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Jack Ryan, Slamdance, and William S. Burroughs


There are few film franchises as muddled and confusing as the Jack Ryan action series, which Paramount resurrects today with Chris Pine in the starring role in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

In 1992’s “Patriot Games,” Harrison Ford played retired CIA agent Ryan, who in Tom Clancy’s novel is actually younger than the Jack Ryan that Alec Baldwin originated in 1990’s submarine adventure “The Hunt for Red October.” By the time 2002’s laughable nuclear war “thriller” “The Sum of All Fears” came around, Ryan had aged backward once again, played by a baby-faced Ben Affleck.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” solves the hairy timeline inconsistencies by starting over. It is the first movie in the franchise to not be based on a Tom Clancy book. Instead, it’s an original story — written and revised by at least five screenwriters over five years — that gives the attacks on 9/11 as the reason that super-smart university student Ryan drops out and joins the Marines to fight in Afghanistan. Soon afterward, a mysterious CIA man (Kevin Costner) recognizes Ryan’s courage and recruits him as a CIA analyst.

Much like the latest reboot of the James Bond series, "Shadow Recruit” gives our hero a rich backstory before delving into what you’d expect. The first 20 minutes of the film covers a lot of ground, organically demonstrating Ryan’s bravery, determination and patriotism. Pine is a big part of that, bringing Ryan to life as a real person — one who occasionally gets in over his head and is actually nervous about it, instead of acting like a puffed-up action cliché. You get the feeling that there’s a lot more going on behind his steel-blue eyes than mere brawn and instinct, although that’s certainly there as well.

Once the action moves to Moscow, director Kenneth Branagh pulls off some seriously tense confrontations and isn’t afraid to show Ryan’s vulnerability. Ryan’s girlfriend, played by Keira Knightley, gets drawn into an elaborate undercover put-on involving a Russian businessman and nationalist (Branagh), and the whole affair contains one thing a lot of action movies lack: a palpable sense of danger.

It’s a shame then that the movie has to wrap up with an anticlimactic race to the finish that’s as pat as it is unrealistic. Not only does Ryan run rings around everyone else with his miraculous powers of deduction, but it’s almost as if he’s Captain Kirk, teleporting through time and space to be everywhere at once. As long as the subsequent films in the franchise avoid turning Ryan into a superhero and keep their plots at least somewhat rooted in reality, the Jack Ryan franchise may stand a fighting chance. At least they finally have the right actor.


The 2014 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah — which has run concurrently with the Sundance Film Festival for 20 straight years now — kicked off this week. A Lawrence-based production is one of only 10 films competing in Slamdance’s narrative competition, selected out of 5,000 total entries.

“The Sublime and Beautiful” is written and directed by Blake Robbins (“Oz,” "Sons of Anarchy”) and produced by local film studio Through A Glass Productions. The movie stars Robbins and Lawrence resident and co-producer Laura Kirk (“Lisa Picard is Famous”) as parents whose children are killed in a drunken driving accident, and was filmed in Lawrence over two weeks in 2012.

Chris Blunk and Jeremy Osbern from Through A Glass traveled from Lawrence to Park City with Kirk and production designer Misti Boland Osbern this week for the film’s screenings and to take in the full spectacle of the busiest 10 days a year in independent cinema. “The Sublime and Beautiful” has been accepted to more film festivals and will be making the rounds throughout the year. Fingers crossed that a Lawrence screening will be on that list. (Maybe at the Free State Film Festival in June?)

As part of the month-and-a-half-long multimedia William S. Burroughs Creative Observer exhibition at the Lawrence Arts Center that begins this weekend, the 2010 documentary “William S. Burroughs: A Man Within” will screen for free at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Directed by former KU student Jonathan “Yony” Leyser, the movie covers various facets of the controversial author’s life — including Burroughs' 1982 move to Lawrence — and features interviews with luminaries such as David Cronenberg, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant and John Waters.

Waters himself will be in Lawrence to lecture at the Arts Center on Feb. 20, and more Burroughs-related films will be shown throughout February, including Cronenberg’s 1991 adaptation of “Naked Lunch,” the 2007 documentary “Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road,” and the 2010 Beat Generation movie “Howl,” starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg.

On Feb. 10, the campy/creepy 1922 Danish silent film and not-quite-documentary “Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” will be shown, with music featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and narration that was added by Burroughs in 1968. Check lawrenceartscenter.org for more information.


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