MOVIES . . . GROSSE POINTE BLANK: "'Grosse Pointe' is 'Fargo's' sister city, deeply nuts and deliciously in denial," says TIME's Richard Schickel. The concept couldn't be higher—that is to say, simpler: a professional assassin goes to his high school reunion. Can't you just see the double takes when Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) tells all those suburban housewives and real estate salesmen what he's been doing since graduation? "'But Grosse Pointe Blank,' its title punning nicely on a famously grim movie about a hit man, is not a one-joke comedy," says Schickel. Neither is it, despite its Disney auspices, cozy family fun. So much to do, so little time—reconnect with the past, disconnect from the present, maybe work on one last contract killing. But Cusack is one comically cool dude, and the movie, which he helped write, is directed with sly sobriety by George Armitage. For all its eccentricities of plot and population, it never feels forced or frantic. BOOKS . . . A PEOPLE'S TRAGEDY: A history of the Russian Revolution (Viking; 923 pages; $39.95), by Orlando Figes, a historian at Trinity College, Cambridge, 'A People's Tragedy' deals vividly with starvation, disease, tribal hatreds, sociopathic blood lust, religious mania, governmental terrorism and most other sources of human misery. But the author’s predominant diagnosis of what went wrong, on all sides and without letup, is that stupidity ruled—quite literally in the case of the last Czar, Nicholas II (who comes across here as dull-minded and weak), and his wife Alexandra (dull-minded and forceful). "Figes is no monarchist, and no Marxist either, and his account respects none of their several sides, says TIME's John Skow. "It will be interesting to see whether leftist or rightist scholars lambaste his book more angrily." After Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, four years of floundering civil war began, with folly in command of both the Red and White armies. Both used summary executions of soldiers and peasants to stop desertions and provision armies, and each permitted bloody pogroms against Jews as recreation for troops. Figes tells the story well, in a very long volume that never becomes unwieldy. He lets Lenin's friend and tolerated critic, the poet Maxim Gorky, make the most telling observation, in a 1919 letter to his wife: "Only the Commissars live a pleasant life these days. They steal as much as they can from the ordinary people in order to pay for their courtesans and their unsocialist luxuries." BOOKS . . . UNEASY RIDER: If you want to see the true America, Mike Bryan contends -- and often proves -- in his new book (Knopf; 349 pages; $25), you have to bypass the blue highways and quaint backroads and hit the Interstate. This he does with the engagingly curious open-mindedness of a true odologist, riding in state-patrol cruisers equipped with “three different sirens—wail, yelp and hi-lo”—and cross-examining moteliers and roadside philosophers at places like the Wes-T-Go Truck Stop outside Abilene, Texas, not so far from where Lee Johnson shows off a half-million-dollar motor coach that does 1,500 miles to a tank of gas. "There are no revelations in Uneasy Rider, and Bryan’s occasionally aimless doodlings don’t always get many miles to the gallon," says TIME's Pico Iyer. "But he does explain (in a footnote) why the Chevy Caprice is "the unofficial freedom-mobile in the Middle East"; that cows in Arizona used to feed on cantaloupes and honeydews; and why Sierra Blanca, Texas, receives 225 wet tons of New York City sludge each day. Listening to the routinely outsize tales of ordinary Americans with an amiable deadpan worthy of Richard Ford, he suggests that distance makes the head grow fonder too. People who buy snakes in bottles of Jim Beam may, in fact, be closer than we know."