The Truman Show
with Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney
A few short months ago, the world was stunned by the bizarre and sudden confluence of the words "Jim Carrey" and "Oscar." It still doesn't seem so strange to think that Jimbo might get the nomination, though he has a tough row to hoe to actually hold the little statue. Why all the fuss? Perhaps it's because Carrey is practically unrecognizable here, in his first non-slapstick role since 1992's Doing Time on Maple Drive, a Fox movie of the week. In the much-ballyhooed Truman Show, it's Carrey vs. the world, whose population is entirely in on the joke that Truman's life is one big put-on, a televised creation from the mind of psycho/genius Christof (Harris). While there's some confusion about how to classify Truman, don't be mistaken: This is a melodrama through and through. But at least it's a watchable one. The film is genuinely entertaining, full of nice touches that give you some inkling of what it might take to pull off such a grandiose stunt. And Carrey indeed does some fine work, despite a wasted supporting cast and a sappy ending. But hell, that seemed to work out pretty well for Forrest Gump, so why not go for seconds? -- Christopher Null
Electra Glide in Blue
D: James William Guercio (1973)
with Robert Blake, Royal Dano, Mitch Ryan, Billy Green Bush, Elisha Cook Jr., Jeanine Riley
A hermit in the Arizona desert commits suicide with a shotgun, or so it would seem. John Wintergreen (Blake) is a sawed-off motorcycle cop who longs to get off the Harley and get into a suit and tie as a state police detective. With his partner Zipper (Bush), he is one of the first on the scene at the suicide and starts gathering clues and acting like the Arizona equivalent of a Texas Ranger. His suspicions about foul play are initially dismissed until the coroner's report finds another slug in the body that doesn't match the shotgun. Wintergreen's solid police work doesn't go unnoticed, and his hopes are fulfilled as Harve Poole (Ryan) takes him under his wing as a driver and protegé. After getting a taste of how Poole operates, though, Wintergreen becomes disillusioned and soon runs afoul of the old-boy system, finding himself back on motorcycle patrol.
Guercio was the producer of many a Chicago album in the Seventies and his sole directorial effort is often as heavy-handed as any of Chicago's "message songs" from the period. Electra Glide purports to be a sort of Easy Rider for the motorcycle-cop set as Wintergreen sets out to find out what he's really made of and what he really wants out of life, but often the movie nearly collapses under the weight of its own good intentions (and pretensions). It combines a fairly standard-issue mystery plot with action scenes, moral questions, and arthouse sensibilities in an overbaked mixture that often works, but not always. It's still worth seeing for Blake's sake; he's always been an actor who's not afraid to take on offbeat roles (ever suffered through David Lynch's Lost Highway?). The show is nearly stolen by Elisha Cook Jr., though, as the raving desert lunatic Willie. With his lips as parched as the sagebrush he calls home, he inarticulately tears his role to pieces and then puts it back together again. Noteworthy hack Mitch Ryan should be instantly recognizable to fans of Dharma and Greg as Greg's uptight dad. Bored audiences can play a little game of find-the-Chicago-member (they just about all made it in there). -- Jerry Renshaw
The Sweet Hereafter
D: Atom Egoyan (1997)
with Ian Holm, Bruce Greenwood,
Despite the most overwhelmingly positive praise a movie can get, two Oscar nominations, and a well-respected leading man, The Sweet Hereafter never mustered more than $4.3 million at the U.S. box office, proving pretty definitively that yes, Americans are by and large uncultured louts. Categorically, Hereafter was one of 1997's most compelling films, no surprise considering the astounding body of work already produced by Canadian auteur Egoyan. Since his breakthrough with 1994's Exotica, Egoyan has continued to hone his craft. Three years later, a breathless film community awaited his follow-up. Few have been disappointed. With The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan continues his well-established method of following one story at multiple times. In this film, it's the tragedy that begins -- and gets worse -- after a school bus careens off an icy road (a chilling "special effect" one critic called the best of the year) in a sleepy town in the Great White North. When lawyer Holm swoops in to build a negligence case against the bus manufacturer and the city, he becomes the unwitting agent as the revealer of the dirty secrets that everyone within seems to hide. The interplay among plot lines and the ultimate resolution of the film will leave you breathless. However, for my money, Exotica is a slightly better film because of Egoyan's use of a final, unifying conclusion that suddenly pops every piece of the puzzle into place. You can see the inevitable ending of Hereafter coming at you like a ton of bricks, and when it hits, it hurts.
-- Christopher Null