The Unaddressed Issues in YA Dystopian Fiction

written by Maria Isabelle

The future of mankind is dark, desolate and generally pretty frightening. At least, that is what dystopian fiction like The Giver and The Maze Runner would have us believe. Dystopian fiction pictures a future world where many of our current problems are escalated to extreme proportions.These fictitious works are set sometime in the future after we have continued down our current path of destruction and the end result is a world overrun by violence, greed and sometimes even a creepy monster or two. There is an overarching presence of oppression by some sort of political force in all these works of fiction, and it is when citizens of these dystopias realize the system they live in isn’t the one they want to live in, that the story typically begins.

This is not a new genre of fiction, but it has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, especially in the growing young adult market. While there may be many reasons for this rise in YA dystopian fiction, the fact that many of these stories feature an oppressed hero ready to fight for freedom speaks directly to the oppression many teens feel as they grow up. Unfortunately, this oppressive feeling also highlights what is really lacking in many dystopian works including the minimization of racism, sexism and a number of other issues plaguing modern society.

While issues such as technological dependency, government control, and environmental destruction get A-list exposure, real problems teens (and adults) face on a daily basis are mostly ignored. Right now, there is a big discussion happening on the role both racism and sexism play in YA dystopian fiction. Hit properties like the Divergent series actually go right for societal separation, which one would think is the perfect place for a discussion on racism and equality. Instead, Divergent (and its sequel Insurgent – streaming info for both here) avoids all of that messy real-life drama and instead chooses to base its separation on virtues instead of race, which is unfortunately far more likely the way our evil future-selves would run things.

Along the same thinking, The Hunger Games features a predominantly white world with little room for race issues. Sure, there are some minority characters in the film, but not too many fans likings. During casting of The Hunger Games, it was announced that Willow Smith may play Rue, a young girl that was written as a minority in the books, and the internet went wild.

All over Twitter, blogs, and forums fans of the series were coming out in droves to bash the casting of an African-American girl as Rue. These comments varied from the downright hateful to the more passive-aggressively racist, but the general sentiment was the same. Following the movie’s premier, the comments continued and even though Smith did not play the role of Rue, Amandla Stenberg put forth a sensational portrayal of the character even the harshest of critics couldn’t ignore.

It comes as a surprise to many that in comparison to other dystopian fictions, and actions movies in general, the main protagonists in these films are strong female characters. Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley have been dominating screens in these films for a couple years now openly challenging gender stereotypes. The underlying tone of female empowerment present in these series is great for the young girls that are typically fans of the genre. But rarely are the serious issues many women face on a daily basis like discrimination and harassment addressed.

While most dystopian fictions feature some element of racism or sexism, they barely scratch the surface of the issues and their repercussions in the real world. By tackling these major issues in young adult fiction, we are encouraging the youth of today to openly discuss the real-world problems they face now and will in the future, possibly opening up the genre to a whole new reading and viewing public. Ignoring these real-world issues are akin to simply saying they do not exist or are not important, and we all know that is not the case.

 

Prof Pic 1

Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

Hugo Dramatic Long Form Review 2014

written by David Steffen

Another Hugo category, this one for Hugo Dramatic Long Form, which usually means feature films. Three of them are repeats from the Ray Bradbury award that I’ve already reviewed this year, so those three are pretty much the same review text. I look forward to these every year because I don’t have time for a lot of movies, but I can use this as a quick-start guide for the year’s notable movies. Since movies are such a popular form, the category gets a ton of votes, so is an even better representation of SF fan tastes than most.

 

1. Iron Man 3, screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)

This movie takes place after The Avengers that was released the year before, when Tony Stark/Iron Man played a pivotal role in closing the wormhole that had opened above New York City to let an alien army attack Earth. In the wake of the attack, Stark is having increasingly frequent anxiety attacks and finds himself unable to sleep most nights–instead tinkering obsessively in his lab. To good effect since he’s finished making a suit that responds to mental commands and can seek him out wherever he needs it.

As if on cue, a new villain has arisen–the Mandarin, a terrorist leader who takes over the air waves to publicize each new symbolic but powerful attack on American interests, hell-bent on making symbolic strikes against the US. Stark’s chief of security is injured in an attack by an unknown with unexplained explosive abilities and although Stark is no longer in the weapons business, he’s not against using Iron Man for a personal vendetta, and he makes a public threat against the Mandarin.

As with the other two Iron Man movies and his role in The Avengers, the writing for Tony Stark’s character is half the fun. He is doing his best to do the right thing, but even so he always has some kind of snarky comment for both the good guys and the bad except when he’s too winded to say anything.

There are some good twists and turns in the movie, some major ones I didn’t even catch a hint of before they happened that were really great. Of course a Marvel superhero movie is going to have action, but this one brought it in spades–that final fight scene (more of a series of interconnected fight scenes I guess) is amazing, kept me on my toes throughout the whole thing.

Although some of the other movies nominated this year were more thoughtful pieces, a well executed Marvel blockbuster is one of my favorite kinds of movie.

 

2. Gravity, written by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n & JonÃ’ s CuarÃ’ n, directed by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; 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, Iron Man 3 just happened to top it because a well-executed Marvel movie is tough to beat.

 

3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; 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 eligible. 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. Frozen,screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)

Elsa and Anna, sisters and princesses, are very close friends as children, and especially love to play in the snow… inside their castle with Elsa’s magical ability to generate frost and snow at will. But one day as they’re playing, Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her power. Their parents call for the help of the Troll King to heal her. As part of the healing process the Troll King erases Anna’s memory of her sister’s powers. As a precaution, their parents seal up the castle and keep the girls inside until Elsa learns to control her powers. Elsa is terrified of hurting her sister again, and so spends most of her time alone in her room, driving a wedge between the girls who had been so close in their childhood.

The girls grow into teenagers, their parents die at sea, and a coronation is scheduled for Elsa. Anna is excited to finally see the outside world after being sealed up for so long. Elsa, on the other hand, is only more terrified that she’ll have to go out into public where her powers might get away from her again. In the excitement of the party and events that surround her, Elsa’s powers do get out of control again and she drops the country into an apparently unending winter when it’s supposed to be summer (well, that’s what the movie makes it out to be though I’m not sure how you can call it unending when less than a day has passed). Elsa flees into the mountains and so it’s up to Anna to go find her sister in the hopes that she can help Elsa calm down and let the summer come back again.

This movie had a ton of hype surrounding it. It seemed like everyone I knew was talking about it, the songs were getting play all over the place, and quite a few people I knew billed it as the best Disney movie in a long long time. I do like to see hyped movies to get an idea of what it’s all about, so I’m glad I did. In this case, I didn’t really get why it got the attention it did. It was an enjoyable movie. I thought Anna was a very appealing main character, and I do like the recent trend that Disney princesses can be more active characters, who can be the heroes of their own story. But apart from that aspect, I didn’t think it was really much different than dozens of other Disney movies and other kid’s movies. The songs were fine, but I didn’t find them to be earworms–tons of other movies have gotten tunes stuck in my head, but this one hasn’t plagued me. I’d certainly recommend seeing the movie if you get the chance, but I can’t say it’s really any more than your average Disney movie, and there are plenty of other Disney movies I’d recommend before this one.

 

5. Pacific Rim, screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)
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 enough to carry a movie by itself. 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.

Review: Hugo Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Nominees 2013

written by David Steffen

You may notice that four of the five nominees here are also nominees for the Ray Bradbury award this year, which I also reviewed. So, yes, I did just move my review of those four into this article. If you read that previous article and you want to just read the new stuff, The Hobbit is the only nominee that was nominated for Hugo but not for Ray Bradbury, so you can skip ahead to that part.

Anyway, this was a very enjoyable batch of movies this year!

 

1. The Cabin in the Woods
When I saw the previews for this movie I didn’t know what to make of it. The vague impression I got was that it was tortureporn, of the same ilk as Saw and Human Centipede. So I didn’t see it theatres. But then I kept getting recommendations for it from people who have similar taste as me. And it got a Ray Bradbury nomination–surely my fellow SF writers would have better taste than to nominate something of that variety, I figured. So I decided to give it a try.

At the beginning, the main thread of the movie may seem familiar, stereotypical even. Five college students go to visit an isolated cabin in the woods for a vacation, each student a different archetype of such movies. A classic horror setup for anything from monsters to serial killers. But there are other scenes interspersed with this main plot that show scenes from what could be a typical dull government office, except that these guys in ties are controlling the events at the cabin in the woods and steering them toward some outcome. In the end it’s all explained and is extremely entertaining.

It’s full of action. It has some gore, but I thought the amount was reasonable considering the content–I trust Whedon to use gore effectively. Personally I found it more often funny or just plain awesome, but rarely scary, but I don’t think the classification of this movie as horror is inaccurate. It is meant specifically as a response to the stereotypes of horror film and there are gory parts and things that might be scary to other people but the way that it was presented put it in a completely different light for me.

 

2. The Avengers
I saw this one in theaters. I haven’t kept up with all the Marvel movies, but my favorite superheroes are all Marvel and it was such a fun idea to have a movie that takes all the recent big-hit Marvel movies and combines them with all the same actors. I’ve never seen anything put together quite like that, with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America already having their own feature films in their own right.

Although the Avenger Initiative has been canceled before the movie even begins, the group is brought together to counter a threat to the entire world. Thor’s brother Loki is trying to open a portal to another dimension to bring through an army to conquer Earth. The group must come together to try to stop them: Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye, Thor, all organized by Nick Fury. My concern with the premise was that either just a few of the heroes would get the focus and the rest would be background characters, or they’d spread the attention so thin that you never felt like any character really got their chance to shine. But Whedon (again!) did a superb job balancing the characters in such a short period of time, while leaving me satisfied. Each character got plenty of chances to show their skills (though Hawkeye seems a little ludicrously unpowered in such a group). Each character brought something to the group, both in abilities and in dialog/character. Iron Man got all the best lines, while Captain America was the straight man, Banner was the skeptic, and so on.

Admittedly, much of anticipation was waiting for the next time that Bruce Banner would Hulk out, but that anticipation just made the smashing time all the more fun.

 

3. The Hunger Games
Heather and I heard the hype about this movie about a year before it came out, and we both read The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins–this movie is the first of the three adaptations.

The story follows Katniss Everdeen of District Twelve, one of the twelve districts that is little more than a prison colony of the totalitarian government of Panem, occupying the territory now occupied by the United States. The districts have risen up against the capital before, but the rebellion was crushed. To punish and remind them, every year the capital randomly chooses two tributes (a boy and a girl) under the age of 17 to fight in an arena. These 24 young people are put in a strictly controlled arena with limited resources, and they stay in there until all but one of them are dead–the district of the winner is showered with prizes (mostly extra food). Katniss’s 12-year old younger sister Primrose is the one taken in the random drawing, and Katniss volunteers to take her place. She is the sole provider for her sister, and she must find a way to survive to keep her sister alive. The game involves not just action, and wilderness survival, but politics as the games are watched by the public and controlled by the government to ensure the audience is satisfied.

I’d recommend the book to anyone. The movie is one of those rare movie adaptations that does its book justice in tone and content, though the book of course contains more of what you see in the movie. Being able to see the opulence of the capital is the best part because that was one of the parts of the book that I was looking forward to seeing the most.

 

4. Looper
Heather and I watched this one together before the Bradbury nominees were announced based on recommendations from friends.

Time travel is invented 30 years in the future, but it is primarily used by criminals. Other technologies will have progressed by that time, including technology which makes it almost impossible to dispose of a dead body without evidence of it being discovered by the police. So criminal organizations have developed a system using time travel to solve this problem. They hire people from 30 years before (a time before time travel was invented) to act as “loopers”. Their job is to wait at specific places at specific times for murder victims. The victim will come through with a hood over their head and their hands bound behind their back and all the looper has to do is kill the person and dispose of the body. Since neither the forensic technology nor time travel has been invented at this time, it’s much easier to dispose of the body. With each victim is a payout in silver. The looper continues this work, until eventually a victim comes through that looks like any other, and is to be killed in the same way. This victim comes with a gold payout, enough to make a person filthy rich. This victim is the looper from the future time, and the murder of that person “closes the loop”, destroying any chance for the future authorities to interrogate this older person, hence the name. Complicated, but interesting premise, for sure.

The protagonist, Joe, is a looper, but when his golden payout comes through, something goes wrong and his future self escapes. This makes them both fugitives from the criminal organizations that run the system. The young Joe wants only to kill the older Joe so that he can live normally again. Older Joe isn’t so keen on this plan, but he has to try to keep young Joe alive because killing him will make old Joe disappear.

It’s really a sign of the quality of the nominees that this is #4. This movie is great, and I’d highly recommend it. It’s action packed from start to finish. I was skeptical that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would seem plausible as a young Bruce Willis, but they managed to pull it off with the use of some facial prosthetics to change the shape of his face. It looks really real, though it’s disconcerting if you’re used to Joseph’s face from his other acting work. It’s not just a mindless action movie; they did a great job plotting it, putting foreshadowing in place that’s not too blatant but which makes sense in retrospect and the ending resolution totally makes sense while not being too obvious.

 

5. The Hobbit
I’ve been waiting for this one to come out for quite some time. I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies more than the books that they are based on because I’ve found Tolkien’s writing style to be rather impenetrable. When I first heard that Peter Jackson would also be working on The Hobbit, I was very excited. But my excitement dampened a bit when I heard that The Hobbit was being made into a trilogy of movies. And by the look of it they’re going to be long movies. I can understand why The Lord of the Rings needs to be turned into nine hours of feature film (okay I know the uncut trilogy is more like twelve, but you get my point). The one-copy collection I have of them is more than a thousand pages. Really, he had to cut out a lot of material to fit that in the way it was. But The Hobbit is a children’s book, is a very quick read. Where The Lord of the Rings needs to be cut drastically to fit into the space, The Hobbit really needs to be embellished to fit in the space.

And that was my main complaint about the movie is that it’s been expanded so much, shoehorning in characters from The Lord of the Rings that never graced the pages of The Hobbit, adding in fight scenes, side plots, lots of extra stuff. There are lots of fun special effects, good acting all around, I just felt it was too long for the actual content. The Lord of the Rings got away with it because the stakes are so much higher–Sauron is threatening to conquer the world. Here the stakes are not all important to the world as a whole–the dwarves want their home back, and the area surrounding the mountain would rather do without a dragon, but really they’re going and picking a fight that they don’t really need to pick. For a movie that’s fine, but an epic trilogy is a bit much for this, I thought.

But, if you liked The Lord of the Rings movies, and you want more, you’ll probably want to check this out. I thought Bilbo’s interaction with Gollum was very well done especially.

So, I liked it, but in general I thought it was rather over-embellished for its content.

Review: Ray Bradbury Award Nominees 2012

written by David Steffen

The Ray Bradbury Award isn’t exactly a Nebula, but it keeps company with the Nebulas, voted for by the SFWA members and presented at the same ceremony. Its full name is the “Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation.”

There are six nominees. Three of them I’d already seen by the time the nominees were announced, and I figured it would be fun to rent the other three as well. I love science fiction movies, and a few hours watching a list of the most popular movies is a great use of time.

So here is my opinion of them, rank-ordered by preference.

 

1. The Cabin in the Woods
When I saw the previews for this movie I didn’t know what to make of it. The vague impression I got was that it was tortureporn, of the same ilk as Saw and Human Centipede. So I didn’t see it theatres. But then I kept getting recommendations for it from people who have similar taste as me. And it got a Ray Bradbury nomination–surely my fellow SF writers would have better taste than to nominate something of that variety, I figured. So I decided to give it a try.

At the beginning, the main thread of the movie may seem familiar, stereotypical even. Five college students go to visit an isolated cabin in the woods for a vacation, each student a different archetype of such movies. A classic horror setup for anything from monsters to serial killers. But there are other scenes interspersed with this main plot that show scenes from what could be a typical dull government office, except that these guys in ties are controlling the events at the cabin in the woods and steering them toward some outcome. In the end it’s all explained and is extremely entertaining.

It’s full of action. It has some gore, but I thought the amount was reasonable considering the content–I trust Whedon to use gore effectively. Personally I found it more often funny or just plain awesome, but rarely scary, but I don’t think the classification of this movie as horror is inaccurate. It is meant specifically as a response to the stereotypes of horror film and there are gory parts and things that might be scary to other people but the way that it was presented put it in a completely different light for me.

 

2. The Avengers
I saw this one in theaters. I haven’t kept up with all the Marvel movies, but my favorite superheroes are all Marvel and it was such a fun idea to have a movie that takes all the recent big-hit Marvel movies and combines them with all the same actors. I’ve never seen anything put together quite like that, with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America already having their own feature films in their own right.

Although the Avenger Initiative has been canceled before the movie even begins, the group is brought together to counter a threat to the entire world. Thor’s brother Loki is trying to open a portal to another dimension to bring through an army to conquer Earth. The group must come together to try to stop them: Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye, Thor, all organized by Nick Fury. My concern with the premise is that either just a few of the heroes would get the focus and the rest would be background characters, or they’d spread the attention so thin that you never felt like any character really got their chance to shine. But Whedon (again!) did a superb job balancing the characters in such a short period of time, while leaving me satisfied. Each character got plenty of chances to show their skills (though Hawkeye seems a little ludicrously unpowered in such a group). Each character brought something to the group, both in abilities and in dialog/character. Iron Man got all the best lines, while Captain America was the straight man, Banner was the skeptic, and so on.

Admittedly, much of anticipation was waiting for the next time that Bruce Banner would Hulk out, but that anticipation just made the smashing time all the more fun.

 

3. The Hunger Games
Heather and I heard the hype about this movie about a year before it came out, and we both read The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins–this movie is the first of the three adaptations.

The story follows Katniss Everdeen of District Twelve, one of the twelve districts that is little more than a prison colony of the totalitarian government of Panem, occupying the territory now occupied by the United States. The districts have risen up against the capital before, but the rebellion was crushed. To punish and remind them, every year the capital randomly chooses two tributes (a boy and a girl) under the age of 17 to fight in an arena. These 24 young people are put in a strictly controlled arena with limited resources, and they stay in there until all but one of them are dead–the district of the winner is showered with prizes (mostly extra food). Katniss’s 12-year old younger sister Primrose is the one taken in the random drawing, and Katniss volunteers to take her place. She is the sole provider for her sister, and she must find a way to survive to keep her sister alive. The game involves not just action, and wilderness survival, but politics as the games are watched by the public and controlled by the government to ensure the audience is satisfied.

I’d recommend the book to anyone. The movie is one of those rare movie adaptations that does its book justice in tone and content, though the book of course contains more of what you see in the movie. Being able to see the opulence of the capital is the best part because that was one of the parts of the book that I was looking forward to seeing the most.

 

4. Looper
Heather and I watched this one together before the Bradbury nominees were announced based on recommendations from friends.

Time travel is invented 30 years in the future, but it is primarily used by criminals. Other technologies will have progressed by that time, including technology which makes it almost impossible to dispose of a dead body without evidence of it being discovered by the police. So criminal organizations have developed a system using time travel to solve this problem. They hire people from 30 years before (a time before time travel was invented) to act as “loopers”. Their job is to wait at specific places at specific times for murder victims. The victim will come through with a hood over their head and their hands bound behind their back and all the looper has to do is kill the person and dispose of the body. Since neither the forensic technology nor time travel has been invented at this time, it’s much easier to dispose of the body. With each victim is a payout in silver. The looper continues this work, until eventually a victim comes through that looks like any other, and is to be killed in the same way. This victim comes with a gold payout, enough to make a person filthy rich. This victim is the looper from the future time, and the murder of that person “closes the loop”, destroying any chance for the future authorities to interrogate this older person, hence the name. Complicated, but interesting premise, for sure.

The protagonist, Joe, is a looper, but when his golden payout comes through, something goes wrong and his future self escapes. This makes them both fugitives from the criminal organizations that run the system. The young Joe wants only to kill the older Joe so that he can live normally again. Older Joe isn’t so keen on this plan, but he has to try to keep young Joe alive because killing him will make old Joe disappear.

It’s really a sign of the quality of the nominees that this is #4. This movie is great, and I’d highly recommend it. It’s action packed from start to finish. I was skeptical that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would seem plausible as a young Bruce Willis, but they managed to pull it off with the use of some facial prosthetics to change the shape of his face. It looks really real, though it’s disconcerting if you’re used to Joseph’s face from his other acting work. It’s not just a mindless action movie; they did a great job plotting it, putting foreshadowing in place that’s not too blatant but which makes sense in retrospect and the ending resolution totally makes sense while not being too obvious.

 

5. John Carter
I rented this one after hearing the Nebula nominees.

This is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series starring John Carter, and covers the events in the first book “Princess of Mars”. (Burroughs is also the creator of Tarzan) John Carter is a former Confederate Army captain in the civil war who has decided he doesn’t want to fight wars any longer. Instead he’s taken up a treasure hunt, looking for a cave of gold marked with a spider. While fleeing from both the Confederate army and a band of Apache, John finally finds the cave and in it kills a strange man who threatens him. He takes the man’s medallion which somehow transports him to Barsoom, which is the natives’ name for the planet of Mars. Because he was born on a planet with higher gravity, his body and muscle mass are much more capable here, so he has super strength compared to the natives.

He is taken in by a band of Tharks, a green-skinned tusked four-armed humanoid race, who feed him a drink that gives him the language of the planet. He learns of the war between two of the cities of Barsoom, and is soon drawn into it against his will.

This story is fun, action packed, has good casting, humor, dialog, and special effects. The only reason it goes this far down on the list is that it had less of an emotional attachment to me than some of the others. Maybe someone who had read the original Barsoom books would have more of an attachment. Still, it was a couple hours well spent to watch the film.

 

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I think it’s pretty unusual for a Nebula nominee to also have been a film to get a bunch of Oscar buzz. This is one of those. I hadn’t seen it when the nominees came out, but since it also had Oscar buzz it was easier to talk Heather into watching this one with me than some of the others.

The story follows five-year old Hushpuppy and her sick and mean-tempered father Wink who live in a Louisiana community called the Bathtub, cut off from the rest of the world by a levee. A storm is approaching, and many of the residents evacuate, but these two and some others stick to their home turf despite the danger, and despite evacuation orders from the government. The storm comes and floods the area with saltwater, killing everything, but they still don’t want to give up their home.

I really wanted to root for Hushpuppy. She’s got a lot of guts, especially for a kid her age, and you just want her to survive. The reason I didn’t rate this movie higher is that I just don’t understand the motivation to stay on your turf even when it’s obvious that doing so is going to kill you. Even more so when you have a child to care for. Hushpuppy’s narration tries to explain this by talking about how animals survive, ensuring that the toughest of them live on, but I thought this was a weak explanation at best, especially from Wink’s point of view. So, to me, the movie was nothing but a slow and inevitable downfall from a tough life to an impossible life, and I didn’t really think their choice was worth it.