Copycat (1995)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Copycat</strong> (1995)

(On TV, October 2000) Oh yawn; another film starring a devious serial killer. We’re seen so much of those by now that the best a new one could hope to do is to maintain our attention for its duration, which -fortunately- is what Copycat manages to do, despite problems here and there. Though Sigourney Weaver gets top billing, the real star here is Holly Hunter, who somehow manages to look sexy and smart (unlike in, say, Crash) as the lead investigator on a series of murders. The film proceeds with a certain effectiveness and rarely a dull moment. There are disputable choices (such as to take out a major character halfway through) and silly computer stuff (self-erasing files! Super video-editing programs! Ultra-high-speed lines!), not to mention a rather predictable ending, but it’s not all that bad.

Bless The Child (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Bless The Child</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, October 2000) This starts out badly, as a teen addict dumps her newborn baby on the doorstep of her older sister (Kim Basinger, who plays, predictably enough, a child psychologist who can’t have children) and depart for parts unknown. Flash forward six years as the little girl is hunted down by a cult for some nefarious purpose. This unpromising start helps a lot to appreciate the rest of the film, which steadily gets better, and even -gasp!- tugs a few strings its its depiction of the relationship between Basinger’s character and her adopted child. Jimmy Smits had a good turn as a good cop, the Catholic church isn’t depicted as corrupt (though the convent may bring back memories of a Simpsons episode featuring a similar school run by French-Canadian nuns), police procedures are nicely handled, there are a few cool miracles here and there and the film moves with a certain energy that, frankly, simply works better than expected. It’s a B-movie, yes, but a rather entertaining one.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, October 2000) This surprised me, and it should surprise you as well. It is obviously much, much slicker (and formulaic) than the controversial original film. It also can’t escape the obvious giggle-factor reflex of thinking about the sheerly lucrative intent of a sequel to a film that already stands as being one of the most profitable in history. The surprising thing is how well it stands up to the original’s originality. Blair Witch 2 assumes the the first one did exist as a film, and features “fans” of the first film, further blurring the reality/fiction line that the first one muddied so well. But this is only a pretext to an exploration of reality, denial and objective truth that works quite well if you’re paying attention. Book Of Shadows (okay, where’s the book?) doesn’t emerges without serious flaws (the caricatural sheriff is a terrible character, and there are several moments where you’ll laugh at the film, not because of it) but it does earn a certain hard-won respect. It’s not a classic, and even calling it good would be dicey, but it’s much better than what you might expect. Many, many people will prefer it to the gimmicky (shakycam) original. It’s fascinating because and despite its relation to the first film, by the sheer distance between the two and by the common bonds that unite them: Sequel, satire, apology, rip-off, homage; it’s all of that. Viewers with an encyclopedic knowledge of horror film and a love for the genre will have a lot of fun dissecting this one. If nothing else, the audaciousness of Book Of Shadows‘s writer/director Joe Berlinger is enough to make it interesting. Oh, and the Wiccan redhead gets naked too.

Bedazzled (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Bedazzled</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, October 2000) Some type of movies are virtually critic proof as long as they’re made competently. Bedazzled is the type of high-concept film that never attains even a fraction of its impressive potential, but won’t disappoint most viewers anyway. The reasons are numerous: Good likable performances from leads Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth (wowsa) Hurley, simplistic but not entirely stupid script, numerous set-pieces and a feel-good finale that redeems almost everything. Granted, there are only a few chuckles and not that many laughs, but it doesn’t matter as long as it’s wrapped in an entertaining package. Add a star if you’re a Hurley fan, because she shows up in almost every possible outfit. Average, but fun.

A Fall of Moondust, Arthur C. Clarke

Signet, 1961, 215 pages, C$1.50 mmpb, ISBN Unavailable

The nice thing about having read a lot as a teenager is that I may keep fond memories of a particular book while forgetting all the details. In the case of A Fall of Moondust (the only Arthur C. Clarke novel in my high school’s library. No, it wasn’t a particularly good library.), I could only remember a fairly good book that ended in mid-story. So, almost ten years later, I couldn’t pass up the chance to pick a good Signet paperback edition of the novel.

I half-expected to be disappointed. A decade -and probably a thousand SF books- older and more jaded, would it be possible for me to have as much fun as the first time around? Clarke is known for books that appeal enormously to teens, but would I be able to enjoy his particularly mechanistic approach to characterization another time?

Well, either I haven’t matured all that much, or Clarke has truly written a really good book. I ended up compulsively reading A Fall of Moondust with, I think, even more enjoyment now than ten years ago.

Written at a time where humans had barely entered the space age, and fully eight years before we went to the Moon, A Fall of Moondust posits the existence of a vast lunar “sea” of very fine dust with liquid-like properties. Humans being notoriously unable to avoid opportunities of the sort, one tourist business starts offering guided tours of the sea using a specialized dust-surfing craft. Obviously, something must go wrong, and that’s why the Selene crashes and sinks under the dust sea with a full load of passengers on board. Search-and-Rescue efforts are mounted, as every passenger has a secret or two to hide.

Simple plot, but as always with Clarke, it’s the simplicity, the technical details, the oddball throwaway lines and the understated good humor of the book that make it all worthwhile. A Fall of Moondust isn’t fancy, but you don’t need to be complex in order to build a novel of humans against desperate odds. The crystal-clear writing style is a joy to read. No useless character traits murky up the narrative. As the average length of the SF novel has risen to a point where shorter novels are a tough sell (see my review of Robert Charles Wilson’s Bios), A Fall of Moondust is just the right length for a good read.

Which brings us to my second surprise: After realizing that the book was as good as I remembered, I found out that there was even more goodness that I remembered! Turns out that my high school’s French paperback edition ended right after the ship is located, but before the rescue efforts got underway. French cheapness or incompetent editing? You decide.

But the net effect was akin to a friend of mine’s fantasy that good books should self-expand to include even more goodness. Suddenly, there was even more fun and entertainment from Clarke! A thrilling rescue sequence! And a complete ending! Can you ask anything more of an updated teenhood memory?

More maturely, it’s interesting to note how gracefully A Fall of Moondust has aged. The technical details are surprisingly good (once you assume the ocean-of-moondust bit) and the pacing is as snappy as ever. Clarke even throws in ultra-modern disparaging references to the nature of visual media news. Yes, the characters and the plotting are a bit plodding, but don’t interpret that as “substandard”; the relevant members of the Selene catastrophe are adequately presented and somewhat sympathetic despite their rough edges. Funny how hard-SF’s weaknesses can become advantages; you can read SF from the seventies and even if it’s twenty years closer, the no-less-caricatural “new wave” approach to characterization seems more ridiculous than Clarke’s no-nonsense approach.

The result, at least, is clear: A Fall of Moondust is well-worth a re-visit for those who read it at least a decade ago, and pretty much a must-read for the others. Classic Hard-SF doesn’t really get any better than this.