| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |

Updated July 18, 2019

Shazam! is a better than expected pro-family superhero flick

You could look at it as a Superman meets Big. In fact, that's how the filmmakers refer to it in the supplements that accompany Warner Brothers' new superhero release, Shazam! But however you look at it, Shazam! is both fun, and worth a view.

Movies from the DC comic universe has been spotty at best, but there are a few nuggets to be found in the collection, in recent years, starting with Wonder Woman and including Aquaman. And that's about it, for quality and highly enjoyable comic book flicks among the DC flicks I've seen. Until now.

Shazam! isn't in the same league as Wonder Woman, or even Aquaman, but on the whole it's a worthy entry, enjoyable and reasonably intelligent. It also sends a real pro-family message (though not necessarily "nuclear family") that seems kind of out of place in Hollywood these days. It deals with young people from broken – or no, I assume – homes who want to feel like part of something, even if they may not initially know it.

Such is the situation of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a 14 year old who got separated from his mother years earlier and has since bounced around foster homes and foster families while simultaneously disappearing from said fosters repeatedly in what "the system" thinks is a sign of a character flaw whereas what he's really doing is trying to find his mother.

His latest foster family includes a pair of foster parents who do their best to provide a stable and loving environment. His "siblings" in this house include a variety of stereotypes: nerdy superhero buff Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), precocious and loquacious black kid (Faithe Herman), the apparently sullen and silent Hispanic (Jovan Armand), the teen who aspires to college (Grace Fulton) and an Asian wunderkind (Ian Chen).

Billy, as usual, is having trouble fitting in but manages to befriend – or, perhaps more accurately, is befriended by the irresistible force that is Freddy Freeman. This comes in very handy when, seemingly out of the blue, Billy's transported to some alternate world by an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who is desperate to find a padawan learner (oops, sorry, wrong universe) to take over from him. All Billy has to do is grab onto the guy's big magic staff (remembering that this is a sexless, G-rated movie – though with some cussin'…) and say his name: Shazam! more...

Kia TellurideKia Telluride a big eye opener in the three row SUV market

Kia's new big SUV, the Telluride, is a great vehicle and if you're looking for a large, three row model such as this, you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

This advice also applies to folks shopping in the luxury SUV market – vehicles such as the Lexus RX 350L, Acura MDX and the rest of the competition from Asia, Europe and North America. The Telluride doesn't pretend to be a "luxury crossover," and it doesn't sport the amount of niceties you can find in the "higher end" models – but it's plenty luxurious enough for me (and possibly someone else…) and drives as well as or better than the competitors I've been lucky enough to spend time in.

It reminds me of the Mazda CX-9 in this regard, except I may just like the Kia a bit better.

It's priced right, too, assuming any vehicle these days is. You can get into a loaded one for $53,995 Canadian – compared to $66,250 for a base RX 350L, $56,591.25 for a base MDX, $66,300 for the entry level Audi Q7. A CX-9 Signature Edition (the top end one) is about the same price as the Kia.

Sure, there's some apples-versus-oranges comparison in there, but my point is to showcase just how great a value the Telluride is (and the Mazda, too).

And if that's too dear, the Telluride starts at $44,995 for the base, EX AWD version. more...

Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Cherokee – a classic off roader still relevant in the present

Most people, it seems to be the consensus, never take their SUV/Crossovers off the road, preferring them as more "garden variety" family and stuff haulers for their duties on asphalt wherever it may be found.

Nothing wrong with that, of course; after all, we're supposed to embrace diversity, right? Most people probably never haul building materials or furniture in their pickup trucks, either, yet they're the top selling vehicles on this continent. And it's nobody's business what someone else drives.

Some people do choose to go into the great open spaces with their SUV/Crossovers, too, and that's just fine. But these folks need something a tad more, shall we say, robust in their off-asphalt capabilities, something that will take them up the side of Mount Everest one trip, then to the side of the drive through window at Harvey's the next.

Fortunately, the relatively free market allows for such diversity of vehicle and there are plenty from which to choose. There are vehicles from Japan (i.e., the Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder) and Germany (such as the Mercedes-Benz G class) and England (do the names "Land Rover" and "Range Rover" sound familiar?).

And for those who choose to drive vehicles whose companies call North American home (well, mostly, since the subject of this column is kind of Italian in ownership) there is probably no name more familiar than Jeep. Jeep hearkens back to World War II and the Willys GP (General Purpose) that was the "car" of the militarY. more...

Ford F-150 King RanchFord F-150 King Ranch an awesome hauler

There are Ford F-150's and there are Ford F-150s. And one of the most lusted after among them is the King Ranch.

Well, that's according to my non-scientific poll of folks who met me while I had a 2019 King Ranch for a week, a truck that garnered ooh's and ahh's from a variety of ages and, it appeared, demographic and economic groups. Truck folks, it seems, like the King Ranch.

I'm not the target audience here, alas, and so you might have to take my comments with a mine of salt: I'm no truck guy and would never buy a pickup truck, though nor am I one of those "non-truck persons" who thinks that because I don't like 'em then nobody should be allowed to have one. Trucks are big (as in popular) and here in Alberta they're everywhere.

I think it should be Porsches that are everywhere, but that, apparently, is a minority opinion. Hey, who'd have thunk: white male me is a minority!

Anyway, the King Ranch – despite its lust-inducing manner – isn't much more than half way up the Ford F-150 line, with the awesome Raptor and the Platinum and Limited trim levels above it. I kind of figured the Raptor would be the lust inducer, with its aggressive good looks and even more aggressive performance, but as usual no one asked me. And to be fair, when I last had a Raptor it had a similar effect on passersby and hangers on. So maybe it's just Ford trucks that inspire this lust. Beats me.

The King Ranch starts at $64,529 Canadian, which seems not too outrageous considering that you can spend a LOT more: The Limited starts (according to Ford's Canadian website) at $79,629 CAD – and last Christmas season I drove a RAM 1500 Limited whose Monroney topped out at about $85K. more...

Infiniti QX50Think twice before asking the government to intrude further into drivers' lives

"Why doesn't the government do something?"

How many times have you heard a comment like that, pleading for the government to get involved in some area of life that has so far managed to escape the scrutiny – however well-intended – of the nanny state? It seems a comfortable go-to position for people who either feel helpless to help/control a situation they don't like, or who just like to tell other people what to do and how to live.

I had just such a question asked of me – and, apparently, a bunch of other car writers – from someone who's either a reader or figured out how to access the Automobile Journalists of Canada's members' mailing list. This woman asked:

"Just wondering if any AJAC members have ever thought about advocating to require auto makers to make all car doors mechanically open-able when power is cut off, and, make sure, as a minimum, all side windows are tempered glass and NOT laminated glass. Laminated glass can not be broken by those little emergency exit hammers, (which often don't work anyway unless they happen to be made of carbide.)  And why should automobile users have to hammer their way to safety anyway?"

It's a point that had never occurred to the non-mechanically-minded me (assuming the questioner's facts are correct), and I wonder if carmakers have even thought of such things.

I bet they have – they're a pretty smart lot and, if only because of competitive reasons, they're always looking for ways to make their products better. more...

Infiniti QX50

Infiniti QX50 works hard not to offend

Luxury crossovers are a dime a dozen these days, especially if you include into the mix models that aren't marketed specifically as luxury items but which pack on the niceties anyway. So, if you're looking to make a splash in this crowded market, you'd better offer something interesting, if not unique.

Into this fray waded Infiniti, the high-end arm of Nissan (the same way Lexus is Toyota's, Audi is Volkswagen's, Genesis is Hyundai's…) with an entry that offers a claimed new type of engine the company says "delivers the perfect combination of power and efficiency." Not that anyone has ever made a claim like that before!

In this case, it's the Infiniti QX50 (which began life as the EX35/37, though that was a very different vehicle) and its "World's First VC-Turbo" engine that – as is depressingly common these days – shrinks from the previous generation's six cylinders to the current turbocharged four. The VC stands for "variable compression" and claims to adapt its performance to your driving style to optimize both efficiency and oomph.

According to Infiniti's Canadian website, the engine "automatically transforms to suit your drive, giving you more power when you need it, consuming less fuel when you don't. It's like having two advanced engines in one seamless package." So, it's like that old commercial about "two, two, two mints in one," except that this isn't mints. more...

13 Hours 4K13 Hours' Benghazi Heroes soar in 4K  

Want one more clear and bright reason to holler "Lock her Up!"? Try this UHD HDR 4K version of Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi." The movie tells the true-life story (Hollywoodized, of course) of some true American heroes who were hung out to dry by their government.  

13 Hours is not only a good movie, it's an important one in this age of social justice BS being foisted by Hollowwood in movie after movie. It's a true blowing of the whistle on the corrupt Obama regime that appears to have treated the military as pawns to be used and abused as the elites deemed.

I've never been a huge fan of Michael Bay's films, though I admit to having enjoyed some of them. So Bay (of the Transformers franchise), seemed to me like an odd choice to helm a film about an incident that would have been a dark stain on the Obama/Clinton regime were most of the media not dedicated to ensuring the Democrats only received fawning praise."

And then came Trump! Hallelujah! more...

Lincoln MKCLincoln MKC is a nice drive – but you'd better act soon

It may appear to be a last gasp for an automobile that's long in the tooth, but the 2019 Lincoln MKC compact SUV/crossover is still a very compelling vehicle that has a lot going for it.

But since this is the last year of the MKC (it's supposedly being replaced by the new "Corsair"), you might not want to dilly dally – and you might even be able to score a better deal on existing inventory, though a lot of that depends on the dealer's hunger and your negotiating skills.

I don't know how different the Corsair is going to be, but the MKC is already a fine vehicle, building on the "more pedestrian" but still very nice Escape whose DNA it shares, while upping the luxury and performance ante.

How bad can that be?

As nice as the Escape is, the MKC gives you a lot to love for the extra cash. For example, while the base engine is shared with the Escape (a two-litre turbo four rated at 245/275 horses/torque), Lincoln Canada's sample came with the bigger, 2.3 litre turbo engine that ups the oomph ante to 285/305 stallions/torquey things. That's a noticeable difference and, while there's some lag (but not a lot) from the turbo, the engine does seem to appreciate being used. more...


Forrest GumpForrest Gump's 4K disc is a fitting silver anniversary release

Has it really been 25 years? Wow.

If you're a fan of Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump and haven't bought it on disc yet, you really should take a look at Paramount's new 4K UHD/HDR release. It's easily the best Gump yet, and a great tribute to this great movie.

Even if you don't yet have the equipment for 4K playback yet, it's a worthwhile package because it also contains a newly-remastered Blu-ray of the movie and – the part other than the great 4K presentation that really turned my crank – it features over three hours of extras (none of which I believe are new, however) that are some of the best I've ever sampled in my years of reviewing DVD's, Blu-rays and 4K discs. 

Forrest Gump is well worth owning in any format (I even had it on Laserdisc!), but this 4K version is easily the best.

Forrest Gump is a big movie, in its scope and execution, but at heart it's a small and intimate film that's really about love, friendship, loyalty, and the ability (and desire) to succeed regardless of what life puts in front of you. As Forrest and his mom said: "Life is a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get."  more...


Mazda's new 3 sedan may be the nicest all-round mainstream car

Mazda's much-honoured and popular 3 series is back with a new generation for 2019 and it's a spectacular vehicle whose design, features and quality make it stand out in a particularly crowded marketplace.

Okay, I'm a fan of Mazdas and have always loved the 3. Heck, I loved the 3 when it was the Protégé, especially the hatchback Protégé 5. But this fourth generation of the 3 is not only a spectacular upgrade, it's so nice that I think it outclasses every other car in this niche that I have driven or wanted to drive.

That would include the VW Jetta, which I love, the Hyundai Elantra, which I love, and the Kia Forte, which I haven't driven yet but figure I'd love if I had. As for other competitors such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, well, they're great cars but the Corolla's a tad bland and the Civic is so ugly and weird that it was the first to fall off my personal "best mainstream compact car" list.

It doesn't end there. The Mazda is so nice and is thought out and equipped so well I'd move it right out of that niche and into a higher one, where it could compete favourably with such luxury models as the Acura ILX (my current favourite Acura) or Audi A3 (which, alas, I haven't driven since the folks at Audi Canada apparently decided they didn't need writers from "flyover country"). more...

HP TangoHP lets you print from anywhere - and Bactrack can help you avoid 'Imperial Entanglements'

In today's mobile society, being able to send documents home for later perusal is a wonderful feature. But what if you actually want a printout waiting for you when you get home?

And what if, while you're out messing around with documents you want to retrieve later, you've imbibed a few "pops" and want to make sure you're still going to be okay to drive?

Well, friends, that's what's called a cheap way to introduce two topics for a single column – in this case Hewlett Packard's interesting and convenient Tango printer and BacTrack's C6 portable breathalyzer.

HP's Tango is a $179.99 (Canadian) printer you can stick just about anywhere (hey, be nice!) and to which you can print from just about anywhere. BACtrack, meanwhile, has some nice tools you can use when you're out to ensure you don't do something stupid like mow down a pedestrian as you drive home drunk. more...

Honda Passport

Honda fits a new Passport into its utility vehicle line

Honda's line of utility vehicles is pretty full already – with three SUV/Crossovers and the Ridgeline pickup truck – but Honda has discovered a hole in the team that's apparently big enough to fit a larger vehicle.

Not its largest model however. That would be the Pilot still, with the brand new Passport fitting into the line between it and the compact CR-V. That still leaves the little HR-V to occupy the "entry level" niche in Honda's utility line.

Honda Canada's sample Passport wore the top-end Touring badge (and came with all the extra goodies the badge indicates) and that meant it carried a retail price of approximately $50,916 Canadian, not including extras (though there aren't a lot of extras with the Touring version other than stuff like a towing package, lighting package, cold weather package, etc.). That's nearly 10 grand more than the base Passport, which is probably still a pretty nifty vehicle in this niche.

An interesting fact is that, according to Honda Canada's website, the base Passport starts at exactly the same as the base Pilot which comes with an extra row of occasionally usable seats. more...

BumblebeeOf superheroes and transforming insects: Bumblebee and Aquaman come to home video

A couple of toys for the eyes, as well as "action figure bait," have hit home video and both Bumblebee and Aquaman are worthy of a visit to your home theatre.

Bumblebee, which Paramount wisely sent in the 4K disc version, is a kind of origin story in which we get to see the genesis of the plucky little transformer who in the previous Paramount series was a Camaro but somehow managed to become a VW Beetle here.

Meanwhile, Warner Brothers' Aquaman may not be a great superhero film, but it's certainly one of the better from the DC universe. And that says something.

It's a lot of fun, looks great, and features a lead who's very likeable. Heck, while Jason Momoa is indeed a big, threatening guy who means business, there's usually a twinkle in his eye as well. I think he's the best thing about the DC universe since Gal Gadot. Funny how DC movies get better when Zack Snyder isn't in charge. more...

Mazda CX-5

New CX-5 adds Zoom-Zoom and a premium trim level

Mazda's top selling vehicle, the CX-5 crossover, has been a blast to drive ever since they added a bigger SKYACTIV engine to the base two litre one a few years back. And since then, the Japanese carmaker has done nothing but make the vehicle an even more interesting and compelling drive.

So it is that, for 2019, the company has chosen to not only add a new "Signature" trim level to the top of the line, it has also brought over the wonderful turbo four that now graces the CX-9 and is available in the exquisite Mazda6 sedan as well. The engine, especially, ups the fun ante appreciably, though a couple of unfortunate oversights mean the vehicle doesn't impart quite as much "driving joy" as it could.

Still, as it has been traditionally, the CX-5 is still my favourite model in this very crowded market niche. more...

Kia Forte5Kia's airport-based new model introduction a runway success

Abbotsford, B.C. - You could say Kia, the South Korean automaker, is positively soaring these days.

The company's Stinger halo car was named Canadian Car of the Year recently thanks to voters in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's annual contest (a group which also named the 2019 Forte as "best small car"), while the brand has also been honoured by such groups as J. D. Power – sometimes eclipsing such perennial honourees as Lexus.

Maybe that upward trajectory for the company was part of the reason they invited some car writers and others to a special "luxury brunch" in a hangar at the Abbotsford, B.C., airport on Thursday, March 14. Among the new vehicles are the Telluride, an all-electric Niro, the new Soul and – my personal favourite because it's the kind of car I would buy were I looking for a brand-new vehicle – the Forte 5 GT. more...

LG G7LG Android One phone worth getting hung up on if you like great sound for tunes

South Korean techmaker LG's G7 One cell phone is an interesting beast, offering a big and very readable screen, the usual smart phone features that are popular today, and audio technology that makes it one of the best "sounding" cell phones I've tried in recent years.

I don't know about you, but I probably use my cell phone to stream music and other audio – apps such as Tune-in and Accuradio to name but two – as I use it as an actual phone, so stuff like audio quality are very important to me. And I really liked how the tunes streamed from the LG – even via Bluetooth – sounded on my various vehicles and audio systems.

LG says the G7 One, aka the LMQ910UM, is the first Android One phone available in Canada. According to Wikipedia, "Android One is a series of smartphones that run the unmodified Android operating system. It is a hardware and software technical standard created by Google intended to provide a consistent user experience...". I guess this means the phone's OS won't become obsolete suddenly, like I suppose many older Android phones do, and that one Android One phone will operate much like another, regardless of brand. more...

LG OLEDToyota 4Runner and Tundra: a focus more on utility than fun

In the world of sport utility vehicles there's something for practically everyone, whether you want to focus on the sport or the utility.

Toyota aims to fill both those niches with its wide variety of vehicles, and I got to spend some quality time during our last bitterly cold spell in one of the first SUV's I can remember, as well as a follow up week with one of their big pickup trucks. Neither is particularly sporty, but if you're looking for a vehicle that'll probably outlive you while taking you up the sides of a mountain, you may want to give them a look.

The 4Runner has been around forever, nearly, and while this generation is getting a little long in the tooth it's still a pretty compelling ride for people who value robust off-road performance more than creature comforts. Toyota Canada's sample 2019 4Runner wore the new "Nightshade" trim level which, fortunately, is not as deadly as its name might indicate.

4Runners are of a body on frame design, which basically means it's more like a pickup truck (it's like a fully enclosed Tacoma) than it is like a "crossover" (which seems to indicate unibody construction, like the vast majority of today's cars and SUV's, where the vehicle's entire structure is the "frame"). more...


J.J. Abrams channels the Twilight Zone while Hollywood goes Gaga over yet another Star being Born

A couple of interesting new titles have premiered on 4K disc this week, one of which is a rehash of an old theme while the other one is also a rehash of an old theme – but with a decidedly weird twist.

Let's start with Overlord, which Paramount sent in 4K. It's a movie that will probably appeal to fans of the Wolfenstein video game franchise and, if that applies to you, you pretty well know where this movie is going.

Overlord starts off like a conventional World War II movie and it probably would've worked just fine if it had stayed that way. Meanwhie, Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born remake is a lot more accessible for a mainstream audience, but did we really need yet another remake – especially of a film that's been remade so many times (I count four, at least)?

That said, this is a good remake and it's a good story. more...

LG OLEDLG's OLED TV offers spectacular picture quality

If you have some reasonably substantial after-Christmas cash left over – or at least a decent line of credit – and Santa didn't bring you that new TV you wanted, LG is more than willing to ride to your rescue via its latest OLED TV's.

I was lucky enough to play with one recently and now I won't be happy until one takes up residence permanently at Chateau Bray. Or until the next generation comes along…

It ain't cheap compared to your "garden variety" 4K LED TV, but I've seen LG's 55-inch OLEDs on sale for about two grand Canuck (depending on the model, they can sell for about a grand more as well) and I think it's a bargain for the picture quality you get.

I kid you not. I've been reviewing TV's and video products for the better part of 30 years and have spent more than twice that amount on a TV during that time (much to my wife's chagrin, of course, and only to watch the prices plummet the day after…). And if I had three grand burning a hole in my pocket today the OLED55C8PUA LG sent me to play with would never have left our home theatre. more...

Dodge RamNew Dodge Ram is a truck even truckophobes can love

Warning: Regular readers of my stuff may want to stand back from the screen a bit because I'm about to risk a lightning strike by writing a positive review of a pick-up truck and I wouldn't want you to become collateral damage.

The Ram 1500 is new for 2019 and, at least in the Limited Crew Cab 4x5 suit of clothes Fiat Chrysler Canada sent for review, it's a real tour de force – a utility vehicle that's also so nice to drive it's easy to forget it's a big-butted truck. Oh, I still wouldn't run out and buy a truck after my week with the Ram (it's still to big for my needs and taste), but I came away mightily impressed with its comfort, up to date features, and – the most surprising thing to me – its driveability.

It seems that I'm not the only car guy impressed with the new Ram 1500. It was also named as North American Truck of the Year at last month's big car show in Detroit, it made Car & Driver magazine's list of the 10 Best Trucks and SUV's, and the Rebel version was named Four Wheeler magazine's Pickup Truck of the Year. And yes, you can have a hemi. more...

Subaru ForesterSubaru Forester gets a nice upgrade for 2019

My favourite Subaru is back with a new set of clothes, and it's a nice new wardrobe for a vehicle that was pretty nice already.

That said, Subaru continues to inflict a continuously variable transmission on its non-manual transmission vehicles and even though it's better than many it's still as whiny and annoying as I am when faced with honest work.

According to the company, the Forester has been re-engineered from the ground up for 2019, including a new BOXER engine, where (like many Porsches) the cylinders are mounted "flat" rather than in a "V" or a line, so the pistons face off against each other, like boxers duking it out. There's also a new CVT Subaru says works with the new PUGILIST engine to create more power while also increasing efficiency.

The vehicle is also new inside, which is a good thing because past Subarus have seemed to me (perhaps unfairly) to be a tad long in the tooth in how they felt compared with some other carmakers' offerings. more...

We welcome your comments!

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