The Rockford Files (1974) – The Countess and Exit Prentiss Carr

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This entry on the Bellisario and Cannell revisit has private eye Jim Rockford (James Garner) dealing with cases of blackmail and murder!!

The Countess, with a teleplay by Cannell, based on a story by Roy Huggins (under the name of John Thomas James) originally aired the 27th of September, 1974. Jim has been hired by Deborah Ryder (Susan Strasberg) to stop a thug, Carl (Richard Gautier) from blackmailing her with her secretive past.

The phone gag this week, is a thinly veiled threat that Rockford is going to get his.

When Jim confronts Carl, fisticuffs occur, but mid-way through the fight, Carl is shot, and an elderly couple, and Carl’s girlfriend, are willing to testify that Rockford is the murderer.

Jim’s hauled in by Lt. Diel (John Carpenter fave Tom Atkins), who works with Rockford’s friend Becker (Joe Santos), but even Becker can’t stop the warrant and the evidence piling up around the private investigator. Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) shows up, and pushes Diel to either charge her client, or let him go… the evidence is circumstantial at best, and Jim is released.

There’s a chase sequence, when Jim is pursuing the actual murderer, and gets pulled over by the highway patrol, who were still, at that point in time, apparently, wearing bow ties! ( Bow ties are cool!).

Also of note, is that Deborah’s tennis instructor is a very familiar and tall personage… James Cromwell

Hoping to elude the police when he learns the warrant is out for him, Jim gets nabbed by a couple of thugs, who take him to their boss, and Jim is in dire trouble, when the police show up! Evading the police again, Jim goes to confront the real killer, and ends up shot and in a car crash by episode’s end.

Garner is just so damned likable as Rockford that each episode is a joy to watch, just to see what he does. Sadly though, Noah Beery Jr. as Rocky, was sadly missing from this episode.

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In Exit Prentiss Carr, aired October 4, 1974 and written by Juanita Bartlett based on a story by Huggins, Jim is embroiled in a murder that for some reason, the cops are calling a suicide…

The phone gag this time around is a message from Maury, calling to let Jim know that his IRS return has bounced.

The show opens with Jim having followed his subject to a Bay City hotel, and upon entering the room finds Prentiss Carr has obviously been murdered. To protect himself, and his client, he goes to the police pretending to be looking for Prentiss, at the behest of upset family members. The police find the body, but rule it a suicide, which is completely wrong from the evidence that Jim, himself, examined.

As Jim begins to investigate, he learns that the new widow, Janet (Corinne Camacho) has been lying about her alibi, and Jim begins to suspect her, especially since she seems to be trying to woo him.

After being run out-of-town by the police, Jim is constantly trading up vehicles to sneak back in and run down more leads, which happily gives us an appearance from Rocky, who will happily lend his truck to Jim, providing Jim fill up the dual-tanked monstrosity, and oh, it doesn’t take regular…

Following leads, and opportunities, Jim discovers an insurance fraud scam, and that someone changed the crime scene to reflect a suicide…

I do like how a lot of the stories so far have tended to be very convoluted, and if you don’t watch everything, you could miss an important clue! This is a show that respected its audience. Yes there are moments of laughter, and as mentioned Garner is a sheer joy to watch, cautioning folks that he bruises easily, but the stories are wonderfully involved.

Next time around Jim looks into a missing persons case.

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I, Robot (2004) – Alex Proyas

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The 101 Sci-Fi Movies list is coming to an end, only a couple of titles left. Alex Proyas, the director of The Crow and Dark City work off of Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay that was inspired by Isaac Asimov’s writing, and incorporates his 3 Laws of Robotics:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The year is 2035, the setting is Chicago, techno-phobe, recently divorced homicide detective with a painful secret in his past, Del Spooner (Will Smith) is called to U.S. Robotics to investigate an apparent suicide by his friend Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell).

As he investigates, he begins to suspect that a new series of robot, this one named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) may have in fact found a way around the binding laws and murdered Lanning, though both the robot-psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), and CEO Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) try to convince him that it is impossible to circumvent the laws.

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But when, in a number of dazzling sequences, Spooner finds himself fending off the new series of robots, we begin to suspect he may be right, and that something bigger may be going on here.

This is a sci-fi murder mystery that is fairly entertaining with some nice sequences, though the toque thing on Smith’s head has got to go.

By pairing us with Smith through the film, we share his phobia and that automatically makes us distrust any of the robots we come across, no matter how helpful they may seem, happily, for the story, not for the characters in it, Spooner’s distrust is well-placed as things are revealed, and the robots seem intent on taking over the human race to better protect us.

It’s a rather troubling, but accurate look at our society, these things are designed to look after us, and not harm us, but we seem to be able to do that well enough by ourselves.

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The film itself is glossy looking and very stylish, I quite like the cars, not to mention how they are stored, and a complete different environ from what Proyas gave us in Dark City and The Crow. There is a dark undertone to the film, but it’s so slick and fast-moving that it’s easy to not catch it.

Smith is, as always, likable in his role, but Greenwood is my real favorite! It was nice, as well, to spot Aaron Douglas as an extra in one of the scenes with Greenwood and Smith. He’s awesome, and if he’s ever in town, so needs to come on our show!!!

I have yet to read Asimov’s Foundation novels, and am always unsure whether I would like them or not. Any recommendations on where I should start with Asimov’s books?

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Jack Ryan

Tom Clancy books were just a part of my teen years as Stephen King novels, Star Trek, and classic 80s movies (course how was I to know they were going to be classics when I was watching them? I just knew I loved them.

I got into the books with the first paperback edition of The Hunt For Red October in the mid-1980s through a schoolmate I’ve sadly lost touch with, Michael Hay. From then on, until I left home for University, my parents, specifically my mother, knew what book to get me for Christmas, the latest Clancy techno-thriller.

Paramount Pictures has had an on-again off-again relationship with Clancy’s main protagonist, John ‘Jack” Patrick Ryan since the 1990s. In the course of 12 years, Hollywood’s version of Jack Ryan had four adventures, and changed his appearance three times. In the same amount of time , Bond did the same, but had a lot more adventures… just saying.

Despite that, I honestly believe that each and every one of the films were solid entertainment.

I rewatched them recently, just to revisit them, sue I know that Chris Pine is tapped to play Jack in yet another incarnation

They also recently announced that Kenneth Branagh, fresh off of his blockbuster take on Thor, and his turn as Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn, would be taking the helm behind the camera.

I like this idea, Branagh is a strong director, and has made some fantastic films (remember Dead Again?) and Chris Pine is a making some serious headway in Hollywood, because of Star Trek (2009) and seems like just a hard-working good guy.

I love a good techno-thriller, and honestly don’t believe there are enough of them. The combination of action, politics, and spy work, has always entertained me (take a look at Spy Game, and though not necessarily a spy/techno/thriller – Sneakers).

Paramount’s first incarnation of Ryan’s adventures was a big-screen adaptation of The Hunt For Red October, which featured Alec Baldwin as Ryan, Sean Connery as Ramius, the captain of the defecting Russian submarine Red October, Sam Neill as Ramius’ first officer and an all-star supporting cast including Stellan Skarsgard, Tim Curry, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn and Timothy Carhart.

Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard), Red October is one of those movies that I would throw on the television on a regular basis when I was working at a video store, I love the dialogue, the pacing, and a stirring score by Basil Poledouris.

Two years later, Paramount brought forth Ryan’s next adventure in Patriot Games, though in the world of the novels, Games happens before Hunt.

Baldwin had to bow out, as he had other commitments and the role was offered to Harrison Ford.

Ford’s Ryan stops a kidnapping/assassination attempt on members of the Royal Family (in the novel, this was Charles and Diana) by a splinter faction of the IRA led by Patrick Bergin and Sean Bean. When Sean Miller’s (Bean) brother is killed by Ryan in the botched attempt on the Royals, Miller swears revenge, escapes from custody, and begins to stalk Ryan, his family and the visiting Royals in America.

The film was directed by Australian director Phillip Noyce (Salt) and had a score done by the awesome James Horner (Aliens, Star Trek II). It also once again featured a strong cast alongside Ford and Bean, including James Earl Jones (reprising Admiral Greer), Anne Archer, Thora Birch, Richard Harris, and Samuel L. Jackson.

This is my favorite of the two films Ford turned in as Ryan, it’s an action flick, with politics, and some wonderful tech sequences, including a scene featuring Ryan watching a satellite attack on an IRA camp.

Two years later, Paramount Pictures brought us Clancy’s version of the war on drugs. With Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) falling fatally ill, Ryan is forced to assume his position in advising the President (Donald Moffat) on what to do when a ‘life-long friend’ is killed for his involvement with a drug cartel.

The President authorizes Operation: Reciprocity and we are finally introduced to one of Clancy’s other famous creation, agent John Clark, played my Willem Dafoe.

This one is more politics heavy, which is fine with me, though it was originally advertised as a big action movie.

Once again helmed by Noyce, this film saw Ryan refusing to violate his morals and ethics, and holding everyone around him to the same stringent code. The tagline for the film was “Truth needs a soldier,” and as he realizes that those he’s working with, including the President are hanging him out to dry, blaming him in fact for troops in Central and South America (under Reciprocity) performing illegal actions against the drug cartels, he goes to work on rescuing the stranded strike team, and stopping the president and his cronies.

Once again there were some really great sequences in this film, including Ryan squaring off against the President, the tennis phone-call sequence between Ryan and his inter-office nemesis Ritter (Henry Czerny), as well as the intense ambush sequence, awesomely scored again by Horner.

The all star casting continues with Joaquim de Almeida and Benjamin Bratt.

Then, the series stalled.

And was relaunched in 2002.

Phil Alden Robinson (Sneakers, Field of Dreams) hit the reset button with The Sum of All Fears. In this film Ryan, now played by Ben Affleck, is just starting out as an analyst, lying to his girlfriend (and one day wife) Cathy (Bridget Moynahan) about what he does for a living.

When a rogue group of Neo-Nazis get their hands on a nuclear device from Israel, they begin playing the Russian and American governments off of one another, pushing them dangerously close to all out war, which includes a stunning nuclear detonation on American soil.

It’s up to Ryan, with the help of Clark (now played by Liev Schreiber) to prove the Russians are innocent and stop the true culprits before it’s too late.

This film is probably the most epic in scope of all the Jack Ryan films, as it has story points that pop up all over the globe, and you can see how close everything comes to completely falling apart – like a modern and updated version of the Bay of Pigs incident with Kennedy and Krushchev.

This time out the film features a score by the late Jerry Goldsmith (Alien, Star Trek The Motion Picture) and the all-star casting continues with James Cromwell, Morgan Freeman, Philip Baker Hall, Ron Rifkin, Ciaran Hinds, Bruce McGill and Colm Feore.

It’s a fairly solid collection of films, and still hold up their entertainment value, so it will be interesting to see where Jack Ryan and company go next…