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Catching up on Pop Culture: Not Surviving, Al Gore and changing times for movies

I like blogging and I like taxes, but I also like just sitting on my lazy butt a lot, too. So I tend to take weekends off (a holdover from all the years of working Monday-through-Friday). I watch a little TV, catch up on backlogged reading or, if it’s nice outside, explore some of the Hill Country’s great outdoors.

However, I don’t want to totally abdicate my tax blogging responsibilities. So I’m exploring some ideas on how to blog quickly, yet informatively, on at least one weekend day. The husband, in smart-ass mode, suggested the “quickly” part could be easily accomplished if I just quit e-rambling. As I’ve said before, never gonna happen, my friend!

So I’ve come up with something I’m calling, at least for now, Pop Culture Catch-up, or PCC for short (hey, I spent 20 years in Washington, D.C., AKA Acronym City). This will be a weekly look at recent news items that I found interesting, along with other random thoughts of no fixed time frame that rattle around in my brain. I’m going to let them escape here and, I hope, come up with a tax hook for at least a few of them.

So here goes. The first Don’t Mess With Taxes PCC.

Even if it didn't involve a tax-evasion trial, I'd have to start with Richard Hatch. As everyone knows by now, the Rhode Island federal jury voted him guilty. Hatch was immediately handcuffed and taken to jail. Kinda makes that snuffing of the flame bit seem lame, doesn’t it? He could face 13 years in prison (who would have thought my Friday the 13th discussion of Hatch’s trial travails would be so prescient?).

Read details of the Hatch verdict here. This page also has a video clip from CBS News, where network honcho Les Moonves, in awarding the $1 million check, noted that “it’s now between [Hatch] and his accountant.”

Of course, Hatch tried to push the blame for his tax troubles onto everyone else. Puts him right up there with Ken Lay in the running for another title: The most annoyingly arrogant excuse for criminal activity. Lay’s trial starts next week, just down the road from me in Houston. I’m sure I’ll be blogging soon about the Enron CEO’s “I was an idiot and didn’t have any idea what was going on in my company so don’t convict me” defense.

Warning: Here comes the tax hook (beyond the trial itself). Make sure you know what the IRS considers taxable or nontaxable income so you don’t end up following Dick to federal prison.

Al's new gig: On a lighter note this week, who would have guessed that one of the stars of this year’s Sundance Film Festival would be Al Gore. You heard me: Al Gore. To his credit, he has loosened up post-election. Where was what the festival’s official guide calls Gore’s "visually mesmerizing presentation" style when we (and by we, I mean all of us who aren’t rightwingnuts) needed it?

Anyway, Al has found a new medium: film. Oh, he’s not going to challenge Tom or Jamie or Julia for box-office supremacy, but he did get a standing ovation from the Park City festival crowd following the world premiere of his flick, “An Inconvenient Truth,” an examination of global warming.

I hear the aforementioned rightwingers scoffing now. Yeah, it was a film festival full of liberal elite Hollywood types gathered on the welcoming stomping grounds of left-leaning Robert Redford. But that doesn’t change the fact that something is producing heretofore unseen weather patterns. Take us here in Austin. This January has been the warmest in 80 years. It’s been as hot here as it’s been in our previous home, South Florida.

Of course, global warming might not have a thing to do with it. It could simply be that we’re too close to the president’s Crawford home. Karl Rove spends a lot of time there and I understand that he brings his own personal ring of Hell fire with him so he’ll always feel right at home. So that could be the cause of our unseasonable warmth.

You can check out this year’s Sundance Festival winners here.

DVD alert: A previous Sundance darling, Steven Soderbergh, is making cinematic waves, this time with his out-of-the-theater-box approach to film distribution.

Soderbergh is widely credited (or blamed, depending upon your film aesthetic) for creating the bidding wars for independent movies. As Roger Ebert notes in this report on 2006 Festival favorite “Friends with Money,” back at Sundance '89, Soderbergh’s “sex, lies and videotape” was picked up by Miramax, essentially making that company’s reputation and forcing other distributors into frenzied searches for the next big indie film thing.

Bubble_dvdSoderbergh went on to bigger commercial success with "Traffic," "Erin Brockovich" and "Ocean's Eleven." Now he's back with the low-budget movie "Bubble," with which he's looking to reshape the film distribution system.

The movie premiered in a few theaters on Friday, Jan. 27, and its DVD release is on Tuesday, Jan. 31. Yep, just four days later. It’s irking many theater owners. Some, chains are refusing to show the movie and all are crying that it will hurt the already lagging Cineplex attendance.

To the theater owners, I say quit your whining! Anything that gets movies attention is a good thing for the whole industry. “Bubble” is not a mainstream flick. Although it revolves around a murder mystery, it has no professional actors and is set in a doll-making factory in the Midwest. Few theater chains will ever pick it up, even though they have plenty of screen space. They just  can’t be bothered to make room for a decidedly noncommercial film, even by giving it one showing a day on one of their theaters' 24 screens.

So the only way a lot of people will see “Bubble” is on DVD. It's a smart idea to get it to them near the film's theater release date, while there’s still buzz about it.

I know there’s concern that if this approach becomes commonplace, people will just quit going to the movies altogether and wait a week so they can watch the DVD at home. True, some will.

But most movie fans appreciate the theater experience (except maybe for the too-loud Dolby sound, but maybe that’s just hubby and me), and will still go to see films on the big screen. The other people, heck, they’re already not coming to your theater for many other reasons. Maybe the movies you’re showing just plain stink.

Anyway, as one actor, Oscar-winning composer and pretty good singer/songwriter (OK, good songwriter) once observed, the times they are a-changin’.


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