When it comes to many characters in the series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, first impressions are usually what we go on right away.
Viewers immediately felt Gilda the Griffon was little more than a bully in her Season 1 episode, but in Season 5’s The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone, we got to learn a bit more about her.
And in the Equestria Girls series, we’ve seen how Sunset Shimmer has worked through some of her issues, and become a respected and encouraging friend to many of the students at Canterlot High School.
“Reformation” has become a word that many have grown a bit tired of in recent seasons of the show, though as some have seen, it has often become the one way to get some characters to return (since we rarely have recurring villains in the series).
And when it came to one fan-favorite (jerk) pony, many went wild when they saw the preview for this episode.
As part of her continuing lessons in learning about friendship, Starlight Glimmer is encouraged by Twilight Sparkle, to make a new friend before Princess Celestia shows up for a special dinner.
Eventually, Starlight happily brings her new friend to the castle, but Twilight is shocked when that friend turns out to be (the great and powerful) Trixie!
It’s been a few episodes since we last encountered Starlight Glimmer, and much like her “Equestria Girls counterpart,” Starlight continues to try and take a few steps at a time, in trying to learn about friendship.
Usually when it comes to making friends, you seek out others who share the same interests as you. In a big way, Trixie ends up fitting that bill better than any other pony in Ponyville (both Starlight and her pretty much ended up enslaving dozens of ponies at one point, and have been trying to learn from that experience).
One of the strangest things in regards to this episode, is how Twilight reacts to Starlight making friends with Trixie.
When last we saw Trixie, she seemed to have come around, and was willing to swear off from her more abrasive and vengeful ways, as we saw in the Season 3 episode, Magic Duel…though that hasn’t kept her from being a bit snarky in Twilight’s presence here.
Twilight’s reaction to Starlight, could almost be on par with a parent being unsure of the new friend their child has brought home. Though the child finds this new friend to be great, certain traits about the child that the parents observe, may lead them to be apprehensive.
The apprehensiveness Twilight displays in the episode gets a little crazy, when Twilight suggests other ‘friends’ Starlight could bring to the dinner. However, the choices may put some in mind of those made when Ponyville was training for the Equestria Games in Rainbow Falls (aka, “fanservice”).
Twilight is mainly front-and-center for the episode, though the other members of the “Mane 6” get a scant few minutes in the first act. However, the scenes reminded me of the bits in Season 1’s The Call of the Cutie, where almost all of the “Mane 6” tried to help Applebloom find her special talent…with each attempt ending poorly.
There also comes a rather unsettling moment, where Starlight is forced to choose between helping Trixie perform a magic act, and attending Twilight’s dinner party…and chooses the magic act!
Ok, I know she’s trying to be a good friend and all, but Twilight is having a dinner party with the Princess of Equestria, to check up on her progress in learning about friendship! That to me, is like the second leg of a job interview, where they bring you in to talk with other team members, to get a feel on if you’d be a good fit for the department: ergo, it’s not something you should just blow off!
Also of note, is the major part of Trixie’s big act in the third part of the show. It actually requires an added hoof (as Trixie is not powerful enough to properly pull it off), and yet she does the act anyway! The fact that she didn’t have a “safety net,” really felt like she either was at the end of her rope, or she held out a sliver of hope that she’d be saved from death…which is a bit odd (and to say the least…suicidal?).
When it comes to voice-work for the episode, both Kelly Sheridan (Starlight) and Kathleen Barr (Trixie), sound like they’re pushing their vocal chops into areas we haven’t really encountered with these characters. Barr’s vocals really feel like they are pushed furthest, as Trixie goes through a few more emotions here, than we’ve seen her have in the past.
Writer Nick Confalone made his debut to the series’ stable of writers, by writing Party Pooped and Hearthbreakers last season. Prances so far feels like his ‘strongest’ episode, but it showed that in its more intimate moments, that is where he seems to excel as a writer. When his episodes attempt to open the story up, it feels like it rattles around, never really feeling like a solid piece of storytelling.
Of course, we’re left to ponder if this new friendship between Starlight and Trixie, will mean that “the great and powerful one” will be seen around Ponyville in a greater capacity. Personally, I could see Trixie maybe coming back for 1-2 episodes before the series ends, but I can’t see the showrunners treating her with the same level of recurring appearances as someone like Discord.
This episode also feels like we’ve put to rest Trixie being conniving or scheming when it comes to one-upping Twilight, but I could be wrong there. If she comes back again, it would feel like a shot in the hoof if we didn’t have anyone trusting her.
Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “No Second Prances” builds on Starlight Glimmer’s friendship lesson story arc for the season, while also bringing up a sticky point from the show’s past. The concept of Twilight being apprehensive about Starlight choosing Trixie as her friend is a good avenue to go down, but the execution as the show goes on gets a little flimsy in her distrust of her pupil’s choices. The little moments between Starlight and Trixie, are some of the best scenes in the episode, though the third act feels rushed. It seems to jam in a number of emotions, let alone a rather shocking conclusion that Trixie really should have considered…unless, she was willing to accept the possibly horrendous outcome…?)
Throughout the numerous seasons of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, we’ve been introduced to all sorts of different creatures, outside of the standard pony-type.
One of the most prominently seen has been griffons, but another has often caused many to wonder, and that is in regards to dragons.
We’ve seen a number of dragons in several episodes, but even though they are a part of this world, the pony-folk have little knowledge about them, as explained in the Season 2 episode, Dragon Quest.
Since the early seasons, Spike has been a window into the ways of “nature vs nurture” regarding dragons. Raised by Twilight Sparkle since he was little, his primary function has been to be her assistant, a trait that has slowed in recent seasons, as Twilight has gone from a student of Princess Celestia’s to an important figure in her own right. Though he has some dragon-like traits, he is rather unique in regards to his viewpoints.
When it came to archetypes, I often thought of Spike like an adopted little brother, but one whose big sister was fine with letting him hang out with her and her friends.
Online, there are some that find him quite annoying, and others that wondered if we’d see him move beyond being a comedic doormat, as most of the show’s writers seemed to have made him into in the last few seasons.
After his whole body starts glowing, Spike is summoned to the Dragon Kingdom, where he and a number of other dragons are expected to compete to try and become the new Dragon Lord.
Spike runs into the teenage dragon Garble whom he encountered in the episode Dragon Quest, as well as the current Dragon Lord’s daughter, named Ember. Both seem to want to prove themselves for different reasons, but soon, circumstances push Spike to also enter the dangerous tournament.
From the first few minutes of the episode, it becomes pretty obvious we’re in for one that bucks the standard.
This is a world-building episode almost on par with The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone from Season 5. However, the map in Twilight’s castle doesn’t figure into this story, as it is largely a problem that has to be solved regarding Spike.
We get quite a few callbacks to the Season 2 episode Dragon Quest (including Twilight and Rarity in multiple disguises). In fact, this episode feels like a direct descendant of Quest.
Probably the most prominent dragon callback, is the teenage dragon named Garble, who hasn’t changed at all from the last time we saw him (and seems to harbor a deeper grudge towards our ponies). Garble once again, serves as the “Diamond Tiara” to Spike, belittling him for his compassion, and associating with ponies.
Character-wise, the episode’s introduction of Dragon Lord Torch and Princess Ember, are two of the big stand-outs so far this season.
The immense and grandiose Dragon Lord Torch, delivers his lines with the kind of bombastic tone one would find from the likes of Brian Blessed, or Gerard Butler. Though he doesn’t get a lot of screen-time, his overall design is still rather impressive, and he had a few lines that gave me a chuckle.
Torch’s daughter Ember, becomes our head-strong Princess figure for the episode (though fortunately, she never reaches the stubborn levels of Merida in Brave). Probably one of her greatest strengths as a character here, is how she is willing to be open-minded, and at times, consider different opinions or ideas, even if she does try to lay on some attitude.
For all the world-building the episode attempts to do, it also feels like it gets too flimsy at times in trying to have its cake, and eat it too.
Torch’s test for the dragons gives us plenty of visual standouts (notably in regards to a few new creature designs and environments), but the structure of the episode oftentimes feels like we’re so quickly shuffled onto a new set piece, that we’re left wanting to know more about the last one.
In a way, this episode feels like it could have just been Spike off on his own, though it might have made some question why a show called My Little Pony, had an episode that was largely without ponies.
Speaking of ponies, Twilight Sparkle and Rarity return to their old ways of camouflaging themselves around other dragons, as Spike makes his way through the gauntlet.
Fortunately, Twilight and Rarity don’t pull any “cheats” and help Spike as he goes on his quest, but the plot thread revolving around them being in the Dragon Kingdom, feels as flimsy as the sub-story in The Gift of the Maud Pie. In that episode, Rarity’s journey to Manehattan to find a new boutique location, is pushed way to the back of the overall storyline, feeling like a time-filling afterthought.
Twilight also grows excited in getting to study dragon culture, and while it mainly just holds to a few lines of dialogue in the overall story, one almost hopes that we may get even more information on the world of these creatures in the future.
Gauntlet of Fire also acts as the second episode this season, where Rarity seems to have picked up the comedic torch in both her actions, as well as what voice-actress Tabitha St Germain brings to the mic.
The writing duo of Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco return for their fourth go-round of episode writing, after handling three episodes in Season 5. One of their most entertaining was Season 5’s Rarity Investigates, and this episode seems to show they love having some fun with her character (though in one scene, Rarity seems rather unfazed to be caked in dirt and mud…but then again, maybe she’s matured from her more prissy Season 1 days?).
Overall, definitely one of the more entertaining Spike episodes, but just needed a little extra “oomph” to have propelled it to greatness.
Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “Gauntlet of Fire” gives Spike the Dragon a starring role, that brings out his better qualities, without turning him into a joke like on some previous occasions. More information on the Dragon Kingdom, as well as its rulers and inhabitants, helps in opening the world of Equestria up to new story possibilities down the line. Bringing back the bullying Garble the dragon feels a little flimsy, and the subplot of Twilight Sparkle and Rarity tagging along with Spike to keep an eye on him, could have been excised to make a dragons-only episode of the show.)
*WARNING: This list delves into spoilers, and assumes that the reader has already seen Season 2 of “Gravity Falls.” You have been warned…*
Following the events of Season 1, it was hard to gauge just where Gravity Falls was going.
Mabel and Dipper Pines had encountered quite a bit in that first season, and it definitely made fans hunger for more.
In Season 2, they definitely upped the ante…and then, the series ended.
Fortunately, finishing off the series was the wish of series creator, Alex Hirsch, who felt the show had said all it needed to say, with its 40 episodes that spanned two seasons (and over 4 years, given Disney’s distribution methods on cable TV).
With the show having ended in mid-February, I began looking over the 20 episodes the season had encompassed. Some played off events that had been started in Season 1, and others brought to light new revelations, that both entranced us, and made us ask even more questions!
With that in mind, I finally present my Top 10 favorite episodes from the second season of Gravity Falls.
__________In Season 1, Falls had an episode called Bottomless Pit, in which several of the main characters shared 3 smaller stories during a journey. Gift Shop borrows the same formula, though unlike it being a collection from several people, it has Stanley Pines trying to get the unseen viewer, to buy something, by spinning crazy stories about the items he has on display.
Maybe it’s because I watched The Simpsons growing up, and have a soft-spot for their Treehouse of Horrors Halloween specials, but this 3-segmented episode gave me plenty of laughs. From Stan losing his hands to a hand-witch, to Mabel fighting her fear of stop-motion puppets, it seemed like there was plenty to enjoy!
Sometimes it’s fun when a series can take a short break from some of its heavier subject matter, and just catch its breath.
When Soos’ grandmother requests that he find a date for his cousin’s wedding, Mabel and Dipper try to help Soos with his people skills. They soon stumble onto a dating game that Soos decides to try, but find out that the girl on it named GIFfany, may be a little more than what she seems.
The episode brings back some memories of the season one episode, Fight Fighters, in how its seemingly regular video game character, becomes something more…though GIFfany is definitely a more unsettling digital creation, than Rumble McSkirmish.
It’s fun to see Mabel trying to apply her matchmaking skills to helping Soos, as well as his uneasiness communicating with women. The episode also serves as one of those reminders about getting out of the house and actually experiencing life, even if it may not be as safe as playing a game is.
There’s also a smaller side-story about Stan trying to find some way to get more money to the Mystery Shack, which is good for a few laughs, notably in the form of a terrifying metal figure he finds endearing.
__________The beginning of the end fell upon Gravity Falls, as Bill Cipher was able to take 3-dimensional form, and take control over the small town, turning it into a fiery-tinged nightmare!
The first part of the 3-parter balances out the humor and drama, as Dipper finds himself on his own, separated from his family, and trying to find some way to stop Bill.
Dipper quickly takes center stage for the episode, as we see him cut off from all of his main resources, and quickly has to figure out what to do next.
Part 1 of Weirdmageddon plays out a bit like any trilogy, in that it starts to set up the pieces on the board, as well as what is at stake for the larger story. Even so, there’s plenty to like here.
We get that balance of comedy and slightly-horrific drama, as we find out what the stakes are under Bill’s reign.
__________Following the events of Part 1, we follow Dipper, Wendy, and Soos into a bubble that Bill Cipher has used to trap Mabel. Inside, we find Mabel presiding over a garishly-bright paradise that she is willing to share with her friends and brother.
The episode functions as a good dual setup, in that it gives us our last major blast of epic Mabel-craziness, as well as shows how Dipper has to keep his wits about him, and try to convince his sister that they can’t stay in this illusive world.
The whole thing feels like a breather before we have to face our fears in the final episode, and it is a nice callback to show the kind of connection that twins in the Pines family have. We saw a bit of this in the episode A Tale of Two Stans, and it seems that even a generation later, the smart/crazy pairing of twin siblings still is a strong bond that holds together.
__________When a number of ghostly apparitions begin to haunt the Northwest Family Mansion around the time of their annual invite-only party, the family hires Dipper to try and get rid of the apparitions.
Following the events of the episode Golf War, some were eager to see if this episode brought Pacifica Northwest back into the realms of character development. Much like that episode, Pacifica’s character continued to take baby steps, attemping to pull away from her family’s snobbish ways.
The episode also builds up more history regarding the Northwest family, with emphasis on how they short-changed a number of workers back in the past, and how that ghostly rage has manifested itself into something with ghastly consequences.
There is also a minor subplot with Mabel and her friends getting to come to the party, and attempting to woo a handsome young man.
Like many of my favorite episodes, this one definitely gets into realms of dark and comedic at times, but it goes the extra mile to eek out a little more stuff in regards to Pacifica’s personality.
__________After the Pines family goes to the local mini-golf course, the group runs into Pacifica Northwest, who Mabel soon ends up challenging to an after-dark mini-golf game. It is here that the group finds that numerous golfball-headed denizens, ‘control the balls’ on the course.
The episode pretty quickly makes its point about rivalries (such as those between Mabel and Pacifica, and the numerous denizens of each of the course’s many holes), and has a little fun with it.
We also get the chance to see Pacifica’s snarky personality, cracking a bit under Mabel’s open personality, and willing to not be as negative towards others.
I also have a soft spot for mini-golf, and it was fun to see the show’s writers try to explain those holes on the course, where you’re not sure just how the ball comes out which hole on the other side of the course!
The Liliputtians are definitely some of the more fun (yet strange) character groups in the show, and it’s fun to hear voice actors like Patton Oswalt and Jim Cummings give them life.
…and I’m sure when it’s all said and done, we musn’t forget…Big Henry.
One of the first big adventure episodes of Season 2, sends Dipper, Wendy, Mabel, and Soos into the woods, looking for further clues to the author of the Journals. The episode also dealt with the on-again/off-again topic of Dipper’s feelings towards Wendy.
The episode plays out like a Goonies-meets-Lost adventure, deep beneath Gravity Falls. Exploring a hidden underground bunker, soon becomes both an endurance test of wits and skill, and a test in which Mabel keeps trying to get Dipper to confess how he feels about Wendy…even though Dipper claims he is over her.
We also get plenty of scares here and there, including a few that one swears were inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The episode is a nice and exciting way to close the door on the Wendy/Dipper subplot, and keeps the scenario from dragging out too long.
__________When the portal beneath The Mystery Shack finally activates, it returns Stanley’s twin brother (and author of the journals!), Stanford Pines, to our dimension.
This episode opened up more on the backstory regarding the older Pines family twins, showing that they contrasted in a way that was similar to Dipper and Mabel. While Stanley was more of a free-spirit at times, it was Stanford who used his brains a bit more.
The backstory into the brothers’ on-again/off-again friendship, also played like an easter egg hunt, as certain things we are told, soon came to light.
The episode also acted as a primer for how a cleave in the twins’ lives led to a rift between them, much like what was proposed in the episode, Dipper and Mabel vs The Future, in which Mabel fears being separated from Dipper, who wants to study under Stanford.
It’s fun at times to see some of Stanley’s failed schemes as he tried to stay afloat, but also gets emotional in how it seems that a rift had developed between them since high school, that was almost hard to fully heal, let alone how he came to be the proprietor of the Mystery Shack.
__________Mabel has another crush, this time on a guy named Gabe Benson, who is really into puppets. Mabel’s attempts to put on a puppet show to impress him, ends up getting in the way of Dipper solving a new mystery…leading him to make a deal with the worst thing possible: Bill Cipher!
This episode really has fun with its puppet theme, as well as Dipper speaking through a sock puppet, and Bill possessing Dipper’s body (which led to reams of fanart online, sometimes for ‘the wrong reasons’).
Mabel’s puppet show is incredibly enjoyable, and there’s plenty of little references to The Muppets all over the place. The episode also deals with how often Dipper would help Mabel out, but she never seemed to return the favor, which I’m sure many viewers noted from several Season 1 episodes.
It also has plenty of funny little quotes from Stan (“Whoa…children fighting! I can SELL this!”).
__________I feel a little predictable, in putting the season’s final episode as number 1, but in the end, it comes down to an emotionally-charged episode, with so much culminating in this major event in the history of the Pines family, as well as the town of Gravity Falls!
The episode also amps up the emotions and action, as those who haven’t been captured by Bill Cipher and his “Henchmaniacs,” stage a final stand to take back the falls, in a spectacular battle and showdown!
Stuff happens here that made my eyes go wide, things were said that made them go even wider, and it all culminated in an ending that managed to be a satisfying conclusion to the Pine twins’ summer vacation/adventure.
That also is a plus regarding the episode. In a world where most animated shows just peter out or get cancelled and leave a lot of things hanging, Gravity Falls was given the luxury of actually coming to an end, and going out on a high note!
Like any Top 10 list, please be advised that these are just my preferences, and opinions.
What was most amazing about the series, was how different it was from most animated series I’ve watched.
Most start out wandering in the dark, trying to figure out just what they’re about, and usually after a few episodes, or into a second season, they get there.
Gravity Falls, was that rare animated oddity that knew what it was going to be from birth, and never faltered as its story went on.
Of course now that the series is over, many out there (myself included) would love to see all the episodes collected into a DVD set with audio commentaries, and other goodies that would make the fans eager to see/know more. Sadly, The Walt Disney Company isn’t in the business these days of giving us as many Special Features, since the future of the industry is largely just in streaming episodes rather than allowing people to ‘own’ them.
Still, creator Alex Hirsch has said that there will be more info this summer, when a hardcover version of Stanford Pines’ third journal is released. Just what we’ll find inside…is still a mystery.
“A lot of people said, ‘congratulations, you guys did what you said you were gonna do, and you spent your whole careers doing it.’ So there was this great feeling of elation, and then, when it was done it was like: ‘…now what?'” – Ed Catmull, from The PIXAR Story
That quote by PIXAR co-founder Ed Catmull, has been one of my favorites since I first saw The PIXAR Story.
Ed’s dream and goal, would take him almost 2 decades to become reality, as computer technology got better, and he met other creative people, until finally, in 1995, PIXAR released Toy Story on the public, and changed how many thought about computers and animation.
Of course, once the goal had been accomplished, as Ed said, he and his cohorts at PIXAR needed to figure out, what would be their next step.
Goal-setting has often been that way, and as we’ve seen in six seasons of Friendship is Magic, a few goals have been achieved, with a few major ones that took place last season.
Now that Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo have gotten their cutie marks, they are now faced with the big question of what to do next.
While the girls have accepted that their marks mean they are to help other ponies with cutie mark problems, there doesn’t seem to be a big demand for their services.
They also realize that while they are good friends, they don’t share a lot of the same interests, and decide to split up to pursue some of their own, individual interests.
This sits well with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo who are eager to try a few things on their own, but Applebloom finds herself uncertain about this decision.
The aftermath of the Crusaders getting their marks, has been up for discussion for some time. Once that bridge was crossed in Season 5’s Crusaders of the Lost Mark episode, the three little fillies just melded into the background.
Going forward, it was a given that some things were bound to change for the girls, and this episode attempts to bring that to light…if a bit clumsily.
Parts of the episode feel like a callback to their earlier episodes, wherein they tried to find their talents, only here, it’s a roundabout way of finding cutie mark “problems,” and trying to figure out what they do, and do not need to do anymore as part of the Crusaders group.
The episode’s writer Dave Polsky has averaged a few CMC-related episodes per season over the last few seasons, and he almost seems to be the go-to writer for them. However, he does have a hit-or-miss track record when it comes to their stories.
It feels like there is a stronger, more cohesive story within On Your Marks, but the episode, like the Crusaders, feels like it’s stuck in a bit of an identity crisis.
The first part of the story is almost like an ‘autopsy’ of what the CMC once stood for, as we see the girls going over charts and other bits of paperwork on the walls of the clubhouse, trying to decide what worked, and what doesn’t work now.
The second part of the story, quickly begins by having the girls go off and exploring their own individual interests. It does seem a little odd that this episode would bring to light that the girls might explore things on their own, as one would assume they would already be exploring individual interests outside of their inner circle (Sweetie Belle’s costume-designing and preference for showtunes in the episode For Whom The Sweetie Belle Toils seemed to hint at this).
Of the three, this decision to explore individual talents hits Applebloom a bit harder than the others, and the episode then turns our attention to following her for the majority of the second act.
Applebloom’s unsure feelings about exploring things on her own, is almost a callback to her feelings of being isolated in Season 1’s Call of the Cutie, though as we’ve seen in some of her more glum moments, Applebloom can sometimes emotionally blow things out of proportion in a big way.
Michelle Creber gets to sing a song as Applebloom in this part of the episode too, and though it has the emotional twang of a heartfelt country song, it doesn’t feel like it works as well as Pinkie’s Lament from Pinkie Pride, or Diamond Tiara’s The Pony I Want To Be from Crusaders of the Lost Mark.
There’s a small addition of more fillies and colts in the episode, with a colt named Tender Taps (who looks like a gender-bent Scootaloo with his coloration), adding something we haven’t heard in a long time: a new, vocal young colt to the show in a small-yet-supporting role (and his appearance has most likely started to find its way into fanfiction and fanshipping regarding a few of the CMC’s as I write this). Of course, I’m not expecting that he’ll return down the line, but you never know.
There are a few little gags that made me chuckle, such as Bulk Biceps having one of his more prominent cameos since the episode, Castle Sweet Castle. There are also a few other little cameos to be had, and much like last week’s episode, a few more pop-culture references are to be found.
Following the more entertaining Gift of the Maud Pie episode from last week, On Your Marks reminded me a bit of the rather befuddled story feel of the 2-part Crystalling Season 6 Premiere.
The focus and emotional heft of the episode feels a bit too scattershot, and much like The Crystalling, might have worked better if certain story elements had been given more room to breathe.
Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “On Your Marks” attempts to push the Cutie Mark Crusaders into a new realm of exploration, though does so at the expense of a rather bumpy episode. Almost acting as a bridge between their past and future, the episode seems to suffer an identity crisis of its own, not quite able to figure out just what it is. Applebloom becomes the focal point of the episode halfway through, and her chance to help another young colt is one of the minor highlights that could have possibly led to a stronger episode of the CMC’s future plans and ideals. )
(Rated PG-13 for some violence and action)
These days, while a lot of people have been eagerly anticipating seeing Warner Brothers’ big Spring release (and ‘launch’ film) Batman vs Superman, I found myself just steering clear of the multiplexes.
In the last few weeks, I began hearing word about a film called Midnight Special. The most I got from a number of tweets and information online, was that it was definitely something special…and according to many reviewers, it was recommended to see it with as little knowledge as possible.
This type of recommendation had also been suggested for other films I had seen, like It Follows, The Witch, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.
And so, I took a leap of faith as I had done with those other films, and stepped into the unknown, of writer/director Jeff Nichols’ latest work.
The film opens with two men named Roy (Michael Shannon), and Lucas (Joel Edgarton), driving across Texas in a beat-up Chevelle. A young boy wearing swimming goggles named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), sits in the backseat, reading comic books.
As they drive across the state, a string of FBI agents descend on a ranch and its inhabitants, taking them somewhere for questioning. One of the persons doing the questioning, is a man named Sevier (Adam Driver).
Alton’s name comes up several times in Sevier’s sessions, and he soon begins to develop questions about the boy as well.
If the summary above seems rather vague, it was because I meant to keep it so.
From the start of Special, writer/director Jeff Nichols throws you into the story with very little information. Much like It Follows, the film is dependent on the viewer using their brain, and at times, drawing their own conclusions.
For those who are well-versed in the films of Steven Spielberg (such as myself), one might also find themselves getting quite a few vibes coming off the film, that will make your “Spielberg-senses” tingle. How crazy are they?…well, I had to excise at least 3 paragraphs from this review about my thoughts on that.
Though where some of Spielberg’s more memorable films might put the camera at Alton’s point-of-view, Nichols holds our focus moreso on the adults.
This was one of the first times I had seen Michael Shannon in anything other than Man of Steel, and I wasn’t sure if I could buy him as ‘a regular guy.’ I was surprised that within 5 minutes, I was able to put aside thoughts of General Zod. There is definitely something going on behind his eyes in this film, and that helps keep his largely quiet demeanor all the more interesting.
Joel Edgarton’s role here is to support Shannon’s character, and the mystery of just who is and how he fits into the story, takes some rather surprising twists and turns.
One of the minor but more memorable characters in the film is Sevier, an FBI agent who figures into the overall story. Of course, after Adam Driver’s turn as Kylo Ren (and Matt, the radar technician), it might be hard to take him seriously in this role…then again, Driver’s character provides some of the few laughs that can be found in this film.
In a strange way, the film is very much a family film, but not like the more sterile, PG-rated fare one knows today. It almost taps into some of the more ‘serious’ tones of 30 years ago, when there wasn’t such a high factor on not scaring the younger ones in the audience.
In recent years, we’ve seen how some filmmakers have tried to tap into the zeitgeist of memorable films of yesteryear (such as Super 8). Here, Nichols actually manages a balancing act that I almost considered impossible. His film manages to straddle the line, with one foot in the films we grew up with in the 70’s and 80’s, and one foot in the present, where many of us have become adults and parents with responsibilities, and new points-of-view when it comes to life.
I will admit when it comes to films containing mysteries, I felt let down by films like Tomorrowland and Prometheus. Those were big films that seemed to hoard more answers that would probably have allowed the audience to go along with much of their world-building, if they would have given us just a bit more content. Luckily, with the smaller format Nichols has with Special, there was less chance of that happening here.
The jigsaw puzzle layout of the film provides enough pieces and information to feel satisfying, but we never get the entire multi-piece puzzle solved, leaving us with plenty to ponder on the drive home.
In the last few years, I have also been surprised at discovering new composers when I find smaller films. In this case, David Wingo’s music is both ethereal, and moving in its minimalist stylings. His main theme definitely stands out, with its simple (and mysterious) piano melody, that sounds like a car driving off into the dark night, not sure just where the final destination is going to take you.
The crowd that wants all their answers spoon-fed to them will most likely grow agitated, but to those of you who want to give your brain and emotions a workout, Midnight Special is the little film that manages to be an experience that will make you wish we could see more films that do what this one does.
Final Grade: B+ (Final Thoughts: “Midnight Special” feels like an enjoyable anomaly in the film world right now. It manages to put one foot in the past regarding films we may recall from Steven Spielberg and the 1980’s, but also plants a foot firmly in the realms of adulthood, and seeing the world from a perspective that might not be wholly comfortable. The actors within the film help drive its mystery forward, dropping small hints that never keep us from feeling like the film is being too covetous with its information. The film is one of the best-kept secrets in theaters at the moment, and I do hope more people will discover it as its limited release continues its slow roll-out across the country)
Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episodes 3) – The Gift of the Maud Pie
When it come to the Friendship is Magic series, their stories regarding sisters have often been some of the most memorable, and well-written episodes.
In Season 4, I was at an impasse regarding which sisters episode I would choose as my second-favorite episode for the season: For Whom The Sweetie Belle Toils, or Maud Pie.
In the end, both episodes tied for the 2nd place slot.
Pinkie Pie’s sister Maud became a highlight of Season 4, and her few appearances since then have all proven to be entertaining, with her dry vocal approach being an interesting contrast to Pinkie Pie’s boisterous tones.
So, after a season opener about newborn foals, I think it was a nice change of pace for the show to slow down a bit, with an episode featuring a few members of the Pie family.
Rarity and Pinkie Pie are both off to Manehattan for a small visit. While Rarity intends to find a new location to open a Manehattan branch of her boutique, Pinkie is here to visit her sister, Maud.
Pinkie does this yearly with her siblings: meeting up with them in various cities, and also doing a gift exchange.
Pinkie is sure she’s found a great gift for her sister this year, but it may come with a hefty price tag…
The tone of this episode took me back to Maud’s first appearance. It could have been so easy just to put her on auto-pilot, but this episode continues to expand on her character.
We get to see a little more of her personality, as well as some skills that may make one question if the Pie family has some extra talents/skills that may be hereditary (or repressed by other family members?).
Boulder the pet rock returns as well, and also makes us question just how much we know about him (at one point, he gets lost!).
Much like Rainbow Dash, trying to make Pinkie entertaining without getting too annoying, can be a tightrope walk.
Here, the writers amp up Pinkie’s emotions to the point that her voice and actions cause many in Manehattan to stop and stare (whether they see her as a possible security threat, is left to our imaginations). Even so, there’s still plenty of little moments that manage to slow Pinkie down enough so that she doesn’t get too manic.
The episode may also be one of the most extensive uses of Pinkie’s party cannon in a long time, and its use as a plot device now has me wondering just where she got it from, as well as just how unique it really is.
With the episode juggling two storylines about being in the big city, it is Rarity’s storefront search that becomes the soft “B-story,” compared to the sisterly “A-story.”
A memorable touch from Maud’s first appearance, was how Rarity was a bit uneasy in her presence, and that is also carried over here…though it seems Rarity is getting a little more accepting of Maud’s personality the more time she spends with her.
The boutique search thread seems to peter off into oblivion, and then is quickly remembered at the end, making it seem a little unneeded in the overall story. This makes me wonder if the story could just have had Pinkie invite Rarity to Manehattan for a little R&R instead, as a way to maybe slow down from the hustle and bustle of running her Canterlot and Ponyville stores.
After being in the rather cold and rather blase tones of The Crystal Empire last week, the colors and environment of Manehattan are a welcome respite.
Manehattan, in the span of a few seasons, has been able to succeed where I feel the Crystal Empire has failed. We have met several denizens of the city, and each episode feels like it helps to open up the sprawling metropolis even more.
Of course, the city still seems to love dabbling in the use of “background jerks” for some of its humor, and the streets still seem to be a bit empty for such a large city.
The main conflict of the episode may put some in mind of the rather blase 3rd season episode, Trade Ya. Though it doesn’t stretch the concept as far as that episode, there are some thoughts and consequences that manage to keep the story rolling.
Last season, many were rather surprised at some of the different facial expressions DHX’s artists added to the Flash animation library. Be prepared for some new ones, as this episode adds a few more to the mix, with most of them associated with Pinkie Pie in a few situations.
The episode also introduces a new pair of writers to the show, with Michael P Fox, and Wil Fox.
Both of them do pretty good with the episode, putting me in mind a bit of G.M. Berrow’s Season 5 episode, The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows (are Pinkie episodes now becoming the norm for new-writer introductions?).
Even though it is enjoyable, the episode isn’t without some little nitpicks.
Notable is a search for a specific gift for Maud, that involves a small, fabricated accessory. Of note is that Rarity herself is good with the sewing machine and creating things…when push comes to shove, couldn’t she possibly provide assistance with this?…or, does her talent mainly extend to major wardrobe items, and not small accessories?
A small scene meant to resolve a gift-search does pretty well at first, but then just snowballs in the third portion of its little story point, almost feeling like the writers had to excise several more searching points down to a quick number of things (most of which will be recognizable to the fandom!).
Watching the episode, I was definitely reminded of last season’s The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows, in that the episode was not perfect, but there was plenty of energy and character work being done, that kept the episode afloat.
And, just like GM Berrow, I’m wondering what Michael and Wil Fox will have for us in store in the future.
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: After a major two-part story, this episode is a welcome chance to go a little smaller, with fewer characters. Additional family information is given about Pinkie and Maud Pie, with Rarity acting as a unique middle-pony to the adventures in Manehattan. The circumstances surrounding the presents in this episode are a little flimsy, but there’s enough good will and characterization to keep us interested. Though Rarity does add a point-of-view outside of the Pie sisters, her subplot about finding a new boutique location feels like it could have just been excised in favor of a small vacation in the big city. )