stands alone quite well.  This is a science fiction novel, but it revolves around faith, religion, and cultural misunderstandings.  The Jesuits have sent an exploratory party to the planet Rakhat, after Earth received transmitions of music: evidence that there is intelligent life on this planet.  They found a planet with two intelligent species: the gentle vegetarian merchants, called the Runa, and the carniverous ruling class, the Jana’ata.  The Jesuits become stranded and begin to create a life among the Runa, but their ideas about justice and fairness spark a civil war.  The last survivor, Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz, is held by the Jana’ata for years, but is eventually rescued and returned to Earth.  This book follows Sandoz’s struggles with his lost faith, his return to Rakhat 10 years later, and the aftermath of the changes he and his fellow travellers sparked on Rakhat.  While the first book tells an interesting story of faith, adventure, and overcoming obstacles, I find this the more interesting of the two novels, as it deals with the ways that the best of intentions can cause unknown consequences when two cultures come into contact for the first time.


Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

Coupland literally wrote the book on Generation X, but this lesser-known gem is a favorite of mine.  It is the story of a group of programmers at Microsoft who decide to go it alone and create their own dot-com.  Like many of his early novels, the book begins with an obsession with the material world of commodities.  But don’t let the obsessive lists of what people eat, drink and own turn you off.  As the group moves away from the regulated greenhouse of the Microsoft campus and into real world struggles in Silicon Valley, the characters are redeemed by the personal connections and emotional bonds they learn to create.  From this vantage, it may feel like a historical novel of the early-90s, but the transformation the characters go through is timeless.


Hopefully, these reviews will give you some ideas about what to read as the weather starts to warm up.  What recommendations would you make for books you love that aren’t well-known?

Cozumel, Part 1

After my extended absence, yes, I am finally back home and online. And, as those of you on my Facebook page already know, I was recently laid off, and so I now have plenty of time to edit photos and write a few blog entries about our honeymoon/scuba trip.

T has been on annual scuba trips to Cozumel many times in the past, but for one reason or another, he hasn’t been able to go since we met 4 years ago.  So when we booked our trip, we basically went back to all his favorite haunts — and they are now my favorites too!

First off, even before we left, I decided to get my Open Water scuba certification.  If I had waited and gotten just a quick resort certification there, I would have been restricted to dives of only 30 ft or less.  There are a surprising number of scuba shops to choose from in the SLC area, but we went with Scuba Utah in Salt Lake.  The folks there are friendly and accommodating, they have discounts on gear for students, but most importantly they’re PADI 5-star rated.  I chose a weekend class, which meant giving up 2 whole weekends for the class.  The first weekend we spent all day Saturday and Sunday covering book learning and then using the pool on-site to practice our skills.  Believe it or not, you have to read about 400 pages and take 5 quizzes plus a final exam, but it’s all designed to ensure you are a safe and informed scuba diver.

The second weekend was supposed to be spent at the Crater at the Homestead Resort in Midway, UT.  But I had a head cold, so I had to wait a month before I could actually do my certification dives.  One of the big issues you have while scuba diving is the difference in pressure above and below the water.  If you’ve ever swum to the bottom of a swimming pool and had your ears hurt, you have experienced what they call a squeeze, when there is more pressure outside your ears than inside.  With a head cold, everything is congested and you can’t equalize the internal pressure and external pressure like you should, so it’s best to simply stay out of the water.  But I managed to go with the next class that was certifying.

The Crater is a fairly surreal place to dive.  It’s really a hot spring, not a crater. When you drive up, you see a door in the side of a small, roughly 3-story-high hill located in the middle of a mountain resort, surrounded by upscale residential developments.  When you get inside, there’s a long, narrow corridor drilled into the side of this rock mound, with a small, steamy pool at the end.  The walls of the crater continue a few stories above your head, with a grate-covered opening at the top.  The whole thing is about 65 feet across and 60 ft deep, with nothing in it except two square PVC frames hung in the center at 15 ft and 30 ft below the water surface for scuba testing purposes, a cast iron wheel with a mermaid Barbie and some other odd toys strapped to it, and a little shelf that can hold 4-5 scuba students on it.  Oh, and T said there were a few large plastic animal figures on the bottom, but I wasn’t allowed to dive that deep during certification.  Take a look at Homestead’s slide show for a sense of the space.  To make things even more surreal, we were diving in a hot spring that was about 90 degrees, and it was snowing on us through the top of the crater.  It was nice getting a real sense of how diving feels, but I was definitely ready to see what the reefs in Cozumel held in store for us.

We flew in on a Saturday afternoon, picked up a rental Jeep and drove T’s favorite hotel on Cozumel.  And once we got there, I completely understood why it was his favorite!  The Villablanca Garden Beach Hotel no longer has the beach in its name, since Hurricane Wilma scoured the island in 2005, but the gardens are absolutely lovely.

the walkway outside our room

the grounds

There is a hot tub on the front lawn under some palms that’s delightful at night, a pool surrounded by lounge chairs for sunning during the day, a cafe/bar with a cage full of budgies and the best margaritas I’ve ever tasted, as well as a restaurant that we never made a point of trying.  The rooms are spacious and elegant, with limestone tile floors and bathrooms, which means you don’t have to worry about dragging wet scuba gear across the carpet (but you do have to worry about how slippery they are when they’re wet.)

lounge chairs next to the pool

the hot tub

the pool

room decoration

The food at the hotel cafe was decent, and decently priced, but we tended to go eat next door at the Hog Town Cafe, a restaurant affiliated with the Papa Hogs scuba diving service.  Their food was just a tad cheaper, and a smidge better, than the food at our hotel.  Not to mention, there’s a view out over the water, and right under Papa Hogs is another scuba dive company, Scuba Mau.  The owner has a beautiful white shepherd/wolf mix, and we would watch her interact with the owner and his customers every morning, since we were missing our dogs.  It didn’t hurt that there was a dog owned by the folks at Papa Hogs, too, even if she wasn’t all that interested in getting petted.

Our first full day in Cozumel, T simply introduced me to the island.  We took a drive around the island in the rented Jeep, checked out the plaza at the city center and all the souvenir shops, and walked through the Cozumel Museum, a surprisingly interesting and thorough look at the history and habitat of the island, complete with a Mayan hut in the courtyard with a sweet little old woman who knows the names of all the products and artifacts in English, but that’s about it. I had no idea that Cortez actually landed on Cozumel when he came to the new world. There was also local art displayed downstairs, and a retrospective with photos of Carnivale groups from the past 25 years as well.

We had a nice, relaxing first day, but I knew T was itching to go diving.  But I’ll cover that, with lots of pictures, next time.  *smile*

Why am I reviewing this?

See? Even here she looks more bored than anything else

Last night, T was working quite late, so I took the opportunity to watch the copy of the Twilight series movie New Moon that had come to the house via Netflix.  No, unfortunately, I can’t say that it got here by mistake.  I ordered it on purpose.

I resisted for a while, but eventually dipped a toe into the Twilight book series, and was immediately submerged.  The first book in particular had me reliving my 9th grade crush, who sat next to me in biology class for half the year and constantly toyed with my affections, to the degree that I almost wrote to the full-grown married man and demanded to know why his hand always ended up on my knee during bio movies, despite his complete disinterest in me at any other time.  (Fortunately, my rational, adult self took over and stopped me.)

The books are addictive, in that they help you relive all those teen angst, romantic entanglement, how-does-he-feel-about-me moments, assuming of course that you were once an insecure teenaged girl who experienced these things.   And the character you are following is rewarded for her efforts with the most ridiculously romantic, chaste, protective, benevolent, undemanding boyfriend you could ever imagine, who also happens to be irresistably sexy when experienced from her point of view.  (NOTHING turns a teenage girl on like the line, “I’m no good for you.”  I know, I remember.)  I’m not saying these books are great literature in any way, shape or form; but they are a guilty pleasure, for a certain kind of person.

In any case, I know the movies do not reproduce this world.  I saw the first one, it was okay.  I decided out of some kind of loyalty to watch the second movie and see how it was.


Well, to be fair, I was knitting a super complicated pattern and making dinner while trying to watch this movie, so I might not have been quite as engaged in it as I could have been.  But while Robert Pattinson does an okay job protraying a tortured and lovestruck immortal, Kristen Stewart just does not have the chops for this role.  She can do scared, determined, anxious, depressed, conflicted — does them all pretty well, in fact — but she really doesn’t pull off madly in love.  And the werewolf?  Yeah, his range is pretty limited too.  She gets up close to these guys, hovering just out of contact, and you’d expect it to be magnetic, but it just isn’t.  She can do desperate and clinging, but not blissful and open.  And, even with the way her character is written, she should have at least a few moments of bliss thrown in.

I know, folks all over the Internet have been saying exactly the same thing about this movie and these actors all along.  So why am I bothering to say it now?  Well, it’s like hearing a rumor about someone, but making sure not to pass it on before you can personally confirm it.

Twilight movies really aren’t very good?  Rumor confirmed.  If you enjoy the secret vice of this series, stick to the books.