|Updated: August 23, 2022 (and away from the office for a while!)|
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.
The story, or at least the science of it, is absolute twaddle. It's kind of a mishmash of When Worlds Collide and Mars Attacks!, with a dose of "First Men in the Moon" thrown in for good measure.
The story sees Dr. Fred Steele (Umberto Orsini) and his main squeeze Eve Barnett (Maya Brent) working together at some unknown astronomical station on some tropical island. They plan to leave together the next day to start a life together, but suddenly appears in the sky a rogue planet – nicknamed The Outsider – that's on a direct collision course with Earth.
Except it isn't, according to scientific patriarch and general old fart Profession Benson (Rains). He said it's only going to pass by Earth and leave it unharmed. Naturally, no one else believes him – until suddenly the planet confounds the lot of them by entering orbit around the Earth. Benson figures the Outsider must be under alien control and he calls on the world's leading bureaucrats to blow it out of the sky while they have the chance.
Of course, they waffle. Instead, an expedition is sent up to study the planet – but as the Terran spaceships approach it a bunch of flying saucers come from inside the planet and they attack and destroy the Earth ships launched to make a close study of the new planet. Is it a defense mechanism on the part of the aliens or are they getting ready to invade the Third Rock from the Sun?
We do find out eventually, even after the planet's orbit starts contracting, bringing it closer to Earth and causing all sort of the type of mayhem we're promised from Climate Change Inc., nearly every day.
But you can't rule out old Professor Benson! He figures out how to communicate with and/or control the saucers – destroying a bunch of them in the process. He even gets to catch a ride to the Outsider when a new expedition is mounted to visit the planet.
Does he save the world? Does he sacrifice his life to save the humans he so obviously despises? Or does he join the aliens and ride off into the solar sunset at the end? more...
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?
I thought it was terrific. Now, I'm not a truck guy and never will be, but within about a minute of having picked up Ford of Canada's sample Maverick, I was impressed mightily by how it drives. It drives more like a car – or, I guess, an SUV – than a truck, and to me that's a really good thing.
Most of the "regular" pickup trucks in which I've had seat time don't drive nearly as well as the Maverick. Plus, the full-sized ones are hard for me to get into (and out of without face planting) unless they come with running boards – and, once you're inside, you'll find that most of them chitter along, the rear end sliding over frost heaves, speed bumps, and the like. It isn't a great driving experience – but it does boast a lot of utility. So, if you need lots of "heavy duty" utility, the Maverick probably won't be your cup of tea.
But if your hauling needs aren't as robust, or as frequent, you might find a truck like this could be just what the doctor ordered.
Assuming you still trust doctors… more...
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.
That 1985 trip, made when we lived in Elkford, B.C. and owned and operated a restaurant in the area, was to celebrate my 33rd birthday with a lovely family-and-best-friend picnic at the gorgeous Elk Lake Park in southeastern British Columbia.
This beautiful place features a mountain lake below a glacier and is one of the most picturesque places I've ever been. Kind of like a much smaller and less accessible (and unspoiled) version of Lake Louise.
We had a wonderful day there but, on our way out, ended up bottomed out and stuck in a big mud hole, where we were forced to spend the night, listening to the howls of wild beasties while my youngest son, five years old at the time, bleated "can we go home now?" or words to that effect. That tore at our heartstrings but, being stuck and immobile, there wasn't much we could do about it till the next day when my friend and I started walking back out until we found some campers with a winch on their truck and begged them to save us.
Fortunately, they did, and we're here to tell the tale. more...
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...
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...
One of the first "cute utes" has, after decades, shed the "cute" aspect and is apparently upping the "ute" ante to make the vehicle an even more compelling choice for those who eschew asphalt periodically.
It's the RAV4 TRD, which stands traditionally for "Toyota Racing Development," not something one would necessarily connect with a compact ute like the RAV4, but Toyota has a long history of adding TRD trim to a variety of its sporty and non-sporty vehicles. And with varying results of sportiness.
And that's on top of an abundance of other RAV4 trim levels, from entry level to hybrid – 16 of them in all!
The RAV4 has been a top seller for the Japanese brand as the marketplace, alas, moves from cars to utility vehicles. Through its successive generations it has matured into an excellent vehicle that – as is typical of Toyotas – may outlive its owners.
My wife and are haven't been immune to its charms, either. Full disclosure: we own a 2013 RAV4, which is early in the previous generation and, while I'd rather be driving something a tad more fun (regular readers know I rant about Mazdas) and in this niche the CX-5 would be my go-to SUV, except that at the time we were shopping we couldn't find one in our price range that wasn't bagged. But my wife wanted a RAV4 anyway, so, we have one and are very happy with it. more...
Who would you want protecting your city: the Caped Crusader or a G-Man and his team?
Well, I suppose it depends on the movie in which you find yourself, which brings up a couple of new 4K disc titles, each of which is worth seeing for mostly different reasons.
First up is The Batman, the hot new title sent to me by Warner Brothers. Yeah, they've taken another dive into the stuff whose rights they own, bringing a whole new Batman and a whole new feel to the guy.
The other is The Untouchables, director Brian De Palma and writer Douglas Mamet's cinematic version of the old TV series starring Robert Stack. I never saw that series, but I do like the movie – very much. In fact, between these two, I'd pick Untouchables every time. It's a tad more graphic in its depiction of violence, but overall a better story and a better movie.
Not that The Batman, directed and co-written by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Planet of the Apes reboots), isn't worth your time – even though, at 176 minutes, it's going to require a lot of it – too much, in fact. more...
This is not your average Western! And it isn't your average 4K disc package, either.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a classic western from John Ford, one of the last major outings for the four-time Oscar winning director (at least, that's what they say in the generous extras that come on the included Blu-ray disc). It features a cast of big names and small names – journeyman actors all, and all combine to create a believable and compelling drama. Warts and all.
Yet nowhere in the movie or its supplements – except for a brief teasing mention at the end of the original theatrical trailer – does the Gene Pitney hit song appear. I almost cried myself to sleep!
Anyway, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance pairs James Stewart with John Wayne, apparently for the first time together. Stewart plays Ransom Stoddard, Attorney-At-Law, a wet behind the ears dude who follows Horace Greely's advice to "Go West, Young Man" and heads to the town of Shinbone to hang out his shingle.
Before he gets there the stagecoach on which he's riding is attacked by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin, in a deliciously evil performance) and his gang, and Stoddard is beaten up and given his first lesson in the law of the jungle that prevailed in the territory at that time. Once in Shinbone he's befriended by most of the locals, including the lovely Miss Hallie (Vera Miles) who just happens to be the girlfriend of rugged Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), the only man who seems able to stand up to the vicious thug Valance.
This movie has nearly everything. more...
The 2022 Acura RDX is a mostly terrific mid-sized luxury SUV that goes head-to-head with some pretty high-powered competitors from around the world.
The vehicle, now in its third generation, balances luxury and style with performance, while adding Honda/Acura's usual annoyances that try very hard to suck out any of the joy the driving experience might otherwise bring you.
And that's too bad. I've always liked the RDX – it's more my size of vehicle than its big brother the MDX, for example, more like a Porsche Macan compared to a Cayenne. Not that I want you to think the RDX can go head-to-head with that lovely SUV (well, to be fair, I haven't driven a Macan since the model first came out, so Porsche may have ruined it as well, though I doubt it), I'm just putting it into market perspective.
Actually, a better comparison might be to Lexus' brand new, second generation NX, which I reviewed here. It's ironic, in a "there's just no pleasing some people" kind of way because I liked driving the RDX better than the Lexus, but I'd rather live with the Lexus.
A big part of the reason is the damn trackpad Acura has decided to inflict upon its owners – just as Lexus starts getting rid of its version of the abomination. Trackpads are finicky and require you to take your eyes off the road far too much.
Oh, sure, there's voice recognition and activation, but I think it's going to take several more years for such systems (not just Acura's, but most – if not all – of them) to really become useful.
Why not just make things simple? more...
Honda's Ridgeline, Black Edition, is the top trim level of Honda's pickup truck, and it continues the company's tradition of offering an unconventional, car-based choice in a market dominated by "body on frame" trucks.
It must be working, because after over a decade of being alone in the marketplace, the Ridgeline is finally getting some competition for your pickup truck budget: Ford's Maverick and Hyundai's Santa Cruz. I haven't driven either, but I've driven the Ridgeline several times, in both of its generations, and have always liked it a lot.
Oh, it suffers from the Honda-isms that drive me nuts these days (stick around and I'll whine about them yet again), but on the whole it's a great vehicle – a modern-day interpretation, you could say, of such oldies but goodies as the Rancheros and El Caminos. Except it's also a real truck rather than just a two-seat car with a bed.
Now, I'm not a pickup truck guy and never will be, which may be one of the reasons I like the Ridgeline: it's more of a car/SUV than a traditional truck. Think Honda Pilot with a bed. That means that, unlike the old Rancheros et al, you get seating for five. It also means that, unlike traditional pickup trucks, you still get a real, live trunk – and a lockable one at that. In this case, it's in the bed, back near the tailgate.
There isn't a lot that's new about the 2022 model compared to 2021, but there were many changes and upgrades last year and the only things I could think of for them to upgrade would be the nannies and other stuff I've grown to hate about a car company whose products I have traditionally loved. Things like no tuning knob for the audio system and an LCD screen on the centre stack that's busy, hard to fathom, and insensitive enough to the touch of a human finger that I mulled bringing in a ball peen hammer to help. more...
Mazda's great CX-5 SUV/Crossover continues to get even better with some upgrades for 2022 that up the performance and comfort antes.
It's my favourite model of the ones in this niche that I've driven – and even in some higher niches in which it doesn't pretend to compete, such as the luxury market. In fact, if you drove it back-to-back with some higher end product such as Lexus, Infiniti and the like, you might just find that the Mazda offers nearly as much luxury, but is easier to live with and more fun to drive.
How can that be a bad thing?
For 2022, those ante updates include adding its i-Activ all-wheel drive across the line, from the base model right up to the one of Mazda Canada's sample, the Signature Edition.
Fans of the CX-5 may notice that for 2022 the vehicle has also received a freshening of its already handsome exterior, with tweaked front and rear ends (wish I could tweak MY rear end!), with the front fascia getting a new "signature wing" extending out from the new grille. The head and taillights are also new, each of the lights featuring horizontally spaced, rectangular LED lights. New aluminum alloy wheels also enhance the vehicle's stance.
Opt for the GT trim level and the 2022 version also gets you the option of a "sport appearance package" with gloss black finishes and an interior with red accents and stitching. Not a big deal, for sure, but still nice.
The Signature model also ups the appearance ante, with body coloured exterior cladding with bright silver-finished wheels. The interior is appointed with premium quality materials such as Nappa leather and real wood. more...
I may have a new favourite Lexus and, risking being struck by lightning, it's an SUV!
Last year I was impressed mightily by the new IS 350, which is a really nice sports sedan as long as you don't drive it like a sports sedan. And, being a car guy and not particularly an SUV guy, I really wanted to love it. If Lexus updates it with the new stuff they've crammed into the NX, I might love it again.
But in the meantime, wow, this is one really nice SUV and, unlike some other Lexi I could mention, it's also a relative blast to drive, with an honest to goodness Sport (and, even better, Sport +) modes.
And even better: they've dumped that horrible trackpad on the centre console that I've complained about ever since they introduced it several years ago. more...
Can a minivan be sporty?
Well, I guess it depends on your definition of "sporty," but the current Toyota Sienna comes as close to being a "sports van" as any I've driven over the years. Oh, Porschefiles and aficionados of stuff like "Zoom-Zoom" may not find it truly sporty, and in the grand scheme of things it probably isn't, but I find it quite amazing just how driveable this minivan is.
Even with a damn CVT transmission!
Sportiness is probably not something most minivan shoppers seek out, but if you can get it and you enjoy the art of driving, why not? more...
Paramount Pictures has given one of the most honoured films in Hollywood history – and its two sequels – a new lease on life thanks to a meticulous 4K restoration of Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy. And, especially if you don't own the movies already, it's definitely worthy of your time.
I'm not going to get into the storylines of the films, which have been discussed ad nauseam, but rather I'll go over this terrific new five disc set (four 4K discs and a Blu-ray full of mostly great extras) so you can know what to expect from it.
I didn't remember the third movie that well, and it seems as if a lot of people had a really good time dumping all over it when it came out so many years after we assumed the saga had ended. I remember thinking it was better than many folks had made out – of course, one person's feast being another's famine – but it wasn't as memorable as the first two.
Now, however, Paramount has given Coppola a chance to rethink that third feature and the result is the re-edited The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which is now the "official" third film in the trilogy's set. more...
The Subaru Forester was arguably the company's first SUV, though it may have seemed more like a tall wagon than a Sport Ute. Since then, the company has expanded its SUV offerings, but the Forester is still around and there are still a lot of things to like about it.
It's still my favourite Subaru, in fact, one which I would have put one on my short list back in the day had I been in the market. And the stuff that made that Forester so compelling then are still there: symmetrical all-wheel drive, good ground clearance, plenty of storage/hauling space and good driving dynamics.
This current model is the fifth-generation of Forester and Subaru unleashed it on the marketplace in 2019. Typically, this means it's time for a mid-cycle refresh and that's exactly what Subaru has given it. There isn't a lot that's new, but the tweaks include a new bumper and headlights, a redesigned panel under the rear bumper and new trim around the rear window.
You also get some new materials and colours – at least you can on the top-line Premium trim level of Subaru's sample.
But this stuff is really just gilding the lily – and adding marketing opportunities for Subaru – for what was already very nearly a great car, er, SUV. more...
"Go fourth and multiply" may be Warner Brothers' catchphrase upon the unleashing of the latest entry in its very profitable Matrix series of movies. And for fans, it's probably well worth the time.
It's also a darn fine presentation if you're looking for an excellent 4K picture to show off your video equipment and make your friends jealous.
I saw all three of the original Matrix movies, the second and third reluctantly since I had to review them – otherwise I wouldn't have sought them out at all. Oh, I enjoyed the first two films, but the third seemed to me quite incoherent and suffered more than a tad from "sequelitis", a disease from Hollywood where the marketing potential seems to push the story telling potential to the sidelines.
That made me not really interested in seeing this new version – The Matrix Resurrections – but Warners sent me the 4K disc and so I fired it up and swallowed the red pill. And while I was mostly right about it – it didn't really need to be made nor does it really move the Matrix bar a lot – it's still quite enjoyable, and it does look really good in 4K! more...
Looking for a sound bar with audiophile credentials? If so, you might want to take a look at a brand new sound bar from British high end audio company Bowers & Wilkins, a bar the company claims "delivers the ultimate one-box immersive audio experience."
That's quite a boast, but is it true?
Well, alas, I have no idea because this sound bar is so new I haven't actually heard it, let alone played with it. But the company has a long and honoured history of making quality speaker products, from the tiny but exquisite P15 wireless ear buds I reviewed last year to the gigantic and lusted after Nautilus floor standing speakers that look and sound spectacular – and retail for a whopping $70,000 Canadian dollars (for the pair, fortunately!).
And, naturally, there's a lot in the middle there, too, including the M-1 satellite speaker you can team up with a subwoofer for a great 2.1 system. They've even made some darn fine computer speakers, such as the MM1's I use currently despite them being over a decade old, and they also make some very nice conventional, over the ear headphones.
And now they're back in the sound bar biz. more...
One of the original SUV's in the marketplace – and showing its age – still offers a lot of Toyota goodness for folks looking for robust off-road performance.
It's the 4Runner, of course, the bulletproof SUV based off the Tacoma pickup truck. Toyota sent the TRD Sport edition, which isn't really a lot sportier than the "pedestrian" versions, though it does up the off-road ante a tad for those who might want to exploit the 4Runner's legendary prowess away from the asphalt.
That package adds $3210 CAD to the 4Runner's base prise of $50,270, which is starting to be serious money, especially for a vehicle that feels as if it's 10 years old. I daresay many people don't care about either the price or the "seasoned" feel of the vehicle, because the 4Runner continues to show up in good numbers on the roads around here. And there are reasons for that – ruggedness, reliability, all the stuff like that for which Toyota is known.
For example, my eldest son has an old 4Runner that's still a great vehicle, and he swears by it. more...
John Carpenter has made a lot of great – or at least very good – movies over his career, and most of them have never had sequels, or at least sequels he was actually involved in (I can't blame him for the abundance of Halloween movies that came after his, for example).
An exception is his sequel to "Escape from New York," in which war hero gone bad Snake Plissken (the always great, and often Carpenter-collaborator Kurt Russell) was forced to enter Manhattan – now a maximum-security prison – to rescue the kidnapped President of the United States. It was a ripping yarn, despite the overall silliness of turning Manhattan into a prison.
Oh, wait, hasn't the government there done that already, with its COVID crap?
But I digress… more...
The Toyota Corolla is a great car, one that has helped propel its maker to the heights of automotive success over its many decades of production and sales around the world. And now Toyota is upping its ante – by which I mean it's jacking it up higher than a traditional sedan would be and turning it into a little SUV/Crossover thingy, undoubtedly as a way to convince folks currently eschewing sedans that they can have their Corolla cake and eat it, too.
It's a decent vehicle, too, though it makes me wonder why Toyota would bother with it when they already have the little CH-R for offer. On the other hand, the CH-R is smaller and isn't available with all-wheel drive. So go figure. And the CH-R is, to these old eyes, weird looking, with its multiple creases and folds and stuff, whereas the Corolla Cross looks pretty much like a smaller RAV4.
Alas, the current RAV4 got a substantial uglification during its switchover from the previous to the current generation, though that doesn't seem to have affected its sales any. And as I've said before, beauty is in the eye of the keyholder, so one person's assault on the eyes is another's Automotive Mona Lisa.
Whatever way you slice it, they're all excellent vehicles and this new Corolla Cross will also undoubtedly serve its customers well. more...
It's getting to be hard finding a manual transmission these days, and that's a real shame. But Honda is riding to the rescue with a stick version of their new Civic – in some versions, anyway – and it's a wonderful thing to use even if it isn't the best stick Honda has made.
Part of the reason I love a manual is that it not only gives you better control over the vehicle, it also helps make you part of the process of driving, making you pay attention to what you're doing (theoretically, anyway). If you love driving, this can be a big deal. If a vehicle is just transportation to you, you may not care – and you may even prefer not having to shift it yourself.
Another reason to love a stick is because it's very handy when the roads get less than optimal – via snow, rain or whatever. You can use the transmission for the most part, rather than the brakes, on slippery roads and that helps prevent the wheels from locking up (when you hit the brakes) and causing a slide or a skid.
Alas, the majority of consumers appear to prefer going through life in a rather shiftless manner, and so manual transmissions are an endangered species. more...
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