|Updated: April 8, 2021|
If you thought Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments looked great in its Blu-ray version, wait till you get a view of the new, 4K disc version.
It may have been created from the same master as the 10-year-old Blu-ray, but the extra resolution and High Dynamic Range allow for a spectacular "new" version of this spectacular film.
It's kind of analogous to the 4K Lord of the Rings trilogy, which looked tremendous in its DVD and Blu-ray versions, but then the 4K version came along and blew them right out of the water.
And, funny, while upping the video ante often makes the seams, the flaws, show up more, here, the obvious blue screen shots are still obvious, but appreciably smoother than they appeared on the Blu-ray version (which also accompanies this new 4K pressing in the box – along with a digital code).
Yeah, as someone who watches this movie every year around this time, this is the version to cherish.
At least until the 8K version arrives!
The remastering/restoration of the film for its 2011 Blu-ray turned the film into a 6K file, so even in the 4K version it's "dumbed down" a tad. Doesn't matter, but it does make me wonder if they'll have to upconvert it to 8K from 6K when the time comes (assuming it does). I'll be curious to see.
In the meantime, check out the fine detail here, especially in close up shots. And the colour! And the black levels! This really is a transfer for the ages, though I must admit that some of the longer shots – and many of the blue screen shots – aren't nearly as good. This is typical, however, and the overall film looks so good it's almost as if it were shot yesterday (except the performances from the mostly-dead cast might be a tad more wooden…).
As nearly everyone knows by now, Charlton Heston stars as Moses, the Hebrews' eventual deliverer from bondage in Egypt. The meandering storyline starts with Pharoah's order to kill all the new-born Hebrew children to prevent one of them from growing up and delivering his people from that bondage. Except one baby is saved and adopted by an Egyptian princess to raise as her own.
Naturally, that'll come back to bite her a couple of hours of running time later.
I'm not going to be bogged down recounting a story nearly everyone knows; suffice it to say that this "cast of thousands" epic motion picture is not only a moving and powerful religious epic but it's also a story of the best – and the worst – of what makes us human beings.
The cast is outstanding. The sets and the special effects are also top notch, though the effects are limited by 1950's technology. But the parting of the Red Sea and some of the shots of Egypt at the height of its glory are really worth seeing, especially in 4K.
As I mentioned in my review of the Blu-ray back in the day, the excellent restoration isn't perfect, but it's darn fine and the process by which the film was restored is fascinating. more...
Warner Brothers' latest Wonder Woman movie is a bold attempt at following up the terrific original from 2017 but, it falls well short of being close to its quality.
There's a reason I love "origin stories," such as the first Superman (1978), Batman Begins, the first Spider-man, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, etc. etc. etc. Sure, they spend half the running time building background and the world and its characters, but we also get to see the heroes at the beginning, when they're learning their abilities and also learning that (to coin a phrase) "with great power comes great responsibility".
Then, with the second, we're faced with filmmakers who think the sequel has to be "bigger and badder" in order to ensure bums in the seats. They're wrong, in my never humble opinion, but what can you do?
Then there's the DC comics universe's extremely spotty record when it comes to its superhero movies. Richard Donner's Superman is the only Man of Steel movie worth seeing – despite about a hundred others having been done since then. And while Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy was excellent, the Tim Burton ones (and whoever else directed Batflicks back then) can't hold a candle to it, nor can all the various Zack Snyder (etc.) super films.
It's a shame. As a kid I was definitely a DC guy and rarely, if ever, read Marvel. Yet Marvel has an astonishing track record of making great, fun movies of their franchise characters (though they may be about to kill off the golden goose with wokeness – time will tell), whereas other than Nolan's and Donner's films I can only think of the original Wonder Woman and Aquaman as being particularly enjoyable movies.
Still, Wonder Woman Won, er One, was a terrific film, as good as many of the Marvel-ous competitors. I'd never read a WW comic book nor seen the old Lynda Carter TV series – and these days I'm suspicious of anything overtly sex – oops, gender – based because I don't trust Hollywood not to beat the audience over the head with Narrative/Agenda crap. And I was afraid that would happen with The Lady of Wonder (oops, did I just assume her gender?).
But it didn't. It was great! more...
Want to enter the world of audiophile listening but don't know where to start? There's a new book and accompanying high resolution disc combination available now that can help you learn where to start, where to focus your time and attention, and even how to listen critically.
The book is "The Stereo", an "Audiophile's Guide" coming from the word processor of long-time audiophile and entrepreneur Paul McGowan, who also happens to be one of the movers and/or shakers behind Boulder, Colorado's PS Audio company.
It isn't for everybody, but if you plan to drop even just a few grand on a higher end audio system, the $58US the pair costs could be an excellent investment that could actually save you money by helping you not waste it.
The book promises on its cover to help you "unlock the secrets to great sound" and after having read the book I'm on board – although as a contemporary of Mr. McGowan (I never had an audio company of my own, however, just a long-term abiding love for good audio and video) I already knew a lot of the wisdom imparted in the pages.
That didn't prevent me from doing some tweaking anyway, based on McGowan's advice, and the results improved my listening experience – which was already pretty darn fine anyway.
One thing this book won't help you with is building a home theatre with surround sound (hopefully, that will be covered in an upcoming volume), and while the advice is good and it makes a lot of sense, new audiophiles may find that it isn't a panacea because, as has been said many, many times before, it doesn't matter how ultimate your sound may be if the recordings you're playing are crappy to begin with.
Yeah, "garbage in, garbage out."
That said, the advice in this book is for people who want their listening experience to bring them the source music in a manner that best approximates the listener actually being there in the recording session. And for recordings such as that (and there are plenty available), the results of setting up a system as Mr. McGowan outlines can be fantastic. more...
With a new trim level and other upgrades for 2021, Toyota thinks its three row Highlander SUV/Crossover thingy is now an even more compelling buy than it was already.
And it probably is, though it's fighting in a tough arena these days, with excellent competing vehicles such as Kia's Telluride and the Mazda CX-9. And while it's probably the least interesting of these three vehicles to drive, it does offer all the usual Toyota goodness when it comes to build quality and features that are included in the price.
This is about midway through the current Highlander version, which came out in 2018, and this year Toyota has upped the creature features ante (no, there's no horror movie playing on the LCD screen…) with the new XSE trim level, which the company says adds sportier performance and style.
It could certainly use a sportiness upgrade – like a lot of Toyotas – but if you're comparing driving fun between the Highlander and the CX-9 (check out my recent review here), the Toyota is going down for the count compared with "Zoom-Zoom." And that's even though the Toyota still offers a lovely V6!
Of course, not everyone is looking for pedal to the metal thrills in a three-row crossover/SUV-type thingy – or even a Toyota that doesn't wear a Supra or 86 badge – so there's that, and judging by the number of Highlanders I see around here Toyota seems to know what it's doing. Not that that is a surprise…
Not just the XSE is new this year, though. The company says it has also added its Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ technology to all Highlanders, a bunch of active safety systems that are designed to keep you safe even if you have no business being behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle.
Time to sell all those shares you have in driving schools? more...
One's a big, three row SUV and the other's a midsize sedan. And they're both Mazdas, turbocharged for maximum "Zoom-Zoom" effect.
How can that be a bad thing?
Regular readers of my columns (you both know who you are!) know undoubtedly that I'm a big fan of all things Mazda. I love their typically Japanese build quality; I mostly love the way Mazdas look – and most of all I love how Mazdas drive. While it appears that they've put their "Zoom-Zoom" marketing strategy to rest in recent times, it still applies to the feeling you get when driving one of their vehicles, whether the smallest or the largest in their stable.
And because of that I'm going to keep using "Zoom-Zoom" until they send me a cyst and decease notice.
The company seems to be moving its emphasis quite a bit toward adding luxury touches now, though, elevating their mainstream models to a level of equipment you might not expect in these particular market niches. And all without harming the "Zoom-Zoom."
For example, you can get a fully loaded CX-9, the Signature trim level, for $51,850 (the 100th anniversary one adds a couple of grand, but the Signature edition is the one for which I'd opt) and, though it's a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, the Lexus RX 350 Black Line Edition I drove the week before the CX-9 listed for $65,000. And while the Lexus piles on the luxury and amenities, I'd gladly save the more than 10 grand and have a vehicle that is arguably nearly as luxurious, but which adds a third row of seats (you can get that in the RX, too, but prepare to pay at least 60 grand to start), much better driving dynamics, paddles shifters that actually work well, and more.
Even though the Lexus has a great V6 engine, I'd still opt for the Mazda. more...
Want to try vaping, but don't want to pay through the nose for something you may end up not enjoying?
Well, friends, the folks at TVape (short for Toronto Vaporizer, which causes my Albertan flesh to crawl, but which is actually a pretty darn robust site for those interested in imbibing cannabis without the smoke and other assorted bad things connected with burning it) have a couple of suggestions for trying vaping without breaking the bank.
They offered me two models for review and, since I'm an idiot when it comes to stuff like this, I once again trotted out (well, virtually exhumed) the panel of friends and acquaintances I've used in a series of other columns looking at vaping and the innumerable ways of doing it.
Alas, one of our chief panellists passed on during the past year. Vern was a victim of not having acquired Covid – dying of just about every other condition and affliction one can imagine, while everyone around him was running around and waving their arms in panic. Still, that leaves a few others who are always up for trying an interesting new vape and they rose to the occasion as usual.
The two vapes are the $97.79 CAD Utillian 421 and the LITL1, which their site lists for $39.99 USD. Both offer good vaping experiences, though one rose to the top of the comparison easily and for a few specific reasons. more...
When looking for a Lexus vehicle – SUV, car, whatever – do you look for luxury and quality construction foremost, before other aspects such as driving dynamics?
And it's a very nice vehicle, indeed, comfortable and cozy and full of creature comforts. But it ain't no Cayenne or X5, etc. Not that it claims to be.
So, if you care about having a bit of fun with your right foot, this may not be your vehicle. On the other hand, one can't argue its success, nor its excellence.
And for 2021, Lexus has added a supposedly limited-edition Black Edition, which ups the luxury ante via an $8,850 package. That's what Lexus Canada's sample had and, yes, it does give you some nice toys and tools.
The power is fine, and the engine is very smooth but, thanks at least in part to an eight-speed automatic that replaced the old six speed they had a few years back, it runs up through the gears as quickly as it can to lower the revs and save gas. At least it has paddle shifters on this version, though they seem to shift more when the vehicle deigns to than when you deign it to. So, the paddles are welcome, but not particularly helpful. more...
LG seems to be on a roll these days. Whether it's smart phones, appliances, televisions or whatever, the company offers innovation and quality that used to be reserved for tech companies from different parts of the world such as Japan, Europe and North America.
It's kind of the way the car market is going as well: South Korean companies used to be known for junk (remember the Hyundai Pony?) but have come a long way in a relatively short time. Heck, I remember when LG was "Lucky Goldstar" (well, I remember Goldstar products) and you'd buy their equipment not in high tech stores but places like Sears or Canadian Tire, where they'd share shelf space with brand names such as Candle or Lloyd's.
Now, LG (and its South Korean competitor Samsung) need apologize to no one. In fact, they're now leading the way in some areas that were traditionally the playing field of older big, established companies. For example, LG is the leader in OLED TV technology today and that's the best type of flat panel TV you can buy. But it's a technology pioneered years ago by Sony – who, ironically, are now buying OLED panels from LG. more...
Minivans and sports cars. Shall the twain ever meet?
I mean, when one talks of utility vehicles – as opposed to SUV/crossovers – one can be forgiven for thinking of minivans, pickup trucks, "real" vans and delivery vehicles, etc. But, while I've seen some rather lame – er, sorry, physically challenged – analogies to minivans and sportiness over the years, they're few and far between. And, in my never humble opinion, they're mostly BS.
Why? Minivans are the height (and width and length) of practicality for family hauling, whether hauling the family or the family's stuff (or both). And they're great for that.
One thing I've never known them for, however, was being compelling driver's vehicles.
Enter the 2021 Toyota Sienna. Oh, sure, it's still a minivan in every way, and Toyota's new generation of its long-lasting family hauler is now available in these parts only as a four-cylinder hybrid. Despite that, this is a minivan that's actually quite a bit of fun to drive. more...
When the snow flies and the drifts get deep, it's nice to have a vehicle with robust four-wheel drive to get you through it. And it's especially nice when it's a vehicle with good ride height that can navigate the deep December doo-doo as if it were born for it.
Such is the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4x4 – at least for the most part.
We had about a foot and a half of snow dumped on our little corner of the Rocky Mountain foothills just before Christmas, and it was enough to keep less capable vehicles either off of the road or stuck in the snow; heck, I helped push multiple vehicles into or out of their parking spots during that time, just on my little hilly cul-de-sac.
Thanks to having the Jeep that week, our personal vehicles didn't have to leave the garage, and it was just as well. Oh, my dear wife's RAV4 would probably have gotten through the stuff okay even though it's only part time all-wheel drive and could stand to be a bit higher in the ground clearance department – but my A4 quattro wagon, with its lowered sports suspension, would never have made it out of the garage until the alley behind our house was plowed (which means, Spring thaw or the next Chinook…) because it would've bottomed out. more...
My favourite compact ute is back with some new tweaks for 2021, as well as a couple of new editions, one of which is a celebration of Mazda's centennial.
It's the CX-5, which started life a bit underpowered but was still lots of fun to drive, and Mazda has wisely upped the oomph ante over the years, a tad at least. But with the introduction of the company's lovely optional 2.5 litre turbo four a while back, acceleration angst is now a thing of the past. And that's wonderful!
It's also a pretty luxurious vehicle in the upper trim levels. A Signature trim was introduced for 2019, which also included that turbo four (which Mazda also makes available nearly right across its line). That version didn't come with paddle shifters, though Mazda has now corrected that oversight with the 2021 CX-5. And the paddles work well, though if you don't shift it into sport mode the transmission will go back to sleep again if you aren't prodding it enough to satisfy it. And that's fine.
For 2021, Mazda has introduced a Kuro edition of the CX-5 as well as the special 100th Anniversary model. Mazda's sample was the centennial edition, and it's simply a splendid example of the compact SUV persuasion. more...
Fans of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy are in for a treat with the new 4K treatment the films have received just in time for Christmas. It's a spectacular package, a nine-disc set that includes both the theatrical and the extended versions of Jackson's three classic fantasy films.
And if that isn't enough for Middle Earth for you, Warner Brothers has also released the Hobbit trilogy in 4K.
I'm a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and have auditioned all the video versions, from the original DVD's of the theatrical versions to these brand new 4K transfers. I'm also a fan of the original J.R.R. Tolkien books, but upon rereading the Fellowship of the Ring a couple of years ago I discovered I now find the books unnecessarily bloated and actually prefer Jackson's versions – the extended editions, at least. more...
The quality of Eddie Murphy's movies varies over the decades he's been working, but when the stars align – stars, screenplay, director, etc. – you can be assured of at least a fun time in your home theatre.
And now, Paramount Pictures is releasing four of his better flicks, just (coincidentally, I'm sure) in time to promote the upcoming Coming 2 America sequel. Obviously, Coming to America is one of these new video releases, along with Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, and the Golden Child. The latter two, Paramount says, have been given the 4K treatment, but aren't yet available as 4K discs, only as conventional 1080p Blu-rays.
Which begs the question: why not 4K now? The studio claims all have been redone in 4K, so why expect fans to shell out twice? Just release 'em all in 4K and include a Blu-ray in the box as has been done with innumerable other 4K titles. more...
Out goes the "car", in comes the "SUV" – and that's the tale of the Toyota Venza. Well, part of it.
Time was when the Venza occupied a kind of unique niche in the car marketplace, at least in North America: a tall station wagon. Station wagons are rare here, unfortunately, though other parts of Parent Earth still do brisk business with them. Here, we get a few wagons, mostly German (not that there's anything wrong with that!), but even sedans and coupes are threatening to become an endangered species in these parts in favour of SUV's.
So, Toyota has now brought back the Venza, "rebirthing" it as a, well, a big RAV4 – though it isn't even really much bigger than the RAV in size. Toyota is slotting the new, two row Venza SUV between the RAV and the larger, three row Highlander, filling a whole in their product line that I didn't think existed. Seems silly to me, but the carmakers never ask my opinions (It may be a defence mechanism on their parts…). Besides, fortunately, the new Venza is a really nice vehicle that will probably sell by the truckload. more...
It appears that, these days, there's a week, or a month, or a day, for just about any cause one can imagine. And last week, October 18 to 24 was apparently named National Teen Driver Safety Week, at least judging by the press releases I've received on the topic.
These releases offer a variety of tips for teenagers as they get behind the wheel of their vehicle, things such as remembering to mute your phone (in fact, in one release I got they say you should put it into Airplane Mode!), planning your route in advance, keeping both hands on the steering wheel, etc.
One organization, in their press release, even called upon the young drivers' passengers to rat 'em out: "Speak Up: As a passenger, help by speaking up if your driver decides to interact with a mobile device. Feel confident to ask them to stop immediately, and demand that they pull over and then use their phone safely." more...
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