Thursday, December 23, 2010

True Grit - Movie Review

I was worried that the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit would be a terrible thing but it turns out the new version holds its own while leaving the original undiminished.

Comparisons are inevitable. If you enjoyed the first version there's no reason why you can't like this version, too. While not as rousingly enjoyable as the first, I liked better this version's sense of hard realism. The original tried to pass off the Rocky Mountains around the town of Ouray but this time around, even though it wasn't filmed on location, we get more of a sense of what the Indian Territory was really like.

Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn as a shambling man full of faults and flaws but just the one you'd need to hunt down a killer in a pitiless land. Matt Damon does a nice turn as LeBoef as well. But much is being said about Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and rightly so; she comes across as steely and determined while still retaining her softer side in the scene where she tears up at her deceased father's belongings. The haggling scene with horse-seller remains classic.

I don't hold with those who seem to think that the Coen Brothers brought their loopy sense of humor and ornate use of stilted, formal language to the story but that's always been there, in the book and in the original. The Coens aren't reinventing anything and stick no closer to the book than the original did - both movie versions take their liberties with the story but I liked how this one is told, like the book, as a remembrance of Mattie.

We saw a lot of pickup trucks in the parking lot, a lot of moviegoers wearing cowboy hats; I don't think they were disappointed with what they saw. I know I wasn't.

The Health Care Credit Explained!

This one may be a little too insider-baseball and funny only to tax return preparers.

Bob Jennings, whose seminars I attend for CPE, does a bit on the business credit authorized by Obamacare to help offset the cost of providing health insurance to employees. Simple, right? Not so fast:

Sadly, Jennings isn't exaggerating. I've tried to run this calculation for my business clients that might qualify and after the torturous calculation it turns out the credit either doesn't apply or is so minuscule as to be useless.

Well, that's tax policy for you. Nothing but the hidden land mines of unintended consequences.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Evidence of Emily's Awesomeness

Emily's taking a Journalism class this semester and she's had her story published in the school newspaper. Need to know about those wrist bands all the kids are wearing? Emily's got the scoop!

Next thing you know, she'll want a fedora with a band she can tuck her press pass into.

The Journalism class also did a little community service and Emily volunteered. That's her second from right.

Awesome? You bet!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Big Ol' Ball of Cute

We stopped in at PetsMart on Saturday, just to take a quick look at the adoptable dogs but fell in love instead.

One of the local dog rescue organizations had two groups of mixed-breeds puppies available for adoption. These were a shepherd mix and looked like they'd make a great dog for a family who lived out in the country or had a big yard:


Fifty bucks to cover their shots and care and one of 'em could be yours.

Here's the other bunch, in black and white, just because I can. They're a dachshund mix and a little more higher priced:


No, we've got two dogs already. We don't need another. But they're awful hard to resist.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Turbo Tax vs. Tax Professional - Revisited

Althouse thinks you should purchase TurboTax to do your taxes; I say otherwise. (Hmmm. Both of us seem to have a profit motive for our positions in the debate. Well, consider the merits of my argument while discounting my motive and do the same for Althouse. I still win.)

Price seems to be the biggest factor for those who favor TurboTax. (Which is a pretty good program, don't get me wrong. Just ask Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary, who able to manipulate it into preparing a false return for him.) If that's the case for you, here's my number 2 reason in my Top 10 list of reasons to hire me:
Price isn't everything is it? Cost is. What will it cost you to use TurboTax to do your tax return rather than me? Let's see, there's the cost of the software, the computer to run the software, the time you spent learning the software and inputting the information, and the potential cost you'll have if the IRS has a question about your return. And make no mistake, the IRS is questioning more and more returns. You'll have to take time to respond to any IRS inquiries and should the IRS take a hard line - something they seem to be doing more and more nowadays - you'll have to take time to research and respond to that. That's all included with my fee. I call that a pretty low cost for a some peace of mind.

Bottom line: forget about the cost of my time; what's the cost of yours? What's your time worth? I'd say your time is worth far more to you than mine.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter was on the other night. I hadn't seen it in years and years and came across it only by accident. I got in on it where the first hunting sequence begins, right after the wedding, about an hour or so in, and I knew there was still plenty to go. I told Clara and she thought she'd watch it until it got to the sad parts - as I recalled, that wouldn't be long - and so we settled in and finished the remaining two hours or so, riveted.

I don't intend to review the movie here but I did want to note that it was as good as I remember. The actors looked so young and the music was as lovely as ever, especially the guitar work of John Williams. (No, not that John Williams. This John Williams.) The movie's soundtrack was the firstone I can recall ever buying and I'm sure I must have it around here somewhere. I remembered the theater where I first saw the movie and the friend I saw it with and how when the doors of the theater had opened, the audience came out in silence and the very air of the theater was warm and still as if the audience had just shared an intensely emotional experience. I soon would. The movie stayed with me for a long, long time after that but had gradually faded from my memory.

No, all I really wanted to say here was how pleasurable it was to stumble across a movie that had at one time greatly moved me. It was good to re-visit the story and the characters and the settings and experience the deep sadness that only great movies can bring. It was good, too, to go back to a time and place where I too seldom visit.

I don't know why the movie doesn't show up more often on cable but maybe it's best - if I had seen it often over the years it might have lost its impact. It's good to know some things stand the test of time. I think this movie does.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Early Buzz on True Grit

The Coen Brothers talk to the New York Times about their True Grit re-boot:
Joel Coen said it was apparent from the beginning that “True Grit” might land in a place where their other films had not.

“When we first approached the studio, one of the things that they wanted to know was whether we could be finished in time for Christmas,” he said. “And after a while we thought to ourselves, if we do the movie the way that we were thinking about it, positioning it as a Christmas movie does actually make sense.”

Or, as Ethan put it, “Yes, you can probably bring Grandma to this one on Christmas.”

But, uh oh, an early review has some problems with the new version:
Despite the number of credited executive producers including Steven Spielberg, someone should have taken the Coen Brothers aside and told them what a fool’s errand they were on. Remaking True Grit is like remaking Citizen Kane, Casablanca or The Searchers. You can take the storyline and reinvent it with a different locale and altered characters, but you should only remake a film if you have something new to say that will be entertaining and interesting. The new True Grit is neither.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas!’” We’ll, the Coen Brother’s version of True Grit proves a similar very valid point – don’t fool with John Wayne, either.

Well, I'm still willing to give it a chance.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Night Pictures

I had the task of dropping off and picking up Rachel and Emily at the recent Michael Buble concert and it was the perfect opportunity to whip out the iPhone camera and catch some night shots. The Oklahoma City skyline was especially beautiful. Too bad I wasn't able to capture it.

Cripes. When will I learn: low light + moving vehicle + one-handed-shooting-with-one-hand-on the-wheel = crappy pictures.

Still, I managed to capture a couple of good enough images. Here's some of the Christmas lights downtow:

And here are a couple of Michael Mann-ish street shots, all shiny and slick and urban-grittiness:

Ah, well. The good side about bad photography and that there's always hope that future pictures will be better. How could they be worse?

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Last Saturday, I played golf at the James E. Stewart golf course, a good 9-holer, run by the City. (No, not that James Stewart.) The temperature was 43, the wind howled from the north at 25 MPH. Was I alone on the course? I was!

That's the view from the 6th hole, with the Oklahoma City skyline in the background. The course is par 35 and offers some challenges from water and bunkers. Located in a not-nice part of town, I'm told this is the course where Tiger Woods once visited the local youth for an inspiring talk. It looks pretty bleak now but it's Winter; the grounds crew was out and you can tell they were spot-treating for weeds so things'll perk up come Spring.

A straightforward par 4, I managed to hit not nearly as well as I'd've liked but not nearly as bad as I could have. I call that progress.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 19% Solution

Obama came to fractious agreement on taxes with Republicans yesterday but it's important to remember that, no matter what anyone agrees to or what's passed into law, the government can only raise about 19% of GDP in total taxes.

Don't believe me? Here's a scientific looking graph to prove it:

And here's source of the graph.

So, tax the rich, tax the middle class, pass the Fair Tax, it doesn't matter: the economy can only sustain the 19% of GDP level for any length of time. If politicians want more dollars to spend, they should choose whatever method of taxation boosts the economy most. Cutting taxes across the board seems to do just that.

Oh, but what about the deficit, you ask? I'm not entirely sure deficits matter but could fiscal responsibility demands we do keep an eye on it. Here's how to balance the budget without really trying:
The CBO, the non-partisan agency charged with estimating the effects of legislation on government costs, has produced a long-term budget outlook in which Bush-era tax rates remain unchanged. Their conclusion is that over the next decade, "government revenues would remain at about 19 percent of GDP, near their historical averages." That's actually a bit higher than the historical average, but is within the bounds of reason.

A balanced budget in 2020 based on 19 percent of GDP would mean $1.3 trillion in cuts over the next decade, or about $129 billion annually out of ever-increasing budgets averaging around $4.1 trillion. Note that these are not even absolute cuts, but trims from expected increases in spending.

Short version: you can still have a mighty big Federal government with spending at 19% of GDP.

Somewhat related and entirely prescient. This idea isn't new. From October 8, 2008:
(L)ower taxes = higher GDP. Higher GDP = better for everybody.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

'Times They are A-Changin' Lyrics for Sale

You can own a part off American music
Bob Dylan's original handwritten lyrics for "The Times They are A-Changin'" are heading for the auction block in New York City. They could sell for an estimated $200,000 to $300,000.

Written in pencil on a sheet of unruled, three-hole notebook paper, the classic 1960s folk protest song was the title track on Dylan's third album. The paper is creased with some small tears and signed "by Bob Dylan."

Sotheby's will offer it for sale on Dec. 10.

Here's what you'd be buying:

No word about who the current owner is but I presume it isn't Dylan. Then again, why not? The item's his to do with as he wants and you can't begrudge him the opportunity to make a buck or two on his own memorabilia. I think it's a great chance to own a part of history, though it's a bit pricey for my taste. Still, Dylanophile or not, it's fascinating to catch a glimpse of the humble beginnings of such a great song.