MOVIE REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

written by David Steffen

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the 4th and final movie in the Hunger Games movie series, which is based on the second half of the third book of the written trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and was released by Lionsgate Films in November 2015.

Twelve districts are ruled over by the capital of PanAm.  In continued punishment for a rebellion 75 years ago, the capital rules over the districts oppressively, including forcing children from each community to participate in annual Hunger Games–tournaments to the death both for the entertainment of the capital and to send messages about rebellions.  Inspired by the rebellious actions of Katniss Everdeen of District Twelve, and from their new stronghold in District Thirteen that was previously thought destroyed by almost everyone, the districts are in open conflict with the capital for the first time in 75 years.

When the last movie left off, Katniss Everdeen, who has continued to play the hero for the cameras, now as an avatar of District Thirteen, has been reunited with her former Hunger Games partner and longtime love Peeta, but he has been brainwashed by the capital so thoroughly to twist his love for her into hatred, and he almost succeeds in killing her.  Their next move against the capital is to bring Katniss and Peeta through dangerous boobytrapped sections of the city to make their move against President Snow on-camera.  Katniss isn’t convinced that President Coin of District Thirteen is much better.

The trilogy of books this is based on is powerful and heartfelt, and the movies are reasonably fair adaptations of them.  As with most movie adaptations of books, I’d say the books are better if only because there is more space to spread out and we can get to know the internal conflicts of the characters in more detail, but these movie adaptations, including this one, are some of the best I’ve ever seen and are well worth watching, and I’m glad that because of the movies more people will be familiar with the stories.  Excellent conclusion to the movie series, well worth watching.

Movies Review: Ray Bradbury Award Nominees

written by David Steffen

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation is not technically a Nebula award, but it is announced with, nominated with, and voted with the Nebula awards by the same group of people. These last few years I haven’t made it to a lot of movies in theaters, and I feel sad when I hear about a great SF movie that I never got around to seeing. So this year I’ve used the Ray Bradbury award as a brief guide to what SF movies I really should catch up on from the previous year.

Note that there are two entries in the list that I have not watched. They are:

  • Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor” (Nick Hurran, director; Steven Moffat, writer) (BBC Wales)
    (I have never seen Doctor Who, I don’t know how to find Doctor Who, and I doubt I’d be able to fully appreciate it by watching just this episode in any case)
  • Her (Spike Jonze, director; Spike Jonze, writer) (Warner Bros.)
    (I fully intend to see this but have had trouble finding it. It appears to be in just indie movie theaters around where I live, and I haven’t had time to drive to those theaters and watch, and I don’t think it’s out on DVD yet. Once I find it, I will watch it, and I expect that I will review it separately at that time)

OK, then, on to the list!


1. Europa Report (SebastiÃ’ n Cordero, director; Philip Gelatt, writer) (Start Motion Pictures)
In 2011, new scientific data suggested that there was a liquid ocean beneath the ice crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa. This movie,formatted as a documentary, tells the story of the five-person manned expedition to visit Europa, and to look for signs that life has existed there now or in the past. En route, a crew member dies, but the other five continue on.

I had not heard of this movie at all before the award nominations came out. It must not have gotten much media attention, and even my SF geek friends hadn’t heard of it. I’m very glad that I sought it out. It is so incredibly good. The writing is solid. The special effects serve their purpose without BEING the purpose. And I can’t say enough good things about the acting. There are some peripheral characters in the documentary, but most of the film is on these 6 characters spending more than two years in tight quarters with each other. There are some major and tense scenes that had me on the edge of my seat with anticipation, wanting to find out how everything turned out. But just as important were the small moments, small inconsequential conversations, a frown or a stare or a cast of the eye that made me feel like I understood on some small level the relationships these characters had with each other over the two year voyage. By showing us just a few of these unimportant moments, the moviemakers did a really good job giving an impression of the millions of moments that we didn’t see.

I can’t recommend this movie enough.


2. Gravity (Alfonso CuarÃ’ n, director; Alfonso CuarÃ’ n & JonÃ’ s CuarÃ’ n, writers) (Warner Bros.)

Bio-medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (a woman, despite the name) is on an orbital mission with NASA to insert a processing board in a satellite. After a collision with debris from a destroyed Russian satellite, she’s left tethered to astronaut Matt Kowalski with the rest of the crew dead and no contact with Mission Control. Kowalski had been testing a thruster pack at the time of the accident, so they use the pack to head toward the International Space Station with the aim to use their escape pod to return to Earth.

This movie got a lot of Oscar nominations, and won seven awards this year. I can see why, it’s exciting, well written, well acted. And I admit it’s good to see a space movie take such mainstream honors, maybe it’s a sign that the general public is showing some interest in space travel again. This could easily have made #1 on my list, the main reason it didn’t top Europa Report was that the exploration of the farther reaches of the solar system was even more exciting.


3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, director; Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn, writers) (Lionsgate)
This is the second movie in the trilogy, based on the trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins.

The first story (spoiler alert), The Hunger Games, was about Katniss Everdeen taking her sister’s place in The Hunger Games, a brutal Coliseum kind of fight in which a young man and young woman picked from each of the twelve districts under the rule of the dictatorial capitol are placed in a ring to fight until only one survivor remains. Katniss and Peeta broke the rules in a very public way, when they were the only two contenders remaining, by threatening to commit mutual suicide rather than kill each other.

This movie continues where the last one left off. This show of resistance against the Capitol’s rules has caused rebellions to break out in the districts. The media played this out as being due to their hopeless love for one another, but many people aren’t buying it. Katniss and Peeta must tour the districts and show their supposedly undying love for each other, and read the scripts they’re given. Anything they do might cause more rebellion. And then the drawing for this year’s Hunger Games occurs, but only after an announcement that this year the rules are different to mark the 75th anniversary of the games: only previous champions will be drawn. Katniss is the only female champion of District Twelve, so she knows immediately that she will be going back in the games.

This was my favorite book in the trilogy of books, and I thought the movie did a great job of backing it up. Still great casting all around, great writing, great acting, great special effects, good everything. No complaints whatsoever. I would happily have put this at the top of the list, but it was just stiff competition in this group.


4. Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, director; Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, writers) (Warner Bros.)
In the near future, giant monsters start appearing from the depths of the Pacific Ocean and destroying coastal cities. The first few are killed by local military forces but when more and more of the monsters (Kaiju as they’re called) appear it becomes increasingly clear that this strategy won’t work for long. The nations of the world band together to face this threat, and invent the Jaeger project. Jaegers are mechsuits as tall as skyscrapers which are controlled by two pilots whose minds are intertwined to distribute the neural strain of the piloting. These are very effective for a time, but the Kaiju are getting bigger, getting smarter, and now the Jaegers have been discontinued in favor of a coastal wall. There are only a few of the Jaegers left, and the project is in its dying gasps, but when the wall turns out to be ineffective the Jaegers are the only option.

Most of the information in the last paragraph is conveyed in the first few minutes of the movie. It seemed like this movie was kind of a sequel to a movie that had never been written–that opening sequence was clumsy, but I guess it served its purpose. The movie as a whole was exactly what is said on the tin. Giant human-controlled mechsuits fighting giant monsters. I heard a lot of hype about this movie when it came out but I admit that seeing it now I don’t understand what all the fuss was about. The special effects were good, but only SyFy makes bad special effects anymore, so that’s not remarkable. The acting was good. The writing was pretty good, though some of the action sequences made little sense (why not pull out the badass weaponry at the start of a fight instead of at the end). But none of it really stands out from all the other effects-heavy SF movies of the last few years.

I did have some plausibility issues, mostly regarding the need for two pilots to distribute the neural load. What neural load? The suits are shaped like humans and move like humans, with the exception of the add-on weaponry. You should be able to pilot them by basic motion capture like the motion capture used to make this movie. It shouldn’t even require a neural interface.

“Wait, wait,” I said as I watched the movie and the computer voice narrating the technical actions spoke, “Is the voice of the computer the voice of GLaDOS? From Portal?” And sure enough, it turns out that moviemaker Guillermo del Toro is a fan of Portal and he sought out Ellen McLain who voiced GLaDOS for a cameo appearance. Of course in this case she really is just a computer voice not a mad scientist superpowerful mainframe AI voice.


My Hugo/Nebula Picks 2012

written by David Steffen

In the previous post I suggested my own Hugo/Nebula nominated work. This post has the purpose of sharing my picks for these categories other than our own work. I welcome any and all to post in the comments with their own suggestions.

I’m a bit of an odd duck in my reading habits, in that I ready only a small niche of the types of stuff out there, but I read that very deeply. Almost all of my fiction intake comes from fiction podcasts, which are all Short Story categories, but are often reprints from previous years which are not eligible. I do read novels, but have not read any written in 2012 yet, because I am a slow read and because I re-read the entire Wheel of Time series that pretty much took all year, in preparation for the 2013 release of the final book.

Which is to say, most of the categories that I’ve voted for I am very well read in, but I just left off those categories in which I have not read at all, or haven’t read enough to have some solid picks.

Best Short Story Hugo and Nebula

This is the category I’m most interested in, covering SF/Fantasy/Horror fiction of 7500 words or less.

1. The Three Feats of Agani by Christie Yant (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

2. Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain by Cat Rambo (Near + Far)

3. All the Painted Stars by Gwendolyn Clare (Clarkesworld)

4. Devour by Ferrett Steinmetz (Escape Pod)

5. Worth of Crows by Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)


Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Hugo

Best dramatic presentation of 90 minutes or longer

1. The Hunger Games

2. Game of Thrones Season 2

3. True Blood Season 5

4. The Avengers

5. Wreck-It Ralph

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Hugo

Best dramatic presentation of less than 90 minutes.

1. “Digital Estate Planning” –episode of Community

2. Devour–Escape Pod

3. The Dead of Tetra Manna–Dunesteef

4. The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward–Drabblecast

5. The Music of Erich Zann–Drabblecast


Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation (Not a Nebula)

Related to the Nebulas, but not a Nebula itself, this seems to combine the long and short dramatic forms used in the Hugo.

1. The Hunger Games

2. Game of Thrones Season 2

3. True Blood Season 5

4. Wreck-It Ralph

5. “Digital Estate Planning” — Community


Best Editor (Short Form) Hugo

Editor of short fiction.

1. Norm Sherman (Drabblecast)

2. Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

3. Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld)

4. John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed, various anthologies)

5. Bruce Bethke (Stupefying Stories)


Best Profession Artist Hugo

1. Michael Whelan (especially this Analog cover)


Best Semiprozine Hugo

This is the most complicated category to define. It is not a professional market, which means that neither of the following are true: (1) provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner. In addition, it generally has to pay contributors in something other than copies of the magazine, or only be available for paid purchase.

I’m not totally sure that all of the ones that I’ve picked here are eligible. There might be others that I’m ruling out as not being eligible that are. This category confuses me. but these are my best shot at nominations for it.

1. Drabblecast

2. Escape Pod

3. Beneath Ceaseless Skies

4. Pseudopod

5. Stupefying Stories


Best Fancast Hugo

This is a new experimental Hugo that might get voted in as a permanent one. It is split off from the Best Fanzine Hugo, but must be an audio or video presentation. I’m not totally sure that Toasted Cake qualifies, since they do pay a few dollars per story, but I thought it was low enough that it might be considered as more of an honorarium and let me nominate it.

1. Journey Into…
see my Best Of Journey Into… list for examples.

2. Toasted Cake

3. Beam Me Up
A science fiction radio show and podcast–how cool is that?


John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

1. Jake Kerr
I very much enjoyed his Old Equations on Lightspeed, for one.

2. Mur Lafferty