retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    The Boston Globe this morning reports that the credit card data breach at Hannaford Brothers that “potentially compromised the account numbers and expiration dates on all 4.2 million credit and debit card numbers used at its stores in six states between Dec. 7 and March 10” was caused by a new and highly sophisticated scheme that secretly installed software on every one of Hannaford’s stores.

    According to the story, the software “intercepted card data from customers as they paid with plastic at store checkout counters, and sent the data overseas … The software was installed on computer servers at each of the roughly 300 stores operated by Hannaford and its partners,” thought the company did not say how the installation was accomplished. Both Hannaford and the federal government continue to conduct independent investigations.

    The Globe writes: “Data security specialists say the new details show how hackers have grown more adept at penetrating weak links in the systems that connect merchants and banks. In previous breaches, such as the record-setting intrusion at TJX Cos. of Framingham, where as many as 100 million card numbers were compromised, hackers took advantage of merchants who stored customer names and card data - sometimes in violation of payment industry standards - at central locations in their computer networks.

    “In contrast, Hannaford says it did not store customer information. The hackers who struck Hannaford mined a stream of data that the merchant and banks were not responsible for protecting under industry rules, industry specialists said … The Hannaford breach also poses worrisome questions for the payment industry as it struggles to tighten security. Hannaford, for example, had met compliance standards set by Visa Inc. and other card companies, but that did not stop the breach.”

    The new information about the breach was provided in a letter sent by the company to Massachusetts regulators.

    KC's View:
    Again, it is early…but it certainly sounds like Hannaford did everything it could and yet still managed to be targeted. (This won’t stop the lawsuits, of course…)

    As has been said here before, it always is the crooks who see cracks in the system that nobody else can see. If they were legal, they’d be called entrepreneurs.

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    Bloomberg reports on a speech by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach in which he said that increasing responsibilities and insufficient funding of the agency is putting Americans’ health at risk.

    “Peril exists,” von Eschenbach said, noting that the FDA “may fail in its mission to protect and promote the health of every American.” He said that the FDA needs to be “stronger, bigger and better'' if it is to maintain its position as “the world's gold standard as a regulatory agency.”

    The Bloomberg story notes that the Bush administration has called for a 5.7 percent increase in the FDA’s budget, to $2.4 billion for fiscal 2009 – and that von Eschenbach asked for more but did not get it. (How much more he asked for…and whether he is satisfied with the proposed increase…remains a mystery.)

    KC's View:
    Not exactly a reassuring diagnosis by the FDA commissioner. (Good rule of thumb: when the folks at FDA use words like “peril,” it isn’t a good thing.)

    There are a lot of people who might quibble with the “gold standard” reference. FDA might be the best in the world, but that doesn’t mean it is the “gold standard,:” and it certainly doesn’t seem to be given the priority that it ought to have.

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    • In Arizona, the East Valley Tribune reports that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets “could soon cover the Valley by opening locations about two miles apart, providing roughly one store for every 20,000 residents, the company said Wednesday.”

    And, the company said that public response to the stores has been “fantastic,” and that it has become easier to find locations now that the chain’s profile has gotten higher.

    • Published reports say that Tesco is planning to open its first stores in Russia, and is looking for potential store sites. Analysts say that Russia is a tough market to crack since the population is centered in big cities that are far apart, creating operational and infrastructure challenges.

    No word on what the Russia stores will be called…though “Almost Fresh & Somewhat Easier” is not reported to be one of the options. has a story saying that a wine sold exclusively at Tesco’s Fresh & Easy stores in the US has been rated with 90 points by The Wine Advocate, considered a coup for the retailer and a real find for oenophiles.

    The website notes that “the wine, Bodegas Palacio's Reflexion Rioja Reserva 2003, sells at $9.99 and is one of more than 60 wines in the private label range sold at Fresh & Easy.”

    KC's View:
    This may be a small thing, but it is significant because it illustrates at least one of the ways that Tesco plans to carve out a differential advantage in the markets it serves. After all, nobody had ever heard of “Two Buck Chuck” before Trader Joe’s made it a phenomenon…and look at how it didn’t just power sales at the one retailer that carried it, but virtually created an entirely new category in the wine business.

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    CNBC featured interviews with two food industry CEOs, in which they addressed the current economic decline and how their companies are coping with it.

    Jeff Noddle, CEO of Supervalu, tells CNBC: “I don’t think there’s any question that people ... don’t necessarily want to spend more time away from home and can’t afford as [many] restaurant visits [as] in the past, so they are looking for solutions — meal solutions in stores. And [Supervalu] , [like] many retailers, are delivering more meal solutions in a value-priced way, so that people can pick up things that are ... ready to go or only need limited preparation and bring them home.”

    And Kendall Powell, CEO of General Mills, said: “We’re focused so hard on productivity, we’re working so hard to absorb some of these increases, that means we can pass on less, we have less to cover with price increases … There are literally thousands of things that we do at General Mills to try to eliminate waste. You know, we used to put 20 different versions of snack pieces in our Chex mix, different sizes and different shapes. Consumers don’t need that. They’re happy with five different shapes. We used to buy ten different blends of margarine and oils for some of our products. Now we buy four different blends and we just figured out a way to do all of this much more efficiently.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    Five days after Starbucks baristas in California won a $100 million judgment in a case that sued the company for requiring that tips be shared with shift supervisors, a Massachusetts barista has launched a similar suit in that state.

    According to the Associated Press coverage of the case, 18-year-old Hernan Matamoros is claiming that “Starbucks violated a state law that prohibits supervisors from sharing tips reserved for waiters, bartenders and other employees paid below the minimum wage. He worked as a barista at a store in Boston. Matamoros sued on behalf of thousands of baristas who have worked at Starbucks stores in Massachusetts over the past six years.”

    Starbucks reportedly is planning to appeal the California ruling.

    Meanwhile, the Seattle Times reports that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is “upset about media coverage” of the company’s tip policies.

    In a voice mail to the company’s employees this week, Schultz said, “I want to personally let you know that we would never condone any type of behavior that would lead anyone to conclude that we would take money from our people. When I read these headlines about Starbucks skimming or stealing from our partners, it's just beyond my comprehension how irresponsible it is.

    "[W]e put the highest priority for 35-plus years on treating our partners with respect and dignity, and we do our best never to jeopardize the trust we have with one another. Are we a perfect company? Absolutely not. Do we make mistakes? Yes. But our heart has always been in the right place … I want you to hear my voice and understand both my concern about the mischaracterization, and most importantly, the truth, and really separate the fiction from the facts.”

    KC's View:
    Several things about this story interest me.

    One is that an 18-year-old barista is Massachusetts has the wherewithal to get an attorney and file a lawsuit against Starbucks. I suspect that perhaps some lawyer saw the headlines about the $100 million judgment in California and then went trolling for a willing plaintiff.

    Another thing that grabbed my attention was the part of the story that said the suit maintains that “Starbucks violated a state law that prohibits supervisors from sharing tips reserved for waiters, bartenders and other employees paid below the minimum wage.” As noted numerous times in this space, my son has worked for Starbucks as barista for the past several years, and has always made more than minimum wage. I don't know what this barista is making up in Boston…but I’m surprised if his wages were below the mandated minimum.

    Finally, a word of advice to Howard Schultz. If you wants media coverage to be more accurate (and I’m unclear about exactly which part has been unfair), then you need to explain 1) what the policy has been about sharing tips with shift supervisors, and 2) what the rationale was in creating the policy. Now, there may be some legal jeopardy created in making such a statement, but that’s the way you get accurate coverage.

    I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand, if shift supervisors make more than hourly employees, they probably shouldn't be sharing the tips. On the other hand, having patronized hundreds of Starbucks around the world, it has always been my impression that store management is about as involved in front-line operations as in any retailer I’ve ever visited … they tend to be taking the orders, making the drinks, and chatting up customers, as opposed to hiding in the back room “supervising.”

    But at the very least, Schultz has to put this controversy behind him by explaining the policy and the rationale, and making whatever changes are necessary. Because until he does, the company is going to continue taking public relations hits.

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    • The Arizona Republic reports on efforts by two supermarket chains – Bashas’ and Whole Foods – to give consumers “healthy shopping tours” that enable shoppers to be smarter about the foods they buy. And in this case, “smarter” doesn’t just mean understand nutrition (though that clearly is a priority); it also means being able to plan meals wisely and economically.

    • The Sacramento Bee reports that California-based Raley’s “has been testing an experimental diesel exhaust cleansing system on its newer-model big rigs for the past five months, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District … Results from the first 1,000 hours hauling groceries on Northern California and Nevada roads have impressed air district officials, who constantly look for new ways to cut emissions of smog-forming nitrous oxides, or NOx.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    • ConAgra Foods announced that its third quarter revenue rose to $3.53 billion, up from $2.9 billion a year ago. Q3 net income was $309.1 million, up from $192.6 million a year ago when results were affected by a Peter Pan peanut butter recall.

    The company also announced that it was selling its commodities trading group so that it could free operating capital to focus on its core consumer foods business.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    MNB wrote yesterday about a new study released by Vertis Communications suggesting that “quality” is the motivating factor in supermarket food purchases for just one percent of adults. Of growing importance, the study suggests, are factors like prices and convenience – with “close to home” becoming an ever more critical issue as gas prices continue to increase.

    In my commentary, I wrote, in part: If the Vertis numbers are correct – and the one percent number seems awfully, awfully low – I also wonder what it says about American culture that “quality” is such a low priority.

    Got a lot of email on this one…

    MNB user Terry Pyles wrote:

    I don’t think the Vertis numbers indicate any such thing. I believe the implications here don’t speak to the consumers’ attitudes about quality; rather it’s more about relative quality. Many consumers today, especially in a time when the economy is worsening every day, just aren’t convinced that the quality between brand A and brand B, or private label, or even generics, is great enough to justify the additional expense.

    Even though they may prefer brand A, it isn’t worth spending more to buy it. The value proposition does come down to dollars and cents. But that’s mostly because the manufacturers can’t convince the consumer the higher priced brand provides any additional value beyond the dollars and cents. Call it dollars and sense.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Off the top of your head, name 10 low quality items at your local market. I know I can't do it. Maybe I'm not enough of a food snob, but for me the products range from good enough to premium. If stores want me to differentiate based on quality, they would need to offer up a low quality alternative in their store. Who wants to be seen as the provider of low quality items?

    MNB user Al Kober wrote:

    I believe that consumers want the lowest prices they can get for the quality level the have chosen. What is their purpose of food? Just to survive? Then price may be the only factor. But if eating is a reward, a pleasure, a celebration, then food has a different roll to play. Most people know that they have a point where no matter how low the price I still do not want it How low on price do you have to go to get a customer to buy cat food that doesn't own a cat? Customers know what they want , but they do not want to have to pay more for it then what is absolutely necessary. If I want a new Mercedes, I will shop around for the best deal, but I will not settle for a Ford Focus just because it costs less.

    This survey is one of the best ever done to get a handle on consumer behavior. But like all surveys, you can get it to say almost whatever you want the answer to be just by the way the question is asked. Or the way the reader interprets it.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I think the real question is “What is quality?” One man’s trash is another man’s treasure! I don’t think the “quality” priority is low because the American people don’t value a quality product. I would suggest that this number is low because the differentiation in quality from one conventional food retailer to another is marginal at best and likely unperceivable by most customers. I’m not suggesting the average consumer is not smart enough to see a difference, I’m suggesting that despite the efforts that each of the retailers go through to bring the consumers a quality product unique to their Brand, they are all bring basically the SAME high quality product to the marketplace. Thus, when the perceived “quality” variable is equal in their retail choices, the “price” priority becomes the driver, especially as the economy tightens up.

    I asked yesterday whether the food industry’s incessant harping on price has actually created these priorities, which led MNB user Lou Scudere to write:

    I guess my answer to your rhetorical question "I wonder if it is fair to blame the supermarket industry for the ways in which consumers set their priorities, and the fact that “quality” isn’t as important as one might expect." Would be "No, it is not fair." While I will acknowledge that the way that the most of the industry typically goes to market does have the potential to elicit the traditional "what comes first the chicken or the egg discussion", the ultimate fact of the matter is that, in the typical American household's budget, food is one of the few components where the consumer has some ability to exercise discretion. As a result, the typical consumer tends to look for the best "bang for the buck" as illustrated by the growth of the "value oriented" limited assortment format, the increase in corporate brand penetration, the relegation of "quality" formats such as Whole Foods or Fresh Market to special event shopping and the correlation the movement of dollars between the Bureau of Labor Statistics "Food at Home" and "Food away from Home" consumer expenditure components has to the expansion/contraction of GDP.

    However, all of the above aside, I think one of the other predominant reasons that "Quality" is not a top of mind component amongst consumers is the simple fact that the industry as a whole is doing a much better job of offering quality at all levels. Think of today's typical corporate brand program versus the "generics" of the late 70's and 80's (yeech). Think of the today's food safety and sanitation programs versus practices in the past. The fact is that the intensely competitive nature of our industry typically makes road kill out of those retailers who attempt to build their operation on solely on "price" rather than "value". In today's market I would contend that "quality" to a large extent has become table stakes in the competitive marketplace rather than a treasure the that consumer has to seek.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    The Vertis Communications Study doesn’t not say quality isn’t important, and this is a good example of how research can be misinterpreted or badly designed. Quality is a relative term, although the word is often used to mean “high quality.” Everyone is concerned about quality; no one chooses price over food borne illness or spoiled meat, and consumers expect to find an assumed level of both quality and selection any place they shop. This is a tremendous compliment to the supermarket industry.

    I consider myself to be a consumer who is very concerned about the quality of the food I buy, and I also make “high” quality food choices. Staples in my pantry include olive oil, sea salt, sun-dried tomatoes, Balsamic vinegar, whole grain breads and cereals. I buy organic milk, eggs and yogurt. Fresh fruit and vegetables are part of every meal, and everyone loves the new fresh juice smoothies and protein drinks, rare roast beef for sandwiches, Roquefort cheese and fresh pasta. The freezer usually has premium ice cream, a bag of shrimp, steaks, chops and chicken. We occasionally buy fresh baked bread, rolls, and pastries. Less frequently we splurge on baby rib lamb chops, lobster and prime rib. Regardless of what I purchase, my expectation is that everything will be in code, the ingredient label and nutrition facts accurate and nothing will be spoiled or moldy.

    But, here’s the rub – I choose the supermarket I shop in based on convenience, available parking, cleanliness and price. The reason – every one of the above mentioned products is available in each and every supermarket and each and every chain in my area.

    MNB user Jackie Lembke wrote:

    Maybe it isn’t so much that price is more important than quality, but the way in which quality is perceived. I have some items that I am brand specific when purchasing and no amount of discounting will entice me to switch brands, that brand is the only one with the quality I am looking for. Other items are less concrete and for the right price I might switch, but if I buy it once for the price and the quality is poor I will not buy it again. As the economy tightens and consumers are forced to make choices based on available funds, quality will be more fluid. If a store brand will meet my needs for a lower price than it defines the quality I am looking for, if it takes a higher priced item to fulfill my needs, whatever that may be at any given time than maybe I sacrifice somewhere else to fulfill the quality standard on the one item. It is all a tradeoff. In a climate of change and tightening economy it is even more important for stores to deliver an experience that delivers the quality the consumer is wanting. One day that may be a good, inexpensive store brand, on another day it could mean a really good brand for a little more money because the quality of the brand is worth cutting back somewhere else.

    Responding to yesterday’s story about the amazing California recommendation that eating more sensibly and getting more exercise is the best way to combat obesity, one MNB user wrote:

    Since the only cure for non-medical obesity is to eat sensibly and exercise – Hurray for California! This needs to be repeated and repeated and repeated. Diets don’t work – The problem is that the presses were stopped by the food industry promoting cheese and processed food, by school districts eliminating PE and by our government (the one that doesn’t want us to know where the tainted meat went) who built a food pyramid that has lead to this condition.. This simple approach is the only correct approach to the obesity problem. Obesity kills!

    Earlier this week, MNB had a story about buffalo mozzarella from Naples, Italy, being banned in some countries because of high levels of dioxin found in the buffalo – dioxin that apparently is related to garbage disposal problems in that city. I made a joke about buffalo wandering the streets of Naples eating the garbage…but one MNB user quickly corrected me, saying that there are no buffalo roaming the streets of Naples, there are water buffalo that live in the ocean near Naples. The mozzarella is made from their milk and it is some of the best stuff in the world. The dioxin is probably from all the plastic that is in our oceans.

    But MNB user Alan Lamb thought this description needed elaboration and clarification:

    According to the Journal Of Dairy Science...”The skin of the water buffalo, like that of the pig, has practically no sweat glands, and, for this reason, the buffalo likes to wallow in mud or water on a hot day, and thereby it gets its name, ‘water buffalo’.”

    It's amusing to think of them swimming around in the ocean eating plastic. They are raised pretty much like any other type of cattle. The dioxin they've picked up is likely the byproduct of incinerating garbage in the neighbourhood.

    And MNB user Mark A. Woodgerd wrote:

    Water Buffalo live in the ocean? How do they milk them? In scuba gear?

    Love the image…

    There have been a lot of questions raised here over the past few days about data security related to the crash-and-burn at Pay By Touch…which led one former Pay By Touch executive to write:

    I can assure you that the bio data is safe and is being maintained properly. I can also tell you that bio transactions are much safer than credit or check because in the case of the bio there is nothing to steal at the point of purchase, unlike checks that are handled multiple times, and credit card readers/receipts that require you to trust those handling the data in hand. As a matter of fact unless you pay cash for EVERY single purchase in your life you are an open book with every transaction tracked and stored someplace. (ever wonder why Tony Soprano didn’t use an EZ pass). Those of us over 35 need to accept and understand this as a fact of life, with technology there’s simply no going back to 1984 and Purple Rain.

    Pay By Touch failed for one simple reason, poor senior leadership that was trying to sprint toward the finish line ( going public) rather than building a strong foundation one brick at a time. Having been on the front line I believe with solid business fundamentals and strong leaders who understand the retail environment, a biometric platform featuring personalized marketing could make a comeback a few years from now and be quite successful as our kids lead the way.


    We noted yesterday that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering a proposal not to identify retailers where tainted meat went for sale except in cases of serious health risk.

    I commented: Let’s just be honest about this and call it the “USDA Obfuscation Rule of 2008.”

    Such a rule clearly demonstrates that we have a government that is still living in a time when transparency was not considered to be a virtue.

    This is an absurd rule, even though it simply codifies a practice already in place.

    Consumers – and voters – ought not accept it. And frankly, retailers ought to oppose it as well…because it creates the illusion that they have something to hide. What retailers ought to say is, “We tell consumers everything, because we are the agents for the consumers.” In saying so, retailers in fact would be superseding the government, which clearly has other priorities in mind.

    MNB user Bob Wheaton responded:

    .......and who again does the U.S.D.A "work for"? And......who do they answer to? And who are the supposed to be protecting?

    I'm confused, but then again I confuse easily.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    Let's be honest about this so-called "USDA Obfuscation Rule of 2008”: Of course the USDA wants the rule written that way! Who are they protecting? Not the citizens who expect them to do their job. It’s a rule not written by government people who care about oversight. I mean who could be against transparency when it comes to full disclosure about the who, what, where, when and why of tainted meat/vegetables?
    Could it be the one of companies who were recently caught on tape abusing animals? Once again we must look at public policy that is based on campaign donors and not the facts.

    And yet another MNB user wrote:

    Regarding the USDA's proposed rule: I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said "Democracy dies behind closed doors."

    To your point yesterday, this rule clearly demonstrates how far our government has come from a time when transparency was considered to be a virtue.

    I’m not sure it was Jefferson…I checked online, and couldn’t find it attributed to him.

    However, Jefferson did say the following:

    “When the people fear the government you have tyranny... when the government fears the people you have liberty.”

    It would be my observation that in the US today, we have things backwards.

    Harry Truman also had a relevant observation:

    “Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2008

    Creativity is a funny thing – whether it be in movies, music or retail.

    I’ve been thinking about the nature of creativity over the past week because I had the chance to watch two movies that fall into the depressingly popular category known as “remakes.” Neither was very good, and certainly weren’t close to being as good as the originals…and yet, they were developed (“created” seems like the wrong word) by people who have been creative in the past and almost certainly will be in the future. So what happened?

    It so happens that the original versions of these two movies had happy personal connections for me for very different reasons…though I don't think that’s why they didn’t work. In fact, both were roundly criticized when they came out, and didn’t do a lot of business. So I’m not along in my feelings, even if the context of my criticisms is different.

    The first one I saw was ‘The Heartbreak Kid,” the Ben Stiller version of the 1972 original that starred Charles Grodin, Cybill Shepherd and Eddie Albert, and was directed by Elaine May.

    Now, I vividly remember the night and the theatre where I saw “The Heartbreak Kid” in 1972…in part because I went with a girl named Martha Zahringer who actually resembled and even was a little better looking that Cybill Shepherd. (Got some great looks walking out of the theatre, let me tell you. I have no idea what happened to Martha, but of this much I am sure: the date was more memorable for me than for her.)

    The original film was a great comedy of manners, with Grodin the nebbish on his honeymoon who finds himself attracted to a gorgeous blonde goddess who he meets while his wife is back in the room suffering from a horrible sunburn. Grodin can't help himself – he isn’t satisfied with his life in so many ways, and this is the moment when he decides to not settle, no matter what the consequences. It was a wonderful movie, as observant as one would expect an Elaine May movie to be. And Eddie Albert was wonderful as Shepherd’s suspicious father.

    The new one, though, while it did have some laughs, was far more focused on gross-out humor and broad characterizations. Nothing subtle about it….which is about what you would expect from a movie directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who made “Shallow Hal,” “Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber.” It said a lot about the state of movies, and nothing good.

    The other remake was “Sleuth,” which was a complete re-imagining of another movie, coincidentally, released in 1972. The original was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and was written by Anthony Shaffer, based on his hit Broadway and West End play; the new one was directed by Kenneth Branagh, almost completely rewritten by Harold Pinter, and starred Michael Caine (again, this time playing the Olivier role) and Jude Law.

    My connection to “Sleuth” stems from the fact that while I was a high school senior, I decided that I wanted my senior research project to be about what it takes to transfer a play from London to Broadway. So I wrote one of the actors starring on Broadway (who had also done the original version in London), Anthony Quayle, and asked for an interview.

    Well, not only did I get to meet Quayle (who, by the way, was a wonderful actor, never was a big star but memorable in such films as “The Guns of Navarone” and “Lawrence of Arabia”), but I got almost complete backstage access and ended up seeing the play from both sides of the curtain dozens of times. So I know the play well. (I even did the opening monologue from the play when I auditioned for acting school about a million years ago. I can still do it word-for-word today…even though I cannot remember what I wrote a week ago. Go figure.)

    The original “Sleuth” was a comic thriller that found music in language and great pleasure in the somewhat perverse story of an aging mystery writer, Andrew Wyke, who confronts and even, in a way, seduces a young man, Milo Tindle, who is sleeping with his wife. There was a sense of delight about the piece, and it was very much about the various roles we play in our lives…and how we all are susceptible to the right kind of illusion and temptation.

    I’m probably not qualified to criticize Harold Pinter, one of the 20th century’s great dramatists, but his version of “Sleuth” struck me as a mean-spirited deconstruction that simply doesn’t work. The direction is self-conscious and while Caine is his usual professional self, Jude Law is all artifice and no real emotion (not that I’d expect any more). The makers said they only wanted to use the bare bones of the original plot and make something really new…and while they succeeded in this, they also managed to make a movie that is sort of distasteful.

    As I write these words, I realize that what the two new movies have in common is that they are completely inauthentic – they are constructions, not movies about people. The best movies – just like the best books and even the best retail experiences – put a spin on the conventional in some way, shape or form, but managed to stay rooted in some kind of reality.

    These are two awful, awful movies.

    I don't want to be a complete downer, though, so I am going to recommend two wonderful movies that I saw recently.

    “The Bank Job” is a really good thriller about a bank heist in 1971 London, in which a group of unlikely thieves target a downtown bank vault – not knowing that they are being manipulated by a government agency looking to abscond with a set of photos in one safe deposit box that would cast a member of the royal family in a negative light. Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows are excellent in the leads, and I think you’ll like this movie a lot.

    In a far more serious vein, “The Counterfeiters” is the Austrian movie that won “Best Foreign Film” at the Oscars this year, and it is a sobering and provocative look at a Nazi scheme during World War II to print up so much fake US and British currency that the economies of both countries would be bankrupted. The twist – the Nazis used Jewish concentration camp prisoners to create the fake bills…and the movie concerns the moral ambiguities that plague the prisoners. (Think about the Alec Guinness character in “Bridge on the River Kwaii.”) This is a great film…and I recommend it highly.

    Also, if you haven't seen it yet, find the time to catch up with the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” a seven-part epic based on the David McCullough book. This is great television – involving and illuminating about the formative years of the United States and the people who created it. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are wonderful as john and Abigail Adams, creating people and a relationship that seems utterly authentic. And there are two star turns in supporting roles – Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin, and David Morse as George Washington. Great stuff.

    And while you’re watching these movies…do yourself a favor and enjoy the Francis Ford Coppola 2004 Captain’s Reserve Merlot, which is smooth and just lovely. You can only get it from the vineyard and the Coppola website…but is well worth the effort.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


    KC's View: