Jim Bray


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Most Recent Articles by Jim Bray:

A bigger Kong hits the smaller screen

Jul 21, 2017 — Jim Bray

The good news is that Kong: Skull Island isn’t as bad as I had feared it would be. The bad news is that it isn’t as good as it could have been. However you slice it, however, it’s an excellent example of how good home video can look and sound in 1080p HD.

Warner Brothers’ latest take on the giant ape theme comes courtesy of some of the folks who made the last Godzilla remake, so if nothing else it shows they have a history of remaking "classics" for better or worse. Yet this Kong has very little to do with the "Kings Kong" that preceded it, which was one of the things that had me more than a tad scared going into this review (I thought they’d be painting a moustache onto the Mona Lisa).

I love King Kong. I have the 1933 original and Peter Jackson’s exquisite remake/homage in my Blu-ray library (both are part of my "desert island disc" collection), and I’m possibly one of the few people who didn’t hate most of the 1970’s version with Jeff Bridges.

The story of King Kong is basically an action-packed thriller leavened liberally with the romance between the big ape (Kong, not Jack Driscoll) and Ann Darrow (Faye Wray and Naomi Watts, respectively) - a Beauty and the Beast-type of classic story. And while Kong was big and ferocious, he wasn’t a villain;  he was just a big guy defending his turf, then ripped from his home and plunked down where he didn’t belong -  kind of like the Ymir in Ray Harryhausen’s 20 Million Miles to Earth.

Ford F-150’s blend comfort with utility and size - and even some fun!

Jul 21, 2017 — Jim Bray

Ford’s F-150 truck line has been at or near the top of the vehicular sales heap for decades, and that’s a laudable achievement in an ever-more-competitive automotive marketplace. Especially for a truck!

And even though the joy of a full sized pickup truck is nearly entirely lost on me, I just got to spend two weeks behind the wheel of two Ford F-150 samples, a fairly conventional (but quite loaded) F-150 Lariat edition and (drum roll…) the Mighty Raptor.

Mazda’s little bundle of joy continues to please

Jun 9, 2017 — Jim Bray

Ah, the Mazda MX-5. Once called the Miata, the Japanese carmaker’s little open top roadster has been around for nearly 30 years and during that time has evolved and grown like most cars.

But unlike some cars that get overstyled or “over-teched” or which lose their original mien over the years, Mazda has never lost the Miata’s focus of delivering the kind of driving joy that used to be found on such cars as the MGB, but without leaving you on the side of the road every time it rains.

Okay, that may be an exaggeration about the old British sports cars, but I’ve owned three MGB’s (in various states of repair from “on its last legs” to “brand new”) and they all left me on the side of the road - so much so that I look back now, decades later, and find it hard to believe I could have been so stupid as to get kicked by that particular mule three times. What can I say? I was a kid.

Mazda celebrates a half century of Wankels

Jun 9, 2017 — Jim Bray

It turns out that the phrase “Wankel rotary engine,” unlike how it’s described in an old Monty Python sketch, is no reason for embarrassment. Especially for Mazda, the only carmaker with the pluck to realize - and do its best to prove - that Wankels weren’t just for wankers.

Sure, it hasn’t worked out as Mazda may have liked - the last rotary Mazda was the now-defunct RX-8, a terrific sports car - but it isn’t as if the technology doesn’t work. It just may not work as well as the conventional internal (a.k.a, to greenies, as infernal) combustion engine, especially in this day and age of increasingly mandated fuel economy.

But 50 years ago as of May 30th, the Hiroshima-headquartered carmaker began its legacy of, as Mazda’s press release celebrating the anniversary said, “doing what was said couldn’t be done.” Mazda wasn’t unique, if my aging memory is still working. General Motors was also looking at rotary engines at one time, but I don’t believe they ever followed through. That would make Mazda the only major carmaker to wish the Wankel onto the world, and the company did it not only via its sports cars (though never the Miata) but also via some very nice sedans and coupes. A coupe de grace, perhaps?

New apps claim help for gift givers and narcissistic navigators

Jun 4, 2017 — Jim Bray

Have you ever been stuck for gift ideas? Have you ever been bored by the generic computerized voice programmed into your vehicle? Well, folks, the free market has solutions for both of these vital issues and the world may be a better place because of them.

Or not. But they are interesting apps regardless of their overall impact on modern civilization, and I figured you might like to know about them.

Giving till it doesn’t hurt…

Toyota’s 2018 C-HR plows smaller fields with a new crossover

Jun 4, 2017 — Jim Bray

Think of it as a Juke that’s less a joke, or as a little sibling to the RAV4 - but however you choose to gaze upon its little fullness, Toyota’s latest SUV/Crossover is definitely an interesting little vehicle.

Whether or not it’s blazing a new sales trail for Toyota will be known somewhere down the, er, road, but in the meantime, this is definitely - well, reasonably - another compelling vehicle from the land of the rising sun.

Just don’t sit in the back!

Toyota Prius C a cheap and cute way to save gas

May 27, 2017 — Jim Bray

It’s pretty Spartan, all things considered, and it’s about as much fun to drive as a hobby horse, but Toyota’s 2017 Prius C hybrid hatchback is still a decent little car that does a lot with a little. And, at a starting list price of $21,975, it doesn’t cost a huge amount of cash to save the Earth.

On the other hand, you could buy a gas-fueled 106 hp Yaris SE five door hatch with an automatic transmission for about $19,510, sans taxes, fees and other kilos of flesh. The Yaris probably won’t get the excellent 4.5 litres per 100 km that I achieved in the Prius C (despite my lead foot), but Toyota claims 7.9/6.8 (City/Hwy) for the Yaris, which is still darn good. And the Yaris is a heckuva lot more fun to drive, if only because it doesn’t come with a whiny continuously variable transmission.

Sure, you’ll be poking the Al Gores, David Suzukis and "Science Guys" of the world in the eye, but how is that a bad thing?

Fist Fight offers good audio and video - but that doesn’t help

May 27, 2017 — Jim Bray

If you like your comedy movie foul mouthed, mean spirited and populated with sexual predators, Fist Fight is for you. But if it’s representative of today’s comedy films, I weep for popular culture and the society it supposedly reflects.

Rocky or Fight Club it ain’t!

Fist Fight is set on the last day of school, also known as Prank Day, when the students perform pranks on the faculty. Judging by the pranks, these students put a lot more effort into this day than they do into their studies. On the other hand, I think if these folks were my teachers I’d have played hookey a lot more than I did in my misspent youth.

Top Bose SoundTouch a worthy successor to the SoundDock 10

May 18, 2017 — Jim Bray

Big sound from a small box, with enough connectivity to please nearly everyone. That’s what Bose’s SoundTouch line of speakers offers, and the flagship of the series is a remarkable unit, indeed.

SoundTouch products have been out for a few of years now; I first experienced them at their introduction in New York back in 2013, and such is their quality and design that they’re still on the market today. That’s unlike the remarkable SoundDock 10 iPod dock speaker system that was my first “modern” experience with Bose - modern meaning within the last 10 years, since Bose itself has been around for more than a half century.

I remember Bose’ SoundDock 10 introductory demo well. The company had set one up behind a Wizard of Oz-like curtain in a private room in a Manhattan restaurant and kicked off the demo with some really great-sounding rumbling thunder. I said then that the demo came “complete with bone rattling realism that sounded as if it were coming from an ‘honest to goodness’ audio system with big speakers and big amplifier power.”

CX-9 brings Mazda’s fun driving experience to the three row crossover

May 18, 2017 — Jim Bray

It’s big and it only sports a four banger engine, but the Mazda CX-9 SUV/crossover is one of the best driving vehicles in the class.

In other words, it’s a typical Mazda.

Mazda is a relatively small car company, and for the last few years the Hiroshima-headquartered Japanese carmaker has had to forge its own path without another carmaker having its back (Ford used to be a partner). Yet it consistently comes up with vehicles - sedans, SUV/crossovers and, of course, sports coupes - that are just plain fun, yet are also featured fully and exude an air of quality that makes them seem more expensive than they are. 

The CX-9 is Mazda’s biggest vehicle, but slip this baby into sport mode via the little rocker switch on the centre console and the vehicle seems to shrink a tad, just enough to make it sit up and take notice that you’re looking to play. It still feels big, of course - even Mazda can’t change the laws of physics - but it goes from feeling like a nice, big SUV to a nice, big Mazda SUV, and all the “Zoom-Zoom” that brings.

Toyota Camry: the extraordinary ordinary family car

May 18, 2017 — Jim Bray

It’s been called vanilla, boring, bland, but what the Toyota Camry really is, is a fabulously designed and rendered sedan that gives a driver everything needed and most of what could be wanted - in an unassuming but handsome package that’s as state-of-the-art as most people could want.

It also sells oodles (it’s been one of the top selling cars for years now) and, judging by the Toyota logo and the number of old Camry still on the road, it’ll probably run forever.

That, to me, makes it an automotive masterpiece.

Sure, I’ve called the car vanilla, and I suppose it still is in some ways - in that it’s not yummy like butterscotch or a fantastic driving car like an Audi A6 or even, well, the Hyundai Elantra Sport reviewed here last week. I meant that crack originally as a minor put down of what I considered to be a boring car, but over the years that I’ve reviewed cars (including more than a few Camrys) the Camry has grown in looks, driving feel, and features - so much so that this current version (which will be replaced for 2018 with an even newer one) really is pretty much all one could want in a car. And it’s even decent to drive!

Sporty Hyundai sedan ups the fun factor of an already great car

May 5, 2017 — Jim Bray

It drives like a Volkswagen Jetta GLI, and it feels like a German car in its construction. But it’s not German - it’s from South Korea, proving once more that the "traditional" automakers had better be taking the Hyundai/Kia twins very seriously lest they end up on the government dole.

The car under discussion here is the Hyundai Elantra Sport,  the winner of the Best New Sport/Performance car from AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year awards - an annual fall TestFest that also resulted in the more "pedestrian" Elantra winning its
category
as well. Quite a feat for a company whose cars used to be the butts of many automotive jokes (though that was a long time ago now!).

LG OLED TV a true game changer for home theatres

May 5, 2017 — Jim Bray

The quest for the best TV picture possible has been a long one, stretching back to the early days of cathode ray tubes and muddy black and white pictures on small and, compared with even the worst of today’s TV’s, grainy screens.

Then we had colour and, decades later, high definition, both of which were game changers. The next game changer was the evolution from big, fat and heavy CRT’s to liquid crystal, or LCD – the flat screens that have freed up space in our viewing rooms while also offering us better quality and larger pictures. LCD evolved to LED, which are really LCD panels with different "back lighting."

Now there are two new technologies vying for your after tax dollars, one of which is a logical next step  in the high definition evolution – 4K – and one of which is an absolutely ground breaking leap in picture technology: OLED.

Latest Underworld is ‘gore-geous’ in 4K - while Teen Titans storm onto Blu-ray

Apr 24, 2017 — Jim Bray

Kate Beckinsale is back and kicking werewolf butts in Underworld Blood Wars, which debuts from Sony on 4K UHD disc next week. And if you’re tired of computer generated landscapes, blood and characters, Warner Brothers has a more classically animated superhero title that might catch your eye, though it isn’t available in 4K as of this writing.

Teen Titans was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, thanks to its Saturday morning cartoon look and feel - the type of superhero animation I used to watch with my kids when they were, well, kids.

But it’s 4K that I’m interested in primarily these days, as the market moves from BD’s to UHD’s the same way it evolved from VHS to DVD and then to Blu-ray. UHD offers four times the resolution of 1080p, with twice the horizontal and vertical pixels (3840x2106 vs. 1920x1080) and, while the difference is noticeable more on bigger screens and even then is sometimes subtle anyway, a good 4K disc can be absolutely stunning.

Honda and Toyota offer wildly different visions of Crossover styles

Apr 22, 2017 — Jim Bray

One’s a truck that drives like an SUV; the other is an SUV that drives like a truck. Which one makes more sense?

Naturally, it depends on the task at hand. If you’re looking for a small pickup truck that rides like more a car, the Honda Ridgeline is the clear choice. But if you want a brawny adventurer that’ll be as comfortable off the asphalt as it is inside the city, the Toyota 4Runner is the winner.

And never will the twain meet, except perhaps in this column.