Saturday, September 13, 2008

Much Better than Postal Chess

Way back in middle school, I once tried to play a game of chess with one of my mom’s students. She taught at a different school and provided extra help to kids that were struggling with one subject. This kid, whose name I’ve long since forgotten and it isn’t germane in any case, not that this whole story isn’t just one long sidebar – but I really digress, so: my mother began carrying moves back and forth to this unevenly smart boy, y’know, King’s Knight to Rook 3 and such (I never learned the proper notation). We drew the board, too, for clarity. It was agonizingly slow and petered out after maybe a dozen moves. Maybe it helped my mom establish a rapport with the boy, I don’t know, but it soured me on using couriers for activities that more typically garnered instant gratification. Flash forward thirty years and I was still hesitating to try DVD rental by mail. My local shop had great hours and a decent selection and a subscription service where I could rent as often as I wanted as long as I didn’t rent the newest releases (had to wait for them to “go on 'blue'” -- movies were retagged 3-6 months after their DVD release. But as my appetite for more esoteric films increased and the clerks’ ability to alphabetize older releases seemed to diminish, I became less satisfied and the ubiquity of the Blockbuster and Netflix ads caught up with me.

Blockbuster’s combination of a nearby store coupled with the vast selection available by mail made a compelling argument, but in the end the cheaper price, presumed better efficiency from a category leader and a UPromise rebate tipped the scale: I signed up for two-at-a-time Netflix and have been quite pleased. Turn-around time is about 3 days: I drop a disk in the drive-by mailbox at the post office on my way to work on Monday and have a fresh one waiting in my mailbox at home on Wednesday. And the variety is great. My daughter and I watched “La Belle et la Bete” from 1946 (Beauty and the Beast) – definitely not Walt Disney, and yet a lot of that fantasy magic and some great special effects, like live arm candle wall sconces. I’m also going through the “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” TV series – it wasn’t quite good enough not to miss it on regular TV, but with the convenience of 4 episodes on a disk, watched on my schedule, it’s pretty high quality television – it has the appropriate political views for a show set in Los Angeles and full of youthful entertainment types.

I’ve also discovered watching with the English (hearing impaired) subtitles turned on. Not only does it help my now-less-than-perfect hearing to catch the dialog, especially when there isn’t perfectly calm ambience in my viewing area, but they sometimes add interesting non-spoken bits, like I just re-viewed “August Rush” and whenever a song is being played the subtitles give you the title and author, in case you can’t quite finger which Mozart piece is lighting up your ears. It’s a lift.

I’ve only cycled through about a dozen DVD’s via the mail, but it’s also only been about 6 weeks. I haven’t seen too much else out of the main stream, although I did just ship off “A Scanner Darkly”, a rather bizarre and imperfectly updated adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel. It was a trip. I plan to have quite a few more before I get bored with postal films.

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