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    Published on: July 24, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    Three sets of financial reports came out yesterday, and while I'm not one to pay a lot of attention to such things, I thought these told a story that goes beyond the numbers.

    Amazon reported a Q2 profit (yes, I said profit ... that isn't a typo) of $92 million, which the New York Times wrote was "practically a rounding error for Google or Apple. But it confirmed all the hopes and expectations of analysts and investors, who immediately pushed Amazon shares up 17 percent in after-hours trading Thursday to $566." Net sales were up 20 percent.

    Analysts were expecting a loss.

    In pushing up the cost of Amazon shares, at least for the moment, it meant that "Amazon’s market cap stands at approximately $250 billion versus Walmart’s at around $230 billion," according to Quartz. (Walmart remains the world’s largest company by sales.)

    CEO Jeff Bezos may have been taking a shot at new wannabe rival Jet when he said in a statement that in recent months, "We unveiled Amazon Business, opened Amazon Mexico, launched Prime free same-day, rolled out our ninth Prime Now city, broke our Black Friday record with the first-ever Prime Day, received 11 Emmy nominations for Transparent, debuted six new kids pilots, brought Echo to general availability, introduced the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service, opened FBA Small and Light, continued to double down on our fastest growing geography — India, launched 350 significant AWS features and services so far this year (ahead of last year’s pace), introduced AWS Educate, and entered into agreements for new solar and wind farms — enough to exceed our 2016 goal of 40% renewable energy.”

    Starbucks also had a good quarter. The Wall Street Journal writes that "global same-store sales for the cafe giant rose 7% in the quarter that ended June 28—driven by a 4% increase in customer visits—beating analysts’ expectations of a 6.2% increase. In its biggest division, the Americas, Starbucks posted 8% same-store sales growth, beating estimates of 6.3%. Total net profit in the period jumped 22%."

    CEO Howard Schultz said that the company's digital initiatives were a factor in the growth, saying that "the number of active users in the company’s loyalty program in the U.S. grew 28% from a year ago to 10.4 million, and 20% of U.S. transactions now are made using mobile devices, up from 9% two years ago."

    And then there was McDonald's. The perpetually troubled fast feeder had yet another bad quarter reporting that during the most recent reporting period same store sales were down 0.7 percent, profit was down 13 percent to $1.2 billion, and revenue dropped 10 percent, to $6.5 billion.

    And McDonald's officials seem to mired in the debate about how they are going to make the company relevant to a 2015 consumer population that seems to have passed it by.

    Three sets of numbers. Two companies that seem to have their focus trained clearly on the future, and one that does not.

    It's an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    National Public Radio reports that "a solid majority of the House of Representatives on Thursday voted in favor of a law that would block states from mandating GMO labels" called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.

    "The debate in Congress followed familiar lines," NPR reports. "Opponents of the bill, such as Chellie Pingree, a House Democrat from Maine who is also an organic farmer, argued that it's important for consumers to know what they are eating." And "Congressional supporters of the bill, meanwhile, argued that mandating labels on foods containing GMOs actually is misleading, because it suggests to consumers that GMOs are somehow risky to eat — which they are not, according to the Food and Drug Administration."

    Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont have all passed laws of various kinds in favor of GMO-labeling, but those laws would be superseded by federal law if the US Senate were to pass similar legislation and it is signed by the President. At this time, there is no such legislation in front of the Senate, the story says.

    Within hours, the House was commended for the vote by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the National Grocers Association (NGA), and the Snack Food Association (SFA), among others.
    KC's View:
    How quickly some folks drop the whole states' rights philosophy when it doesn't jibe with their position on a specific issue.

    I think it is pretty clear that we're never going to have any resolution of this debate or any sort of meaningful compromise. At the risk of annoying people on both sides of this issue, I have to admit that I have no idea what to do. I kind of think that just labeling everything is the best way to deal with this issue, because I believe in transparency, but I also am not inclined to be reflexively anti-science. There are persuasive arguments on both sides of this debate, and I'm about to the end of my rope on it.

    The thing is, I read more about this stuff that a lot of people. How confused do you think many or most consumers are about GMOs? I don't think that's good for anyone.

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    Harvard Business Review has an analysis of the business model created by Jet - the startup online retailer that launched this week to directly compete with Amazon.

    The story notes that "Jet has an alluring pledge to bring the Costco warehouse pricing model to the web. In return for a $49.99 annual membership fee, Jet claims it will not make any profit from the products it sells (which will come from its inventory or partner sellers); its sole source of profit will be from membership fees. Second, founder and CEO Marc Lore has a track record of e-commerce success — previously selling his start-up, Diapers.com, to Amazon for $545 million."

    But HBR is skeptical, in part because it thinks that Jet's pricing model does not add up. "The two-part pricing model (membership and product purchases) has benefited Costco for two key reasons. First, Costco has lower costs, both in terms of negotiating volume discounts for inventory as well as being situated on the cheap outskirts of towns. It’s difficult to fathom how Jet (a company with no revenue and $225 million of raised capital) and its partner retailers will be in a position to negotiate lower product prices or achieve cost efficiencies compared to rival powerhouses such as Amazon and Wal-Mart. These retailers enjoy the buying power and efficiencies garnered from generating annual revenues of $89 billion and $486 billion, respectively."

    And Jet doesn't.

    The story also suggests that if jet's numbers don't add up, its business could be rescued by Walmart, which is engaged in its own competition with Amazon. "The tagline of 'Jet, powered by Wal-Mart' has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

    "It’s unclear whether Mr. Lore and his fellow Jet investors will walk away richer after this highly publicized experiment. What is certain is that any possible riches won’t come from Jet as a freestanding business. Its pricing model simply doesn’t make enough sense."
    KC's View:
    Let's suppose that Jet isn't able to get to $20 billion in annual sales by 2020. Let's suppose it only does half that. The problem for much of the industry is that as it burns through capital to discount products below Amazon and Walmart and maybe Aldi and Lidl and Costco, Jet could create an enormous amount of collateral damage within the industry just by stirring the pot and creating price wars that nobody will win. That's something that I think people need to be cautious about.

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Campbell Soup "plans to remove artificial ingredients from products and to come out with more organic foods, as it contends with what it called a seismic shift in what Americans eat." The self-imposed deadline for the change in almost all its North American food products is August 2018.

    The story says that "the maker of soups, Pepperidge Farm snacks and V8 juices on Wednesday said the food industry is being revolutionized by changing demographics and a widespread shift in what people want to eat ... Campbell said it also will remove high-fructose corn syrup from more foods, further simplify ingredients and add to its small array of organic offerings, following Nestlé SA, General Mills Inc. and other food makers that have begun removing ingredients consumers increasingly frown upon."

    “From boomers to millennials, consumers are seeking fresher, less-processed foods,” Chief Executive Denise Morrison told an investors meeting, saying later that "Campbell has made changes that boosted sales in the past several years but that it hasn’t done enough. 'We can’t stop there. We have to keep going'."

    Morrison called the current competitive environment “fraught with both peril and tremendous opportunity," and said that she's "never seen an environment quite like” this.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    The New York Times has a long story about how, following the decision to raise the minimum wage in New York State - but only for fast food workers - the stage seems to be set for a political and cultural battle over wage scales in the United States.

    "Led by some large labor unions," the Times writes, "the movement to make $15 the floor for hourly wages has revealed how deeply divided Americans are on the issue. It has also raised the prospect of much wider variations in how people are compensated for the same basic work in different parts of the country. And it has infuriated companies large and small, which say it compels hard choices between raising prices and firing workers."

    The push for a higher minimum wage, the story says, not that long ago "seemed a quixotic drive," but that has changed ... and now the debate rages on, not just about salary but inequality, and is likely only to become more divisive and heated as the presidential campaign gathers steam

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:
    I expressed an opinion on this yesterday and, not surprisingly, got a lot of push back from MNB readers. You can check out some of those emails in "Your Views," and I'll respond to them there.

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    The Tampa Bay Times reports on a new trend - retailers that have little or nothing to do with food deciding to open bars and/or restaurants.

    "At the new Restoration Hardware store opening in International Plaza this fall," the story says, "shoppers won't have to go farther than the three-story retailer's rooftop garden bar for some wine and hors d'oeuvres. Tampa is among the first cities in the country to get a Restoration Hardware gallery store concept, which is currently under construction next to the Capital Grille at Bay Street."

    Restoration hardware joins a number of other retailers - like Nordstrom, Bass Pro Shops, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Crayola, Tommy Bahama and IKEA (which has been doing for years) - in opening food concepts designed to keep people in the store longer so they'll buy more stuff.
    KC's View:
    It isn't like this is a revolutionary concept. Heck, when Woolworths put in lunch counters, it was probably because somebody said that if they feed people, they'll stay longer and spend more.

    Still, it does seem as if these concepts are more upmarket than that, with these retailers trying to find turn them into a real differential advantage. That's a great lesson when it comes to trying to figure out how to compete with the online experience - come up with something that people simply cannot get when they order online, and then maybe use e-commerce to bait the hook a bit.

    You can do both. You almost have to do both. This is not an either-or proposition.

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    A new Harris poll commissioned by Digimarc Corporation says that "nearly 45 percent of consumers who avoid self-checkout do so because of technical or barcode scanning difficulties," and that "61 percent agree clerks focus most on scanning items and less on finding out if they’re satisfied."

    Not surprisingly, the study says that 50 percent of those polled "name slow checkout speeds and long lines as their top grievances."
    KC's View:
    I would have been surprised if the numbers were any different, since Digimarc describes itself as a company that addresses exactly these issues. But that doesn't mean that I am skeptical about the results ... in fact, I'm surprised the satisfaction levels aren't lower.

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    CNBC reports that Walmart said yesterday that "over the past two years it has been quietly increasing its offerings in the baby category," using the category as a weapon to go after Target, which traditionally has been strong in the segment.

    Target seems unlikely to capitulate without a fight: "Under the leadership of CEO Brian Cornell, Target has listed baby as one of its four key categories for growth. The bull's-eye retailer recently rolled out in 1,000 of its stores a one-stop shop dedicated to wellness for new and expectant moms."

    How come a baby category battle? Well, to begin with, "a recent report by Goldman Sachs said the estimated $1 trillion parents spend on children each year is set to grow.
    That's because 2014 experienced the first increase in U.S. births in seven years, and it came against the backdrop of a strengthening economy. The fact that the highly sought-after millennial group made up nearly 90 percent of the 1.5 million new mothers last year only sweetens the pot."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    CBC News reports that Loblaw Companies "plans to close 52 unprofitable stores in Canada over the next year," a decision said to "affect all of its banners and formats" throughout Canada, and will reduce the company's total retail square footage by about one percent.

    According to the story, "Loblaw president and executive chairman Galen Weston Jr. said in a conference call with analysts that the company was focused on finding efficiencies as growth slows. In a normal year, he added, the company would close 10 to 15 stores."


    • Virginia-based Food City yesterday announced its intention to purchase 29 BI-LO Supermarkets (including 21 pharmacies) in the Chattanooga market area. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, the company said it "plans to invest over $40 million dollars in capital improvements to the locations during the first year. And while post-acquisition plans have not been completely finalized, Food City anticipates revamping the units and hiring the vast majority of BI-LO’s nearly 2,000 store associates."


    • Published reports say that Intercontinental Holding Co., which currently operates 12 stores under a variety of banners in New England, is acquiring the assets of Tri-Town Foods, which has supermarkets in Portland and East Lyme, Connecticut.


    • The Wall Street Journal reports that "companies are racing to track and manage the hours their employees really work, following a White House proposal that would put millions more U.S. workers in line for overtime pay. The plans, issued last month by the Labor Department, would more than double the salary threshold that determines which workers are eligible for time-and-a-half pay when working more than 40 hours in a week ... Under the proposal, salaried workers earning less than $50,440—a group that includes occupations as diverse as graphic designers, assistant store managers and business analysts—would have to start tracking their hours more closely than ever before."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    • Golub Corp., parent company to Price Chopper and Market 32, announced that COO Scott Grimmett has been promoted to the role of of COO/president, the first time in the company's 83-year history that someone outside the Golub family has held that post. Jerry Golub remains as CEO, with Neil Golub as executive chairman of the board.

    Grimmett has been COO since 2012; before joining Price Chopper, he spent 37 years with Safeway.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    On the subject of Jet, from MNB reader Dustin S. Hughes:

    First time emailer…

    Admittedly I haven’t spent much time perusing Jet’s website, but in the first few minutes I already see the same thing I continue to see at Amazon (at least on the grocery/household supply side):  the prices are NOT low at all! 

    With 25 years in the grocery business, I know what is a reasonable price for a 24 rolls of toilet paper & what is a HOT price.  The prices on Jet in that category & several other household areas are not even reasonable.

    That said, I am a HUGE Amazon fan, for all of the reasons you’ve detailed frequently.  I’ve been giving them my loyal business for 17+ years, so I might get roped into giving Jet more of a chance.

    But initial offerings aren’t compelling enough.  Oh, and one last big thing!  $35 minimum for free shipping hurts, especially when we’re comparing so specifically to all that Amazon Prime offers!




    As I mentioned above, I got a lot of email about the minimum wage issue.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Kevin I love MNB but I feel the need to chime in whenever you write about minimum wage.   It is ironic that you praise the $15/hour minimum wage decision in New York on the heels of another story about how this is backfiring in Seattle.  In Seattle this wage increase was partly sold on the premise that it would lighten welfare roles.  Instead, workers have demanded fewer hours so they don't exceed the income levels that would cause them to lose their government handouts.  Why would a person work 40 hours a week when they can achieve an equivalent income working 20 hours a week with government subsidies.  Welfare is typically (and conveniently) left out of the minimum wage/poverty discussion.  If the government is truly interested in helping the working poor in our society there is a clear path - reduce welfare rolls so assistance is given only to those who honestly need it and prevent illegal immigration so wages are not artificially deflated.  With these two policies enacted you will find that Americans will do the jobs that they apparently will not do now and they will be paid a living wage for doing them.

    I got a number of stories citing the Seattle situation, but to be honest, I've read a bunch of stories about Seattle and Sea-Tac, and the results to this point seem to be mixed. Or, more accurately, that it is too early to tell. And I certainly have not seen stories about an enormous number of people asking for fewer hours so they can stay on the government dole.

    This isn't to say there aren't some people doing this and some anecdotes to support your position. There are. But I'm not sure it is as widespread as you suggest.

    MNB reader Kyle Nelson wrote:

    Enjoy reading your views each day! I hear/see a lot of the minimum wage stuff and  linked to fast food workers.  This would be effective for all places of employment in these cities, correct? This would include grocery store (Wal-Mart/Target/Wegmans, etc. and retail workers at mall stores like Penney’s and Macy’s for example, correct? The checker at your grocer scanning your bag of fries should make the same as the person making your fries it seems.

    No, it wouldn't ... at least not in New York, where the increase only affects fast food workers.

    Which I think is ridiculous.

    MNB reader Bruce Tobias wrote:

    My thought about the Fast Food Wages. I think this is discrimination again this one sector of business. I worked part time at a McDonalds restaurant 4 or 5 days a week and fulltime at a food processing plant in western New York.  It was my choice to work at McDonald’s. I could have worked somewhere else part time if I didn’t like the job or the wage they offered. But by taking the job I was agreeing to the hours and wage they offered. Sure at times the conditions were hot and the work was fast paced, but I don’t think it was worthy of $15 dollar an hour, it is just ridiculous.

    Frankly, I think there are a lot more laborious, challenging, stressful, and technical jobs out there that pay less than $15 an hour such as healthcare workers, teacher aids, landscapers, manufacturing workers, etc. The fast food jobs are not intended to be a career. The jobs do not require a lot of technician skills or a college degree. Fast food is a good place to start in the workforce or get a supplemental income.  What is next,  all pizza parlors and hair cutting chains have to paid $ 15 hour.  Why not all food service and restaurant business?

    Fast Food workers is not going to change the state of NY.  Cuomo should take a look at what he and his predecessors have done to the at one time Empire State. Take a look at the towns across the state, they are run down, there are no jobs, the factories either closed or left because Albany taxes the hell out of us.  People are leaving NY to go to TX, FL, and NC , where they are business friendly and have lower taxes.

    This is just another way these Politicians try to get votes. Albany Serves NYC not upstate or western NY. So I guess $ 15 dollars an hour at McDonald or Burger King will make everything better.  Why not lower taxes for all business sectors and residence and then maybe business will move back and create good paying jobs and people will have more of THEIR money to spend and help spire business growth.       
     
    I love Beautiful Western and Upstate New York State. It is sad to see what it has become.


    MNB reader Mike Moon wrote:

    The folks looking for a higher minimum wage may well win the battle, but lose the war in that this will result in an overall loss of jobs. If a business feels it can afford to spend 10% of it's revenue on labor, arguably one of the few controllable expenses we have, why is it assumed that we can all of a sudden afford to go to 12%, or 15%? We can't. The budget is the budget, which means that if the cost of labor rises, the hours spent on labor must be reduced. This affects non-minimum wage earners as well, as the bottom moves up. There is such a thing as bottom line, and I don't know many (any) grocery operators who can afford such a bump in their labor budget.
     
    I know there is exploitation of workers out there, people who have been in their minimum wage positions for a long time, but most of the minimum wage jobs in my company are entry-level, get-started kinds of jobs. I've had several minimum wage jobs early in career, and I never expected them to support me long term. I knew that if I wanted to make more money, then I needed to make myself more valuable to my company and either move up or move on.


    MNB reader Chris Utz wrote:

    Politicians who want to double fast food wages to $15 per hour probably have increased tax revenue as an ulterior motive, in spite of their concern for individuals’ well-being.  Unfortunately this will probably cause some smaller companies to go out of business.  It will also encourage a more rapid transition to ordering kiosks and robotic food preparation.  The net effect will likely be lost jobs for less skilled workers.

    MNB user Doug Galli wrote:

    What this does not point out is that this also affects convenience stores that sell food to go. They cite large franchise corporations can afford it, but it is not the franchise corporations that pay the local workers. It is the single store franchise owners that are simply middle-class people that have put up the risk in buy a business hoping for a better life to pursue the American Dream. This will impact every business in New York that hires from the same labor pool because they will have to increase their wages to compete for the best workers. This was simply our New York State Dictator, er… Governor circumventing the legislative process to kowtow to the Service Employees Union to garner votes. There is no altruism in his motivation. This will open the door for the unions to organize retailers because of the higher rate of pay will make it more palatable for the workers to pay union dues. This is a bad move and will prove out over the next 5-7 years.

    I encourage Mr. Coupe to come and spend time with me as we attempt to make a profit in Western New York competing with reservations, trying to comply with the myriad of both state and federal laws and regulations so we can give back to our associates and invest in upgrades, technology and all of these other great things that he speaks of that retailers should be doing.





    Chiming in on the discussion about the urbanization of Bentonville, Arkansas, so Walmart can attract more young talent, one MNB user wrote:

    One of the things Walmart can’t seem to fix is what it costs to fly to XNA (Bentonville). I oversaw the Walmart and Sam’s team in a previous life, and flew to Bentonville a couple of times a month. While we were trying to keep our costs of managing the business in line with Walmart’s procurement strategy, the airlines serving the area hosed us. And of course the flights were all full, so what could you do?
     
    Many of the “younger employees” Walmart hopes to attract will be driving to Tulsa or Kansas City (approx. three hours each way) for personal air travel because they simply won’t be able to afford (or at least stomach) the airfare. Maybe that’s part of the strategy; get ‘em there, and then make it too costly to leave. Also, I suspect if you polled the nicer restaurants in the Bentonville area you’d find that a disproportionate amount of their dollars come from travelers on expense accounts.
     
    I suspect the lift of the ban on alcohol created revenue for Walmart’s stores too, but didn’t investigate.
     
    Whining aside, the Crystal Bridges museum is a must-see. Truly a destination if you like American Art. Probably the greatest collection of American art in one place. All thanks to Helen Walton, one of Sam’s kids.


    I have two words for you: Walmart Air.




    On another subject, from another reader:

    The young person who wrote you about having McDonalds serving breakfast all day long really put a smile on my face. I thought millennials were all about eating healthy foods. Pancakes and Egg/Sausage McMuffins do not ring up as healthy food fare. How about a bowl of oatmeal, granola,or a bowl of some kind of healthy cereal, milk, a glass of OJ, and a favorite seasonal fruit? The cost per serving is a lot less than Mickey D pancakes or a breakfast sandwich and a heck of a lot healthier. Yes, I am a guy who worked his way through college, paid my own tuition, rent, etc. and did not have parental financial help. The blessing was that I was taught by my brothers and sisters how to cook my own meals as a young kid.
     
    FYI, my parents died when I was 13 and 14.





    On the subject of Walmart reducing hours at stores that used to be open 24 hours, one MNB user wrote:

    As a Millennial, I find this to be rather disappointing for Wal-Mart. As a recent college student it was incredibly convenient to visit a Wal-Mart whenever I needed some late night energy drinks or a few of my friends and I were up late and just needed well anything. Recently I found myself in an area where the local Wal-Mart is not open 24 hours a day. While it is true that it may have only been a few times a month that I would need to purchase an item at midnight the Wal-Mart failing to be open has had more consequences than just those few sales. I am talking about loyalty, since Wal-Mart is not open whenever I need it I have had to look into other convenient stores around the area and find their selection. Now instead of visiting Wal-Mart I instead prefer to go to those convenient stores.
     
    Wal-Mart making this move is unfortunate because it will dissolve the illusion that anything you may need can be bought at anytime at Wal-Mart. And the lack of this convenience may encourage shoppers to visit other stores and develop a sense of loyalty with them over Wal-Mart.





    Responding to yesterday's FaceTime piece about not making assumptions, one MNB user wrote:

    I couldn't agree with you more. You need to keep an open mind and an open heart. As Sargent Hulka said "I don't care where you come from, I don't care what color you are". We need to start each interaction with the 8 most important words you can say to a customer: "Good morning! What can I do for you today?"

    Extra credit for the movie reference.

    And from MNB reader Amy Holsinger:

    Regarding the fiancé/ee slip-up…

    To your credit, there isn’t really an audible difference in the word when you’re in conversation with somebody. A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a female coworker who is engaged to a woman. She mentioned how her adoring brother was struggling with talking about his sister’s wedding because he felt like “fiancée” wasn’t an accurate description when spoken! He landed on saying “my sister and her soon-to-be wife.” My coworker found the whole thing hilarious – I think she’s mostly just excited to be getting married J
     
    Thanks for the reliably interesting content and thoughtful insights!





    And finally, on a more sobering note, MNB reader Mike O’Donnell wrote:

    I just found out that an old friend – and a long time food industry pro – passed away suddenly last week: Jeff Larson – Innovative Food Group.

    He was from Toronto, most recently working as a consultant, but Jeff had done product development all across the USA and Canada for over 30 years. Mostly working on protein projects with us meatheads.

    He worked on President’s Choice programs and, at one time,  was part owner of DPI  -- Destination Products Inc.

    Jeff touched a lot of lives and I wanted them all to know he passed quietly last week. He was not a Facebook or Twitter guy, so we need an old school shout out to let his comrades in the lower 48 know.

    Thanks for letting me use your platform to salute an old friend, industry pro and a great guy.


    KC's View:

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    I've gotten numerous requests from folks living in the Portland, Oregon, area for one of those casual MNB get-togethers that we occasionally do when I'm visiting a city. And so, we're planning one for next week...

    Let's plan on meeting at 5 pm on Thursday, July 30 at Nel Centro, located at 1408 SW 6th Ave, in Portland. I'll plan on being there for a couple of hours - if the weather holds, on the outside patio - and I hope that any MNB readers who'd like to stop by will do so.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 24, 2015

    I've seen three movies recently, and for once, I can recommend all of them ... albeit for different reasons.

    Mr. Holmes is a good movie with a great performance at its core - Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes later in life - at 93, when he is retired, suffering from the early stages of dementia, struggling to recall facts of an earlier case, and in flashbacks in his sixties, conducting the investigation that led to his retirement.

    McKellen is splendid in the part, in equal parts imperious and intelligent, in many ways blissfully unaware of his inability to connect with most people on a personal level. Dr. Watson is gone, and as we know, Watson was his link to more basic human emotions, and this has in many ways isolated Holmes. In his sixties, Holmes was self-satisfied enough to find sufficient refuge in his intellect; in his nineties, as he begins to feel his mind slipping away, he's no longer sure that's enough.

    McKellen, as always, completely inhabits the part, and he is ably complemented by Laura Linney as his housekeeper, and Milo Parker as her very smart, very precocious son. If I have a complaint about the script by Jeffrey Hatcher, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, is that it doesn't seem quite up to Holmes' talents. But the movie, directed by Bill Condon, looks great, and I think it is a great way to spend an evening if you want to avoid explosions, aliens and superheroes.


    Speaking of superheroes ... I have to admit like that liked Ant-Man, maybe more than I usually like these sorts of movies. It does exactly what you expect as Marvel movie to do - deliver lots of action, leavened by knowing jokes, and heightened by sly performances by the likes of Paul Rudd (charming as the electrical engineer-turned-thief who becomes Ant-Man), Michael Douglas (gruff and knowing as the scientist who created the Ant-Man suit), and Corey Stoll (as the evil scientist who wants to use the suit for financial gain rather than good). Like I said, it touches all the beats you'd expect.

    What makes Ant-Man different is that much of the action takes place on a small, even microscopic scale ... and so the movie avoids all the massive amounts of death and destruction that typify these sorts of films. I've always hated it when movies like The Avengers destroy entire cities and kill thousands of people ... and then Iron-Man makes a joke. Ant-Man keeps the action at a proper scale, and I liked it for that restraint.


    There is, however, no restraint when it comes to the use of imagination in the new Pixar animated movie, Inside Out. This has been wildly lauded as one of the best movies of the year, but I'll go farther than that. I think it is one of the most original and innovative movies I've ever seen.

    The majority of Inside Out takes place inside the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl uprooted by her parents from their Minnesota home to San Francisco. What we spend the movie seeing are her personified and conflicted emotions - Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Indeed, these emotions live in a vast inner world where core and tangential memories are stored and where major personality facets are islands that are kept alive by the emotions. And, these emotions are in constant conflict with each other - Riley is 11, so Joy has dominated for much of her life, but the move has unleashed the rest of them, with Sadness becoming more and more dominant, and more confusing.

    I don't want to give the plot away, so suffice it to say that the story involves a journey that Joy and Sadness have to take together to help Riley find some sort of emotional stability (or at least as much as can be achieved by an 11 year old girl). In doing so, director Pete Docter (who gave us Up and who dreamed up this entire concept) has created an entirely new universe. It is familiar in some ways, but also startlingly original, and with every twist and turn we find ourselves navigating an emotional minefield that is far more interesting and honestly precarious than can be found in most movies made these days.

    There are so many business lessons to be found in Inside Out, especially if you see all these various emotions as organizational components. Sometimes, if the components are working at cross purposes, it can mean the disenfranchisement of core values (which, in this case, are the islands of personality). Balance is critical ... in people, in businesses, in virtually every organization.

    But let's not get bogged down in lessons. Inside Out is an utter delight - funny, touching, and and absolutely real, which is kind of ironic. See it ....and you don't even have to bring the kids.




    One of the pleasures of being in Portland is that there are so many places to choose from if you want something to eat and drink. Not necessarily anything fancy ... just delicious.

    For example ... last weekend I wandered over to a brewpub I'd never been to before - 10 Barrel Brewing Co, where I enjoyed two wonderful beer - Cerveza Negra, a dark beer that was spicy and perfect on a hot day, and Costa Rican Lager, which is lighter, but no less refreshing. I enjoyed it with one of the best vegetarian pizzas I've ever had ... and it made me grateful for the opportunity to just wander around the corner, walk up a couple of blocks, and find a bit of gastronomic nirvana.

    Sometimes, though, it is worth going a little farther. For example, last weekend I drove down to Carlton, to the Carlton Cellars vineyards, for an absolutely delightful lunch and wine tasting. Lunch was from the estimable Portland chef John Taboada, and I have to tell you that it was the best steak, topped with salsa verde, and potato salad I've ever eaten. And the wine...well. it was a hot day, but the Carlton Cellar wines - especially the 2014 Auxerrois and the 2014 Robin's Block blend, which consists of Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and Pinot Gris - were delicious ... perfect and tasty and a perfect way to spend a weekend afternoon.

    Just some of the pleasures of being in Portland.




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

    Fins Up!



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