Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Updated: March 24, 2023

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Dragonslayer soars onto Blu-ray and 4K disc

Paramount Studios has finally released the epic fantasy Dragonslayer on high definition disc and it's a very nice transfer, and you even get some pretty substantial extras in the Blu-ray box.

Dragonslayer is, as I noted in my original review of the DVD about 20 years ago, one of the best fantasy films I've seen – perhaps not counting Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's a classic man vs. monster story featuring a great screenplay that tells the tale intelligently and with humour. It also features top notch performances and terrific special effects (for the pre-CG era) that were nominated for an Academy Award when the film came out.

It lost to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was a shame. As much as I love Raiders, the effects in Dragonslayer are better and, thanks to the use of Go-Motion animation, more innovative. Still, I doubt the good folks at Industrial Light and Magic really cared, since they did both movies…

However one slices it, Dragonslayer is a great film and it's about time it got the treatment it deserves in this high-def era.

Dragonslayer tells the tale of Galen (Peter MacNicol), a Sorcerer's apprentice being mentored by the great-but-very old wizard Ulrich (Ralph Richardson, whose performance features a lovely blend of fatigue and majesty). At the opening, Galen watches his teacher submit to a test of his magical abilities and, afterward, takes it upon himself to help rid a distant kingdom of and old and tired dragon, kind of the fabulous beast version of Ulrich himself.

The King of the land, Casiodorus Rex (Peter Eyre), has made a horrible deal with the dragon: sacrifice virgins to it twice a year and the dragon leaves the land alone. Oddly enough, these sacrifices happen on the spring and autumn equinoxes, and I just happened to watch this new Blu-ray on the spring version, which made it kind of cool.

Anyway, the King and his regime hold lotteries to decide who's going to be eaten alive – for the greater good – by a huge, leathery beast.

As it turns out, these lotteries somehow manage to not include the daughters of the rich and powerful – in a theme where art most definitely imitates life. Right, Hunter?

The terrific script blends straightforward epic fantasy with subplots that revolve around the lessening influence of magic in the world and the growing power of Christianity (as the age of sorcerers ends, the age of religion begins, and that's pretty well where this movie is set). It also does a beautiful job of handling the politics of the kingdom and the budding romance between Galen and the newly-liberated woman Valerian. The result is an extremely entertaining whole that's greater than the sum of its many great parts. more...

Honda CR-V

Next generation Honda CR-V a most worthwhile choice

Honda's CR-V has been around for ages and continues to evolve nicely. In fact, this new version is the nicest I've driven in at least a couple of generations. Honda has, indeed, really gotten it together with this new model.

It's also the first generation of CR-V in which Honda makes a hybrid version available, a version I got to drive over the Christmas season and which – other than its extreme weather performance (which is definitely not a uniquely Honda issue) actually appealed to me more than the non-hybrid "Sport" version that's the subject of this particular rant. And I may be risking a lightning strike on my head by admitting that I preferred a hybrid to a "regular" vehicle.

Part of that is because hybrids have come a long way from being the gutless pieces of crap of days gone by. Now, you need not necessarily compromise your right foot's enjoyment to save some money on gas.

Another part is that my review gas-powered CR-V was of somewhat a lower trim level than the hybrid, so it was missing some of the features I loved on the hybrid – for example, the wonderful rear camera washer that absolutely blew me away.

I also found the gas-only engine a tad underwhelming, even though it sports a turbo.

According (no Honda pun intended) to Honda, the sixth generation of its best-selling SUV "amps up the appeal with a first time for sale in Canada, hybrid-powered Touring Hybrid trim that is positioned at the top of the CR-V lineup as well as three turbocharged trim levels, LX, Sport and EX-L. All CR-Vs feature a rugged and sophisticated exterior, a sporty and modern interior and a more emotional, adventurous and fun-to-drive experience."

It is fun to drive, too, with a very nice suspension and lovely handling. Its MacPherson strut front suspension and variable-ratio steering are mounted to a stiffer subframe that also repositions the steering rack to improve feel and accuracy (both of which are just fine, thank you). more...

Pluto TV

Mickey Mouse's dog gets his own streaming TV channel

Cord cutters interested in expanding their viewing choices for free have a wide variety of potential outlets from which to choose, a dizzying array in fact.

I'm a big fan of the Roku streaming devices, which are an affordable way to up your content ante substantially – including premium services such as Netflix, Amazon and the rest of the usual suspects. But if you don't want to pay for those services, a quick surf through the menus of available apps will bring you face to face with an amazing number of apps/channels that stream stuff for free. And you may be amazed at what you find.

And though none that I've seen so far are a real alternative to traditional cable or satellite's offerings of live content, there's still an amazing amount of stuff available to keep you happily pointing and clicking for a long, long time.

This column is a quick look at one such "channel/app" I first heard about via a radio commercial. It's Pluto TV, which is available not only for the Roku, but also for such platforms as Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android, iPhone, Android TV, Samsung, Vizio TV, Sony, Mac and Windows.

So, chances are if you have a device to which you want to stream, Pluto TV can be there for you.

I've only been using Pluto TV for a week or so but it reminds me in many ways of Roku's own Roku channel, which offers a huge swath of "live" (24/7 streaming) shows such as Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, Carol Burnett, Doctor Who, and many, many, many more.

Even their interfaces are reasonably familiar in design, though I'm still figuring out Pluto's and find it a tad weird in that I can access "all episodes" of some shows (Top Gear, for example, though it's also missing a couple of seasons for some reason) but not others. This could be a case of operator error, since I'm still new to the platform; I'd prefer to think it's fuzzy design on the part of the Pluto perps – because that way I don't feel so stupid. But I guess time will tell. more...

Subaru Legacy

Subaru Legacy a very nice vehicle to drive – unless it drives you nuts

Subaru's historic legacy is a long string of interesting, all-wheel-drive vehicles, and its current automotive Legacy continues that trend by offering a nice-to-drive sedan that'll handle all four seasons of weather with aplomb.

Alas, Subaru has chosen to follow the "nannie herd" by making the vehicle so annoying that I, for one, would hesitate to visit a dealership to purchase one.

It's too bad, because I really liked driving Subaru Canada's Legacy GT through some very wintry Calgary roads this past January. It has plenty of pickup, from its turbo "boxer" four cylinder engine, a cat-like independent suspension and Subaru's famous symmetrical all-wheel drive. I couldn't even bring myself to hate its CVT, continuously variable transmission, the way I do usually when I drive a car that's saddled with one.

Subaru's sample Legacy GT, which rang in the till at $41,995 (the base Touring is $32,995), is their largest sedan, and it's full of modern technology. It seats five comfortably, is handsome inside and outside, and will probably last as long as its owners want it to

The exterior tweaks include a new and sportier-looking front fascia, headlights and bumper (the GT trim level gets its own front grille "with bold red accent trim", and there's custom badging on the trunk lid. more...

Honda CR-VNew CR-V hybrid a very nice vehicle – but it sure hates the extreme cold!

Honda fans who've been pining for a hybrid version of the venerable CR-V SUV/Crossover can now breathe more easily, as the Japanese carmaker has introduced such a beast with the new, sixth generation version.

And it's a peach, a lovely vehicle to drive and to live with, and my complaints can only amount to nit picks against this terrific ride – something I've been loathe to say about recent Honda generations with their annoying "safety" nannies that beat you over the head with themselves.

No more! Well, more about this later…

Meanwhile, this CR-V – which Honda Canada kindly allowed me to drive over the Christmas season – delivers a hybrid experience that's not only efficient, but even fun to drive!

Just don't expect it to go quietly into the deep-frozen night!

I say that because the CR-V Touring hybrid (the vehicle's top Canadian trim level) absolutely freaked out when the temperatures dropped to the -30C range in late December. And I couldn't blame it one bit: I freaked out at the temperatures, too. more...

Jim Bray

Are electric vehicles causing a new type of road rage?

A special TechnoFile rant.

Everyone knows that electric vehicles are a wonderful panacea and that anyone who embraces them are forward thinking, wonderful people who only have the best interests of the universe in mind.


I mean, aren't electric vehicles going to singlehandedly eliminate the need for that awful black gold stuff that keeps cropping up underground – and sometimes right on the surface – while making us al happier and more productive? Etc. etc. etc.

Perhaps not. I've been skeptical about moving to electric vehicles for years – not so much because they're electric (I love that torque!) but because the technology isn't there yet. I'll feel a lot better about EV's when I can recharge one as quickly as I can gas up my A4 and drive it for as long as I can drive my A4 before it needs to be recharged. And I don't see that happening for year.

Once it does, then let's talk – and let's also talk about where that electricity comes from, whether it be solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, or unicorn farts.

Meanwhile, electric vehicles will continue to be an interesting niche useful to people whose commutes aren't particularly onerous, or who have plenty of time to sit on the roadside while their EV soaks up electricity from what could be an already overstressed electrical infrastructure.

I look forward to the kumbaya moments we'll all face, however, once the technology makes it possible for us to all join hands and celebrate mother Gaia. After all, isn't that how today's EV drivers act and feel?

Perhaps not. more...

Black Adam

Black Adam a flawed but watchable 4K Comic

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is back in the home theatre, this time in what appears to be at least partly a vanity project that brings some of the more obscure DC Comics characters to the forefront.

Black Adam, not to be confused with Black Adder (God forbid!), is a "super anti-hero", a God-like being from ancient history who's awakened in our modern day and called upon to defend his descendant countryfolk from whatever band of robbers and thugs happens to be running the show there at the time.

"There" is Khandaq, which appears to be somewhere in the Middle East. It isn't a secret place like the Marvel universe's Wakanda, but it does appear to be a tad off the beaten track. This means, at least according to some of its residents, that it's been prime for exploitation by bad folks, while also ignored by DC's usual gang of superheroes that includes such folks as Superman, Batman, and the like. No Justice League member has ever come to rescue the put upon Khandaqians (or whatever you'd call them).

Fortunately, there's the Justice Society, which supposedly predated the League in the DC universe. So some of them arrive on the modern day scene – but not to help the Khandaqians (or whatever you'd call them), but to arrest the newly-awakened and hoped for champion of Khandaq, Teth Adam, before he can wreak havoc on the modern world.

Thus is this mishmash of a movie set up, and though its story quality is very spotty – there's just too much going on here and too many people to keep track of – it ends up being at the very least a pretty decent guilty pleasure.

How's that for high praise? more...

Roku UltraNew Roku Ultra – and new Roku services – up the platform's already-substantial offerings

Roku, the streaming device company that's becoming a real power in the streaming services department as well, has a new top of the line player that ups the ante over its predecessor. It also has raised the stakes on its own streaming services, including offering its first "made for Roku" productions.

I'm a fan of Roku stuff and recommend it often to my friends and family when they're looking for a way to cut ever more out of their cable bills. You can get into a Roku for well under a hundred dollars, depending on sales, etc.; their entry level Streaming Stick 4K is on sale right now, according to the Roku home page on the device, for a paltry 50 dollars. I've reviewed this device in the past and found it an excellent performer at a great price even when it sold for $70CAD.

And while it's really all you need, the new Ultra (which, oddly enough, replaces the old Ultra) offers even more performance and features. It lists currently on Roku's Canadian website for $129.99. For that you get a more self-contained unit than with the Streaming Stick (you sit it on a shelf or whatever as opposed to merely plugging it into a vacant HDMI port on your TV. more...

Honda Passport

Honda Passport TrailSport is comfortable, efficient

Looking for a mid-sized SUV/Crossover thingy that boasts Honda quality and reliability, yet can still take you off the road if you want?

Perhaps you should check out the 2023 Passport, which Honda slots between the three row Pilot (a supposedly all-new version of which is coming as well) and the "compact SUV" CR-V. There's also the even smaller HR-V, for those who something even more diminutive, and I reviewed it recently here, liking it quite a bit despite its continuously variable transmission.

Here with the Passport, however, we get a more traditional vehicle – a V6-powered model that uses an honest to goodness automatic transmission, in this case a nine-speed one.

That's enough goodness to start with: the 3.5 litre Direct Injection, i-VTEC V6 puts out 280 horses and 262 lb.-ft of torque going to the road via 20-inch wheels (on the Touring trim level; others get 18 inches) guided by Honda's "Intelligent Variable Torque Management AWD system". That's enough for such a mainstream vehicle and the Passport uses it well. more...

Honda HR-V

Second generation Honda HR-V a satisfying ride

Honda's smallest SUV/Crossover thingy is back with an all-new set of clothes and other new features, and while its new look may be a tad generic, it's a very nice vehicle that should compete well in its market niche.

Honda says the new HR-V features "aspirational qualities beyond its segment," whatever the heck that means, appealing to "young, active buyers" thanks to its "stylish, sporty exterior and roomy, feature-rich interior." Perhaps, though I think its new "stylish, sporty exterior" is less Honda-like (I liked the outgoing version's exterior styling better, because it was less generic and more "Honda-like" than the new one, which at a quick glance could almost be mistaken for a Ford Escape).

Still, as I've said many times, beauty in a vehicle's styling is in the eye of the key holder, and I do think this new one may appeal to new buyers anyway because, however you slice it, it's still an attractive and pleasant and efficient vehicle that will probably serve its customer base extremely well.

HR-V's now come with standard digital instrumentation, a larger and more responsive engine, and new suspension design that helps add some quite "Mazda-like" fun-to-drive to the occasion – even though it's saddled with the type of continuously variable transmission that can suck the fun out of nearly any drive. . more...

War of the Worlds

Paramount releases more classic sci-fi titles on 4K disc

Paramount studios continues to enhance nerdom with a slate of 4K releases culled from classic and near classic franchise films. And in the process, they've given Star Trek fans a healthy dose of new 4K versions of the original series-related movies.

The ones I wanted to see the most were the original George Pal War of the Worlds, and the supposed Director's Cut of Star Trek the Motion Picture. Fortunately, I also got to take a look at the 4K versions of Star Trek V – the Final Frontier, and Star Trek VI – the Undiscovered Country.

Oh, and because Paramount kindly bundled a Blu-ray of George Pal's great When Worlds Collide in the War of the Worlds package, we finally get to see a good hi definition (not Ultra, alas) of this earlier classic.

War of the Worlds was one of the great sci-fi classics of the early 1950's. George Pal and Byron Haskin's adaption of Barre Lyndon's screenplay diverges a lot from H. G. Wells' original novel, for example it's set in "present day" (1950's) America instead of Victorian England. It also plays with some of the other aspects; for example, the Martian war machines' tripod legs are eliminated in favour of war machines that float over the surface of the earth as if by anti gravity. more...

Mazda CX-50

Mazda ups its SUV ante while Jeep supersizes an old friend

Whether you like your SUV and/or crossover to be big and luxurious, or small and sporty, there's an abundance of models from which to choose. And two carmakers famed for either sportiness or utility are offering brand new iterations of the old SUV/Crossover theme.

They are Mazda, with the CX-50 and Jeep, with its new Wagoneer. The first is a sporty little beauty whose existence I don't understand while the second is a huge and hedonistic land barge whose existence I don't understand, either. I'm sure profitability enters the discussion somewhere with either company, however, and that's fine.

Let's look at the Mazda first. I'm a huge Mazda fan (though there aren't really any "huge" Mazdas – the closest you can get is with the terrific, three row CX-9) and regularly recommend them to friends and anyone else who asks because I love their combination of Japanese style and quality and – though they apparently don't use this phrase anymore – "Zoom-Zoom", which means every Mazda can really be considered as a driver's car – even if it's an SUV.

The Jeep Wagoneer, meanwhile, is a huge, V8-powered beast that's guaranteed to have the Thunberg crowd curling up in fetal position. And for that we should all be grateful! The Wagoneer is an all-new version of a long gone Jeep and, while it may not be as "off-road compatible" as some other Jeeps, it's certainly a substantial urban cruiser. more...

Top Gun Maverick

Top Gun Maverick soars onto 4K disc

This past summer's theatrical blockbuster is now available on a 4K disc, and if you're a fan of the Top Gun franchise, aviation in general, and/or Tom Cruise movies, this one is a must have for the 4K home theatre.

More than 30 years after the late Tony Scott put the original Top Gun into service, Cruise and a group of producers, friends and, I assume, acquaintances revisited the concept. It would have been easy to rehash the original film – just look to such sequels as Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens, for a fairly recent example – but instead Cruise and the producers went for an all new, kind of, story that takes into account the star's age and the changing geopolitical and technological scene.

And for the most part they've done a really fine job of pulling it off. Oh, sure, I found the mission for which the pilots were training was a pretty blatant rip off of the Death Star trench battle from the first (or is it fourth?) Star Wars – which itself was a pretty blatant rip off of the mission in The Dam Busters, but if you can over look that, you're in for a fun ride.

So, I choose to overlook it, though in fairness I must note it. more...

Toyota Tundra

New generation Toyota Tundra eschews the V8 for a gutsy turbo six

It's big and it's brawny and its downsized power plants mean it's supposed to offer better gas mileage than before. But is the 2022 Toyota Tundra half ton pickup a big enough step forward to snag sales from a Big Three dominated by Ford's F-150?

Time will tell, obviously, but after my initial week in the all-new Tundra I was left feeling as if it's doubtful.

Now, full disclosure – I've said many times that I'm not a truck guy and this vehicle illustrates why: for a little guy like me, it's hard to get into and out of, and it drives more like a truck than a car or SUV (well, duh!). Not necessarily truck-related are issues such as the trouble I have seeing around its gigantic side-mounted rear-view mirrors, and the Tundra's new LCD screen interface nearly drove me nuts, a testament to today's trend toward eschewing user-friendly simplicity in favour of ever more complex and confusing interfaces that emulate smart phones.

This isn't necessarily a Toyota thing; it's widespread throughout today's carmakers.

But if you have to have a full-sized half ton pickup, this one's worth a look. You can no longer get a V8, like you still can with the North American competition, but its twin-turboed 3.5 litre V6 is a peach. Toyota rates it at "up to" 389 horses, with 479 lb.-ft. of torque and it really does feel like a V8. It even sounds like a V8 (artificially, supposedly, but effectively). There's also a hybrid version available that ups the oomph ante even more. more...

Battle of the Worlds

Battle of the Worlds Blu-ray an interesting example of 'Fettu-cine'

Everyone's heard of spaghetti westerns, but did you know there was also a genre of Italian sci-fi flicks as well?

If not, I point your attention to Battle of the Worlds, a 1961 entry by Antonio Margheriti that stars the late great Claude Rains, star of such legitimate classics as Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Invisible Man, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and so many others. Rains, near the end of his long career, is said in the essay notes that accompany The Film Detective's new Blu-ray, to have taken this role on the financial advice of his wife and, though he does tend to chew the scenery more than a tad in his portrayal of a somewhat mad (or at least antisocial) scientist, he definitely does not phone in the performance.

He's the best thing about this movie which, try as they might, the supplements (an interesting documentary about the filmmaker, a commentary track, and the liner essay), isn't nearly the masterpiece its defenders would like us to think it is.

It's definitely worth seeing at least once, and performs its role as a guilty pleasure quite well. Add to that surprisingly great special effects and some legitimate humour and you get an 82-minute experience in the home theatre that just may make you glad you invested that time. more...

Ford Maverick

Ford hopes to garner new sales with its Maverick truck

Ford has long been the "king of trucks'", at least when it comes to overall sales of its long-time top seller F-150. But the company is heading in a new direction with its brand-new Maverick, a pickup truck that isn't built like most other pickups.

The Maverick is more like Honda's Ridgeline than the F-150, or its smaller sibling the Ranger. This means that, rather than being built "body on frame" the way most pickup trucks are, it's a more car-like unibody arrangement that may not be as robust as the "dedicated" pickup trucks, but which brings its own delights to the equation – for instance, in overall driveability.

It's a rare combination in pickup trucks. Besides the Maverick and the Ridgeline, I can only think of one other such truck/car combo and that's Hyundai's new Santa Cruz, which I haven't had a chance to see – let alone drive – yet.

So, the Maverick competes in a small niche. How does it do? more...

Toyota 4RunnerToyota 4Runner TRD shows its true off-the-asphalt worth in Elk Valley jaunt

If you're heading out to the boonies, away from civilization – or even pavement – a vehicle like Toyota's famous 4Runner can help ensure you get where you're going – and then back again.

And this off-road-averse writer and a trio of others just proved it.

Utility vehicles aren't my favourite type of conveyance (better than public transit, though!), but I recently had an opportunity to learn just how great that utility can be under the right circumstances. And before I get to recounting our adventure, I'd like to thank the folks at Toyota for stepping up and lending me a vehicle for the purpose. 

It was the 4Runner with the TRD Sport option package, a vehicle I had reviewed previously here, a $53,480 atavism that may not be the most compelling or modern vehicle for city or highway driving, but which sure felt its oats when we left the pavement and headed out to recreate a trip we'd made nearly 40 years ago. more...

Dumbledore etc.

Dumbledore's secrets reveal their 4K glory in new disc release

The Potterverse is back with the third in the "Wizarding World" movies in a new 4K disc package from Warner Brothers. I'm not sure why (other than profitability reasons) these "prequels" exist, but they do and that's that.

So, we have Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, where it appears the long-time Hogwarts' headmaster (though he isn't yet in that position) has put together a kind of Justice League-type group of witches/wizards/muggle to help fight for truth, justice, and the Wizarding Way.

It appears that Grindelwald plays a part eerily similar to that of Lord Voldemort in the Potter stories – the evil wizard who wants to take over the world, including attacking the world of muggles and bringing them under his tyrannical rule. He's like a Bond villain with magical abilities. Kind of appropriate that Mikkelson (le Chiffre in Casino Royale) was cast.

Hence Dumbledore (Jude Law) and his rag tag band of little friends riding to the eventual rescue – but not before Grindelwald steals his way into power via a fixed election thanks to some corrupt "magical movers and shakers" in a manner reminiscent of how Biden was installed in the real world. In fact, there are some delicious homages – whether intentional or not – to today's real-world situation, though fortunately we don't get beaten over the head with Hollywood ideology. more...

Audi A4In praise of older cars

I have a soft spot for older cars, simpler cars, cars that are more fun – and less annoying – than many, if not most, of today's. Does that make me an atavism, or a Luddite?

Maybe. But if so, I wear those badges proudly. Here's why:

Cars today may positively bristle with lots of new features and the like, but I think they've also lost something, and that means they're not giving as much enjoyment as they could to those who truly love to drive and who don't particularly want to be beaten over the head with the technology.

It's a shame, but it also may be leading people to hold onto their older cars longer. And I think that's great, in a sad way.

I love driving cars. That's why I started writing about cars in the first place, so I could live, Walter Mitty-like, the fantasy of driving a wide range of vehicles of different makes and class.

And it's been great! One thing I've noticed over the past several years, however, is that carmakers are making their vehicles less compelling – to me, anyway. By this I mean they're adding so much crap – nannies, connectivity options, supposed safety systems, and the like – that I'm finding it less and less interesting driving many of today's supposedly state-of-the-art vehicles. I want to drive, not be driven nuts. Well, more nuts. more...

TechnoFile publisher Jim Bray's print columns are available through the
TechnoFile Syndicate.
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