With Tower Records no longer a player in the video rentals game, Movies on Central wins in a walk.

And after a stroll through the store's compact-but-tasty inventory of rarely seen titles, you'll understand how this video boutique has nurtured a Valleywide clientele drawn to tapes not to be found in the Valley anywhere else under one roof.

In addition to all the usual cult-movie suspects (Russ Meyer, John Waters, Gregg Araki), Movies on Central fills in the video cracks with film-festival indies, foreign titles, documentaries and an exemplary collection of classics and musicals.

Oh, and did we mention they take reservations?

Readers' Choice: Blockbuster

Harkins theaters rock!

And so do the cushy high-backed seats at their newer theaters. It's a small difference, we know, but it's a nice touch that's enough to distinguish them from their competitors.

And that's no easy task, because competing theaters keep looking more and more alike -- for the better, happily.

Next up on megaplex mogul Dan Harkins' drawing boards? A deluxe auditorium with plush leather seats, gourmet appetizers and cocktail service, scheduled to open early next year.

Rock -- and roll 'em!

Readers' Choice: Harkins Arizona Mills mall

Readers' Choice for Best Movie Theater Snack Selection: Harkins

Qcumberz
Every couple of months, the clever kids who operate this stylish shabby-chic emporium rent a U-Haul and head for parts Midwestern. Along the way, they buy up cool old chairs, swell '60s sofas, ancient oil paintings and stacks of another man's treasures. Their return signals the latest "truckload sale," a bimonthly event attended by increasingly larger crowds of collectors, antique dealers and anyone else looking for a smoking deal on old furnishings and funky stuff.

These odd objets are hawked right off the truck in Qcumberz's parking lot in the wee hours of a quietly publicized weekend. Leave your name and number with the friendly staff, and one of them will telephone to remind you when the next truck will be pulling up.

No one needs a pair of vintage hatpin cushions or a 60-year-old pressed-glass punch bowl. But it's hard to not buy items when they're priced as low as the cool stuff at this three-year-old shop tends to be. Wedged between a couple of antique malls and the brand-new Willo Bakery, this often-overlooked trove aims to please with low prices on three full rooms of cool, shabby chic furnishings. Check out the stash of neat vintage record albums, the wall of ancient mirrors, and the vast pile of old china, all priced to move.
Best buzz kill?

Fess up, we all hate the buggers, and for our money there's nothing better for terminating the two-winged terrors than the fatal fly swatters we got at the 99 Cents Discount Store. Sure, they cost more than the ones you find in supermarkets and hardware stores, but face it, those vendors really want you to purchase some industrial-strength repellent or $100 bug zapper, so they try to paw off ineffectual swatters that bend and tear against hard surfaces.

In contrast, these 99-cent jobs are fierce and fearsome, with deadly smashing planes the size of elephantine oven mittens. And unlike those sissy swatters that come in fluorescent pinks or greens, these babies only come in basic primary killing colors like fire engine red and jungle green, the better to keep your mind on what you're actually doing -- singling out one of God's most graceful living organisms and squashing him into gutsy bug mush.

On a test run, we were able to take out three flies at a stroke -- although, in truth, two were fornicating at the time. SPLAAAT!

Anyone who's obsessed with cooking and culinary presentation will be pawing the plate-glass front window of Sur La Table to get at the extravagant display of high-tech pots, pans and steamers designed to reel in the addicted, hook, line and sinker. Stuffed into 5,000 square feet of retail space is virtually everything ever conceived for roasting, toasting, poaching and/or hosting.

There are pans and electric rice cookers here big enough for a potlatch, as well as pricey copper stockpots and a complete line of Le Creuset enameled cookware. You'll even find a chic sauté setup for creating cherries jubilee among at least 11 different chafing and fondue (yep, it's baaaack!) dishes. Not to mention a myriad of melon ballers, microplane graters and citrus zesters. And real Moroccan couscous steamers and tagines.

The equivalent of a fun shop for kitchen magicians, this culinary hardware store also carries related non-cooking items, like candles for intimate dining à deux or products to clean those pesky red wine stains some uncultured slob unceremoniously deposited on that favorite antique tablecloth.

From scoops to nuts (the kind that go with washers), Standard is a sure bet for any object remotely connected with restaurant and bar food service. From a deep-fry basket as big as Idaho or a classic, truck-stop diner napkin dispenser, you'll find it here. And for caterer wanna-bes, there are silver plate serving platters and standard-issue chef's jackets ripe for the plucking.

The more ingenious in the cooking/construction crowd will also find a treasure trove of restaurant-strength appliances, like eight-burner gas stoves and large refrigeration suitable for a serious kitchen remodel. The store also stocks used equipment, like stainless-steel prep tables with built-in wash sinks or under-counter freezer units -- stuff that not only looks cool, but is sublimely utilitarian to boot.

For everything in the kitchen -- up to and including that proverbial sink -- this is the place.

Aerobics has come a long way since Olivia Newton-John bleated, "Let's get physical!" in leg warmers and a terry headband, and Linda Rogers-Jojola has helped reshape this former fitness craze. Using a combination of step aerobics, resistance training, kickboxing and Pilates, Linda helps sculpt a healthy, functional and (hopefully) attractive body for each member of her class. (And no, you don't need to join the club to participate.) With a seemingly endless amount of energy, she motivates students without the artificial amplification or drill-sergeant mentality typical of many aerobics instructors. Linda knows bodies, and she spends a good part of every day sharing that knowledge: When she isn't teaching classes at Phoenix Suns Athletic Club or Estrella Mountain Ranch, she's sweating through her regular spot as fitness advisor on Fox 10 News.

Need more proof that aerobics is good for you? Just look at Linda. We thought she was our age, only to discover that her children are our age.

Reading the labels on philosophy cosmetic/skin care products is like browsing the self-help aisle at Barnes & Noble. Moisturizer is "hope in a jar," eye cream is "eye believe," exfoliator is "help me" or "the great awakening" -- because "sometimes your skin needs a wake-up call."

Created by a Phoenix aesthetician, philosophy has been a hit in high-end department stores across the country; skin care experts dig the products. The company entered a new age this summer with the opening of its first store -- on Mill Avenue. Now Mill Rats and sorority chicks can cruise the aisles, contemplating "message in a bottle" (shower gel), "the supernatural fingerpaints" (glittery makeup) and "be somebody" (body lotion).

Self-help? Try "shelf-help."

If aerobics are too low-impact for you, and the mere thought of yoga-induced bliss puts you to sleep, you were born to do Pilates.

This fast-growing fitness trend, pronounced "pul-LAH-teez," increases strength and flexibility while developing an athlete's awareness of one's center (abs, back and butt). Using specially designed machines, LaPierre (whose New York accent perfectly complements her unique, no-nonsense approach) can lead you through an infinite number of exercises, all designed to put your flabby abs -- as well as some other muscles you never knew you had -- firmly back in place.

LaPierre maintains that Pilates is for everyone, regardless of their physical condition, and anyone reluctant to join group fitness classes should take heart: Pilates is performed on a private or semi-private basis. You'll appreciate LaPierre's candor, not to mention her workout's effect on your love handles.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of