California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Thai Town

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 5, 2010 01:23pm | Post a Comment

Both apsonsi and LADOT signs mark the entrances to Thai Town

This entry is about the Los Angeles neighborhood of Thai Town. To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities not technically part of Los Angeles, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


         Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Thai Town (with no attempts made at scale) 
                                  Siam Square

Thai Town is roughly boundried by Hollywood Blvd on the north, Normandie on the east, Western on the west, and Sunset (or Fountain by some accounts -- although there's nothing Thai south of Sunset) on the south. The neighborhood is home to about 46 Thai business, including markets, clothing shops, massage parlors, bookstores and a seemingly ever-growing number of delicious restaurants. Hollywood Boulevard is the main commercial and cultural center of the neighborhood although there are businesses of note on Sunset as well.

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Chinatown

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 6, 2010 06:00pm | Post a Comment

Rooftops of Chinatown

Cathay Manor (where I've wanted to party since moving to Los Angeles
A quiet street in Chinatown

Chinatown (洛杉磯唐人街) is Los Angeles neighborhood located just north of downtown. To vote for other neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, click here.

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The Mezzanine Shuffle - Turn and face the strange

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 25, 2010 02:55pm | Post a Comment

Do this don't do that can't you read the sign?

As some of those who know me know, I used to work in the movie department here at Amoeba Hollywood. I was assigned to Black Cinema and Latino Cinema. You could say they were my beat. But I was a bit of a lone wolf who played by my own rules. But after one too many high-profile disasters, the sarge stuck me with a desk job, writing this blog. But I still take interest in my old neighborhood and some (OK one) of the customers still tell me to come back... he also gave me a couple of candy canes for Christmas which (since I don't much like sweets) sit in the guampa on my desk. They're yours if you want 'em. ,

Anyway, so the mezzanine just went through a major overhaul, which I had/got to be a part of...

The Mezzanine - Officially the largest selection of movies in the universe

Occasionally, when something big like this goes down, the powers that be will promise me some nice change if I bust the right brains. Or, to paraphrase Sean P, "They callin' me to come back to the streets, Eric B, a.k.a 'Sharp Crease'/Said it was necessary, these sucka weddoz out here very scary/They comin' whole they livin' in the month of February" to which I replied, "OK den." Also I was promised pizza. More about that later.

      Documentaries (and some hokum - what the bleep?)                                 Action Jackson (and Willis and Bond)

Now, some may wonder why we needed to expand. With over 50,000 titles already and every other video store extinct, it may seem like overkill. But we've been sitting on a lot of titles we didn't previously have space for. Consider the documentaries. Every conspiracy theory spawns a thousand DVDs. And the already enormous Action Section literally exploded. (I like to misuse "literally," so shut it.) Sad to see we removed the poliziotteshi section. Even though I've never watched any of those movies, I felt an affinity for movies about mustachioed Italian cops who play by their own rules... 


The Blu-Ray (seriously, why'd they drop the "e"?) section grew considerably, as you can see. And now, it's a lot closer to the VCD section.

The TV section went vertical. Very nice. And don't let the sign confuse you, the BBC section includes British TV from all the English networks, whether it's Channel 4, Grenada, ITV, &c. It's just a case of a brand going metonomic -- like NPR, Coke, Kleenex and Band-Aid. To further complicate things, it doesn't include the BBC's many productions which aren't television series. Luckily the TV section is flanked by two info counters, where Amoeba staff can help make sense of it all.

Comedy, already massive, just got massiver. Everything from 1965 to 2010 that can possibly cheer you up is in there somewhere... except Oscar Wilde, it seems. The English language's second-most-read author and greatest comedian of all time no longer has a section. And gone too is Jane Austen's section... yet Kevin Smith remains -- although, to be fair, he's twice the man most of us are.

Once, under my watch, we absorbed Mystery/Thriller into drama, action, classics, &c due to space issues. When I informed this fact to a customer, he replied somewhat threateningly, "Big mistake." Well, as you can see, it's back and bigger than ever. Sadly, as with Action, the (in my opinion) most interesting section, Giallo, has been removed. But unlike Poliziotteschi, I actually did watch some of those. When I asked why we removed Giallo I was told, "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."

Lisa V. bringing the drama

With apologies to Mary J. Blige, there's a whole lot more Drama now.

Even the Short films had a growth spurt. 

By the way, the promised pizza proved to be a red herring -- and unlike my partner, Rakim, fish is my least favorite dish. No sweat. I went home and made my patented collard, turnip and mustard green pizza and ate the whole thing. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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Happy نوروز (Nowruz)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 20, 2009 08:26am | Post a Comment

Today, for most observers (but tomorrow for others), is Persian New Year, variously and roughly anglicized as Navrus (Tajikistan), Nawroz (Afghanistan), Nevruz Day (Albania), Nooruz (Iran), Nov Ruz Bairam (Kyrgyzstan), Nauryz Meyrami (Kazakhstan) and Novruz Bayram (Azerbaijan). As with the Lunar New Year, which is often referred to in the media as the "Chinese New Year" (unintentionally marginalizing Koreans, Taiwanese and Vietnamese, who also celebrate the Lunar New Year), Nowroz is often referred to as the Iranian or Persian New Year. In President Obama's Nowruz address, he didn't make that mistake, although he did turn it into a fairly contrived address to the Islamic Republic.

Maz Jorbani on Axis of Evil Comedy Tour


Iran, though related to Persia, is not the same thing. The word Iran comes from Aryānām, literally, "Land of the Aryans." Other Aryan people (who also celebrate Nowruz) include Baloch, Kurds, Lurs, Ossettians, Pashtuns and Zazas. Thus, Nowruz is widely celebrated (in addition to the places already named) in Balochistan, Bosnia, the Caucasus, the Crimea, Iraq, Kashmir, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Macedonia, Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The term "Iranian," in contrast to "Persian," includes all people descended from Iran who are just as fully Iranian (at least on paper, though not necessarily in practice) such as Arabs, Armenians, Georgians, Jews and Kazakhs, who are probably less likely to celebrate Nowruz. Though most of Nowruz's celebrants practice Islam, its origins go back much further and the day is especially important to Zoroastrians, as well as Alawites, Alevis, Bahá'í, Ismailis, and other Central Asian people of various faiths. 



Los Angeles is home to the largest group of Iranians outside of Iran, who make up large percentages of the populace of Woodland Hills and Encino and especially Tehrangeles (centered on Westwood Blvd between Pico and UCLA) and Beverly Hills. In fact, Beverly Hills High, with a 40% Persian student body, inspired the creators of 90210 to create a (lone) Persian character on the show, Navid Shirazi (played by 28-year-old Germanic/Latino actor Michael Mateus Steger). Before that, Clueless was probably the first film to acknowledge the presence of a large Persian populace on the west side. The film alluded to the "Persian mafia" who, it's explained one "can't hang with... unless you own a BMW or Mercedes Benz and a cellular phone," which at the time of its making in 1995, was much less common. Less insightful, but no less hilarious, was 2005's Crash, which made laughable attempts to address inter-ethnic relationships in an unrecognizable Los Angeles, with uninentionally side-splitting results.

NOWRUZ 2009/1388

I'm sure there's lots of stuff going on around Los Angeles, like this party, or you could go to a Persian restaurant. The best Nowruz film is Jafar Panahi's debut, the Abbas Kiarostami-penned The White Balloon (بادکنک سفيد), which long ago passed through Amoeba's doors on VCD. It's one of the best. Happy new year.

The future of Blu-Ray

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 9, 2008 09:05pm | Post a Comment

This town needs an enema
The Dark Knight was released today (December 9th) on DVD and Blu-Ray. It will, no doubt, be yet another enormously popular title on DVD -- but for Blu-Ray, it's being viewed by some as a make-it-or-break-it title. You may've noticed Blu-Ray commercials are beginning to sparingly pop up on TV. This is part of a curiously cautious, last ditch effort to boost the troubled format's fortunes. Last Christmas, sluggish sales of HD DVD resulted in that format's extinction the following spring. Some thought that Blu-Ray, as the victor of the so-called format war, would benefit from a sales boost from cautious buyers who'd been waiting to see what format triumphed. But instead Blu-Ray player sales dropped 40% in the first month of the year, then plateaued before dropping to less than half their peak sales not long after. Like LaserDiscs before them, Blu-Rays offer superior quality at a higher price but appeal only to a niche market. It remains to be seen if this market can grow sufficiently to keep Blu-Rays viable.

What’s the problem, officer?
While hordes of consumers have turned to low cost, low quality mp3s over CDs, the idea that those same people would shell out more money for a higher quaity optical format was never a likely scenario. I personally don’t like the way everything looks in HD. I caught a bit of Bachelor Party in HD and it looked like one of those cheap, BBC costume dramas from the '70s, All of the shoddiness was exposed in a harsh, unflattering light that I found disconcerting and distracting. I also like Conan O'Brien more when I can't see the edge of his foundation. Is clearer picture always a good thing? Would you pay three times as much for a Renoir or Cézanne if it was photorealistic? Have you ever felt that the main issue with a bad movie was that the resolution wasn't high enough? So many supposed innovations are actually vastly inferior to what they're supposed to improve. If it sounds like I'm talking about more than detachable collars, it's because I am.

Another problem with Blu-Ray is the selection. The selection is primarily limited to whatever new Hollywood films are coming out and titles that, on DVD, gather dust in the world’s bargain bins. Who is the person out there that’s going to buy S.W.A.T. or Dinosaur in 2008? I feel like people are over merely building their libraries at this point. About the only classic titles released on Blu-Ray, thus far, are the early Bond films… which are on five different channels at any point of every day, sometimes in HD.
Yet another of Blu-Ray’s problems is that a lot of people still haven’t even heard of it. Whereas those who ask what a DVD is and if it will play “in the regular machine” (i.e. VCR) were all pretty much born before the Great Depression, many people, of all backgrounds, regularly express complete, disinterested ignorance about Blu-Rays. With commercials advertising Blu-Ray's supposed advantages just beginning to air, it seems like a typically dunderheaded Sony move, to waiting till they’re at death's door to give their product a push.

There are a lot of discussions and mischaracterizations of the Blu-Ray market that don’t hold up against the facts, which certainly isn't helping. It’s often claimed that Blu-Ray players and discs are just too high priced. In fact, two years into their existence, Blu-Ray players are only about $200. On the other hand, two years into their existence, DVD players cost $300 and the discs were about the same price as Blu-Rays are today. At Amoeba, we sell Hannah Montana and Alvin & the Chipmunks for $12.99. We’ve got Dan in Real Life, Ultraviolet, The Great Raid, King Arthur, Premonition, The Santa Clause 3 for only $9.99. Clearly, price isn't the only obstacle these films face. For films to be released on Blu-Ray, there are fees of around $40,000 which is why you're unlikely to see indie, foreign, music, documentaries, silents, animes or classic films any time soon.

The real difference isn’t cost, it’s that Blu-Rays hardly present the monumental improvement over DVDs that DVDs did over VHS. A better analogy is to DVD-audio and Super Audio CDs, which failed to dislodge CDs as the format of choice. And those aforementioned titles aren’t exactly the kind of fare that would warrant the Hi-Def treatment (nor repeated viewings) in the first place. Nor are they the sort of titles that appeal to the Blu-Ray market. Blu-ray discs peaked at 7.5% of the disc market in March, following HD DVD death. Then they dropped down to 4%. Since then, the NPD won't release sales figures of Blu-ray standalone players because they’re so low that it might convince people not to purchase players, fearing they’ll stop producing discs for them next spring. The figure is believed to hover around a measly 3%, lower even than Bush's approval rating by a large margin.
While Blu-Rays appear to be struggling to get off the ground, DVDs continue to hold more appeal for both cineastes and the money-minded alike. Amazingly, it's been reported that a lot of people can’t tell the difference between DVDs and Blu-Rays. Because of that, it’s unlikely that most people would be willing to shell out any amount of extra money for benefits they can’t recognize.
Meanwhile, especially in emerging economies, like Africa, China, India, Indonesia, Russia and South America, DVD sales are actually growing. As DVD prices drop and approach those of VCDs, they’re beginning to approach the sales of the third-world-beloved, low cost, low quality optical format. And for film collectors looking to own copies of hard to find titles, there are a lot more interesting titles on the import market than Blu-Ray.

It’s not all bad…
At 3% of the video market, Blu-Rays are obviously a niche market. Although many articles portray Blu-Ray consumers as “Tech Geeks,” it seems to me that it’s much more a market for conspicuous consumers. Tech Geeks don’t want disc clutter. They have high bandwidths and stream HD, seeing little reason to own media. Even if they did, computer storage space normally falls in cost between 40%-50% a year, making downloads still more attractive. No, the conspicuous consumer, the guy who wants to drop jaws with the size of his TV, who wants to rattle the earth with his audio, seems to be the real market. Whereas LaserDiscs similarly offered pictures a thousand times better than VHS (but for a higher price), that format attempted to appeal to cineastes. Blu-Ray's successes are all big, bright, loud, shiny blockbusters -- usually about superheroes. And those seem to actually be selling pretty briskly (well, except for the unsellable Daredevil). But it's going to take a legion of superheroes to win this fight.
Just compare the Amoeba's post HD DVD top sellers on Blu-Ray and DVD:
Top 20 Blu-Rays

Iron Man
There Will Be Blood
Dark City
Batman Begins
L.A. Confidential
Blade Runner
Nightmare Before Christmas
Mad Men - Season 1
Incredible Hulk
2001 - A Space Odyssey
Batman Begins
Sleeping Beauty
Speed Racer
Clockwork Orange
The Shining

Top 20 DVDs

Mad Men - Season 1
Joy Division
Flight of the Conchords - Season 1
Le Ballon rouge
Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma
Spaced - The Complete Series
Joe Stummer - The Future Is Unwritten
I Got the Feelin' - James Brown in the '60s
Love - Love Story
Yo Gabba Gabba - Dancey Dance Bunch
Ladies & Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains
Dexter - Season 2
Sigur Ros - Heima
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Weeds - Season 3
City of God
Sex & the City - The Movie