Monday, February 28, 2011

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - Episode Fourteen

Strangely enough, the girliest episode of this series manages to be the best one yet.  How is this possible?
Suited For Success
Over at her dress shop, Rarity fantasizes about the new gown she's going to make for the Grand Galloping Gala (wait, that hasn't happened yet?), which her snooty kitty, Opalescence, cares nothing about.  But in true pet owner fashion, Rarity interprets Opal's very presence as a desire to help, and loads down the cat with all manner of sewing paraphernalia while she gets to work.  Not too much later, Applejack and Twilight Sparkle arrive for a visit, but try and respect the fact that Rarity's working.  Their whispering in the background kind of defeats the purpose, but Rarity puts on a smile and asks why they've come.  Twilight pulls out a dress and asks Rarity to fix one of the buttons, since it's what she's wearing to the GGG.  Rarity cannot bear to hear that Twilight plans on wearing something old, and offers to make her a brand new outfit right then and there.  Twilight tries to turn her down, not wanting her to go to all that trouble, but Rarity refuses her refusal and then turns her eye to Applejack.  The farm pony may have been all set with her work duds (she does plan to spend the gala selling apples and apple accessories, after all), but not on Rarity's watch!  She gets Applejack to agree to let her "spruce up" the duds, just as Rainbow Dash unceremoniously crashes into her shop.  Rather than be upset by the hole in her roof, Rarity is instead inspired!  She'll make gowns for all her friends and then throw a fashion show to show off her designs.  The ponies present are on board, but Applejack points out that she's got a lot on her plate, making original outfits for six ponies in a relatively short span of time.  Rarity just laughs at her, "You make it sound as if it's going to be hard!"
Little does Applejack know, Rarity has a secret weapon: the Sondheim-inspired montage song!  "Stitch by stitch, stitching it together..."  As she sings about the various ways of making dresses uniquely for each pony, Rarity designs, cuts, sews, irons, and annoys Opal.
"And that's the art of the dress!"
However, when she shows off the finished products to the others, they're not as thrilled as she thought they would be.  Though they try to put her at ease, Rarity can easily tell that something's not quite right, especially when Rainbow Dash out and out tells her she thought it would be cooler.  It turns out each pony was envisioning something different, so Rarity tells them she wants them to be satisfied and offers to redo the dresses, despite the others telling her she really doesn't have to.  But she insists, putting on a brave face that lasts only until the last pony leaves.  "What have I gotten myself into?" she groans.
Rarity gets her first taste of what she's in for when Fluttershy tries on the second gown.  It still isn't quite what she wanted, but being Fluttershy, she tries to convince Rarity that it's perfect.  Rarity, of course, sees right through her, and pretty much badgers Fluttershy into telling her what she really thinks.  Which turns out to be a lot more than Rarity expected, as Fluttershy complains about the fabric, the stitching, and how it isn't really French haute couture, revealing that she really knows quite a bit more about fashion and design than you'd think.
Thus begins Rarity's day of despair, as she once again uses the power of the montage song to struggle through designing outfits to the exact specifications of each pony.  Twilight insists her dress sport accurate constellations, Pinkie Pie wants to pile on anything and everything, Applejack tries to be prepared for any possible weather condition, Fluttershy pleads for true haute couture, and Rainbow Dash just wants her outfit to look 20% cooler.
"Got to overcome intimidation, remember it's all in the presentation!"
By the end of the day she's left totally exhausted, her own dress not even finished, and the dresses that are done are the ugliest ones she's ever made.  But everypony besides her is satisfied, so she puts aside her own feelings in favor of her friends/clients'.  Unfortunately, she forgot that she also planned a fashion show to go along with these dresses, and to her great dismay, Spike took the liberty of inviting Hoity Toity, Canterlot's hottest fashion maven.  Everyone else is excited, certain that she'll be living the dream as soon as Hoity Toity gets a load of their dresses, while Rarity's eye twitches.
That evening, as the crowd gathers for the fashion show, Rarity hyperventilates, her every nerve on edge as she hopes against hope that Hoity Toity will somehow like the dresses as much as her friends do.  DJ Pon-3 gets things started, and Spike once again plays announcer, introducing Rarity's designs.  The ponies strut their stuff, slowly becoming aware that their outfits are not having the anticipated effect.  Hoity Toity in particular is vocal in expressing his distaste for the designs and the time wasted.  Spike, oblivious to the crowd's less-than-stellar reception, calls for Rarity to take a bow, and she dutifully goes out, her head hanging in shame.
After the cringe-inducing fashion show, Rarity takes to her room, refusing to be seen in public, even when her friends come to coax her out.  As her friends try to think of a way to get Rarity to stop wallowing in pity (or whatever it is ponies wallow in), Twilight spots the half-finished gown from the start of the episode.  Rarity continues to muse on her shamed state of life, pondering exile, when she hears the cries of her kitty and rushes to the window, spotting Opal clinging for dear life to the branch of a tree.  She rushes outside to save her pet, only to find Rainbow Dash sitting in the tree, as well.  She reveals this was all a ploy to show Rarity her gown, which they were able to finish up for her, thanks to Fluttershy's knowledge of sewing.  Rarity plays hard to get at first, but is unable to keep her true feelings from her friends: of course she loves it!  Her friends acknowledge that they should have trusted her original designs, and all is forgiven.  But Rarity's reputation and business is still a shambles.  Fortunately, Hoity Toity is still in town, and he allows Rarity to have a do-over fashion show just for him.
Using her unicorn magic, Rarity creates a fashionscape for each pony and her outfit: a celestial terrain for Twilight Sparkle, a perfect farm day for Applejack, a shower of candy for Pinkie Pie, a rainbow storm for Rainbow Dash, and a floral banquet for Fluttershy.  Hoity Toity is completely impressed and calls for the designer, Rarity's cue to appear in her new gown and thank him for his enthusiastic cheers.  At the afterparty, Twilight drafts her letter to Princess Celestia, revealing that there were two lessons to be learned this day.  Rarity learned not to try and please everyone, and Twilight and the others learned not to be overly critical of nice gifts.  Hoity Toity asks to feature Rarity's work in his boutique back in Canterlot, and she accepts, naturally.  Though her eye goes all twitchy again when she hears that he wants a dozen of each dress by next Tuesday...

First off, I was absolutely squeeing over "The Art of the Dress" from the minute I realized it was based on "Putting It Together" from Sunday in the Park With George, but it's a good song in its own right, too.  Beyond that, though, I'm really at a loss for words when it comes to why I love this episode so much.  By all rights, it should have been just a decent episode, but somehow the story was just so much more.  On top of that, there was a ton of great animation and expressions from all the characters, not to mention Rarity's cute glasses.

Misc. Screenshots
That color's too obtrusive
You're putting me in a bind
Working on Dash's outfit
Dash's doesn't look that bad.
Hide me!
Hoity Toity can't believe his eyes

Oscars 2011

As you know, I usually blog the Academy Awards as they happen, but since I had to work during half the show this year, I figured I wouldn't bother, even though I did tape what I missed for watching later.  And, truth be told, I don't really have that much to say about what I did see, except that I'm so glad the song from 127 Hours didn't win.  Seriously, how did that even get nominated?  And I liked all the winners coming out at the end.  That was nice.
These past few years, though, I've noticed that I haven't enjoyed the show as much as I used to, mostly because I didn't know anything about a majority of the nominated movies.  So this year I made the effort to check out some of the movies nominated for Best Picture, even ones I wouldn't have normally.  So here, briefly, are those movies and my thoughts on them:
Winter's Bone - I didn't think I would like this one, since it looked kind of boring, and the synopsis didn't sound like it would be the kind of movie I would like.  But the title was just so evocative that I couldn't at least give it a try.  And I actually ended up liking it a bit.  I really got sucked into it, but I couldn't watch the whole thing at once, and had a little trouble getting back into it.  So if you watch it, I recommend making sure you have enough time to watch the whole thing at once.
Inception - I was planning on watching this one anyway, but I bumped it up when I came up with my "watch a lot of nominated movies" idea.  I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would.  Usually I'm not that into mindscrewy movies, and it probably wouldn't have made it onto my queue if I hadn't watched so many parodies of the trailer on youtube.  The story wasn't nearly as hard to understand as I'd been lead to believe, and I found the ending to be pretty appropriate.
The Social Network - I didn't think I would like this one at all, though I do like the Bum Review of it.  And even after watching it, I don't think I particularly cared for it.  I mean, I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but in that "can't look away" kind of way.  And man, the first half of the film, everyone talks so fast, it gives the Gilmore Girls a run for their money.  So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't regret watching it, but I really, really have no desire to even check out the special features, which is saying something for me.
The Kids Are All Right - Like the title says, this one was just all right.  I found the introduction of what becomes the main conflict of the movie to be a little out of nowhere, but the overall movie was okay.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

SSC tidbits

Strawberry Shortcake: Berrywood Here We Come

I finally got around to watching Berrywood Here We Come, and man, is it a shock to go back to hearing the bad acting of actual kids.  Mostly in the first section, with Limelight and her production staff.  Seriously, how'd she ever become a famous movie star with such a terrible singing voice?  She must be autotuned to the max.
Storywise, I don't have much to say about the first part.  It's pretty much business as usual.  But the premise of the second part, with Strawberry and her friends deciding to make their own movie to save an old theater bugs me to no end.  I mean, if the theater was doing poorly enough that it has to close, then a. lack of good movies probably wasn't the problem and b. I doubt that some kids' home movie would actually draw enough business to  allow the theater to open again.  Heck, even one blockbuster probably wouldn't do it.  And if the pieman really wanted to keep the kids from saving the theater, why didn't he just buy it before they could finish their movie?

Strawberry Shortcake: Puttin on the Glitz

In other SSC news, Amazon finally has the next Berry Bitty Adventures DVD listed, which is coming out in about a month. Judging from the description, it'll have the episodes "Nice as Nails," "A Stitch in Time," and "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow." And can I just say, I love the ultra-prettified Strawberry at the top of the cover. @_@

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Good News for Me (and others, of course)

Funimation picked up the next batch of Sgt. Frog (aka Keroro Gunsou) episodes ^_^ I've been meaning to talk about this anime for a little while, though it's only fairly recently that I got into it.  I first learned of this series thanks to an online anime magazine known as Anime Fringe (no longer updating, but the back issues are still available), and their review of the manga made it sound interesting, so I made a note to check it out if it ever came to the States.  Strangely enough, when Tokyopop started bringing out the manga, I didn't bother to check it out, though I don't remember exactly why.  Probably just a case of "too much manga, too little time/money."
It wasn't until ADV announced that they had licensed the anime that the series got back on my radar, and even so, it was a couple of years before it actually got released by Funimation, with the first year's worth of episodes split into two seasons on four two-DVD sets.  And it was another year before I finally got around to watching it.  I still have no real interest in checking out the manga, despite quite liking the anime, mostly because what sold me on the anime was the English dub.  Now, usually when I watch anime on DVD, I stick to the original Japanese audio track, only watching the dub if I'm taking screenshots (which is why sub-only releases bug me.  I like to take screenshots).  And it probably would have been the same for Sgt. Frog, but I vaguely remembered a preview episode that Funimation put up on Youtube for the sole purpose of getting feedback on the dub, so I decided to check out one of the episodes (episode two, to be exact).  Which was how I learned that rather than do a straightforward dub, Funimation had opted for a gag dub, complete with gag subtitles, that I often found funnier than the original Japanese, even if it was often times a lot meaner, too.
And that's why I'm glad to hear that Funimation has licensed the third season.  Sure, I would probably have no trouble finding the original Japanese episodes somewhere online, but for me, Sgt. Frog without the dub is hardly Sgt. Frog at all.

And while I'm talking about this, I find it a little jarring to see Saburo with white-grey hair...
 ...when I'm used to him with blue hair, like he had in his cameo in Shichinin no Nana (aka Seven of Seven), which aired before the Sgt. Frog anime.
EDIT: I have only just noticed that he went from blue haired with grey eyes to grey haired with blue eyes.  Hm...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Episode Thirteen

Lots of Rainbow Dash and Applejack this time around.  Lots of running, too.
Fall Weather Friends
A friendly game of horseshoes between Applejack and Rainbow Dash turns sour when Rainbow Dash loses and Applejack claims to be the better athlete.  Unable to let that slide, Rainbow Dash challenges her to an Iron Pony competition, which Applejack accepts.  They get Twilight Sparkle to act as judge and referee, so Spike makes it his duty to be the announcer, since all their friends showed up to watch.  Let the games begin!
The first competition is running around a set of barrels, and Applejack makes good time, but gets a penalty for nudging one of the barrels.  Rainbow Dash seems worried, so Applejack gives her some encouragement, and then it's her turn to run.  She makes it just one second over Applejack's time, but due to the penalty, she comes out the winner.  Next up, a test of strength, with Applejack winning by a landslide, thanks to all her years of applebucking, followed by a Bronco Buck (with Spike as the bronco), won by Rainbow Dash.
As the events continue, Applejack and Rainbow Dash seem to be evenly matched, and their antics have attracted quite a crowd.  But during the second half, Rainbow Dash starts using her wings more and more, eventually winning the competition by a wide margin.  When Applejack calls her out on this, Rainbow Dash reminds her that there's no rule that says she couldn't use her wings, plus she would have won even without using her wings.  So Applejack challenges her to a rematch at the next day's Running of the Leaves, a marathon across Ponyville, with just one rule: No Wings Allowed.  Rainbow Dash agrees, and they shake on it.
As they head for the race, Spike hopes that he can act as announcer again, but finds the job is already taken by Pinkie Pie.  She informs us all that the Running of the Leaves is how the autumn leaves fall in Equestria, and that the race will begin in five minutes.  As the other runners warm up, Rainbow Dash struts up to the starting line, where Applejack is waiting for her.  To ensure Dash doesn't use her wings in the race, Applejack ties them tightly.  Pinkie Pie calls for all racers to take their positions, and Spike attempts to get in on the announcer gig. Pinkie's happy to share the spotlight with him, and has him climb on up into her hot air balloon.
Back at the starting line, Applejack and Rainbow Dash are surprised to find themselves joined by Twilight Sparkle, who is not an athlete in any sense of the word.  But since the Running of the Leaves is a Ponyville tradition, she wants to experience it, and she's certain that the books she's read on the subject will guide her to victory, despite Applejack and Rainbow Dash's scoffing.  With that, the race begins, and so does Spike and Pinkie Pie's commentary, most of which revolves around Rainbow Dash and Applejack's rivalry, and Pinkie being typical Pinkie, much to Spike's dismay.
For much of the race, Rainbow Dash and Applejack are neck-and-neck, until Applejack trips on a rock.  She's certain that Rainbow Dash tripped her, but Twilight Sparkle, trailing at the back, sets her straight.  Applejack takes off again and catches up when Rainbow Dash, seeing herself well in the lead, takes a moment to slow to a trot.  Once again, the two are too close to call, until Rainbow Dash takes a similar spill.  She's sure that Applejack is to blame, even though Twilight is there to point out the true culprit: a stump.  Rainbow Dash doesn't buy it, but manages to catch up to Applejack. As they race along, she uses a low branch to trip up Applejack, and doesn't even try to hide it.  Seeing that Rainbow Dash has decided to cheat, Applejack cheats right back, using the same branch to fling herself forward and well past Rainbow Dash.  She also sics a hive of bees on Dash, but this only makes the grounded pegasus run even faster.  Dash evades the bees, and finds one of the signs marking the way, which she flips, sending Applejack up a mountain path.  Laughing at her trick, she accidentally covers it when the other racers run by, and flips it back around when she sees Twilight Sparkle coming up.  She panics when Twilight points out all the other runners already went by, and makes a break for it.
Applejack is alerted to Rainbow Dash's trick by Pinkie Pie and Spike, and bums a ride with them back to the front of the pack.  Seeing that they're in a maple dripping part of the forest, Applejack kicks over one of the buckets, spreading sticky sap that traps Rainbow Dash.  In her struggle to get free, she accidentally ends up slingshotting herself past Applejack, who goes spinning.  She spins right into Rainbow Dash, and the two ponies wind up on a rocky ledge, which promptly begins to break up.  They ride the ledge down and survive, just in time to be snarked at by Twilight Sparkle.  The two ponies take off again, neither one gaining the lead on the other.  Finally, the end of the race is in sight, and Rainbow Dash attempts to bump out the competition, but Applejack just bumps back.  The two of them continue on, with one grabbing the other's tail when they appear to be taking the lead.  When Applejack goes in for another tail-pull, she accidentally grabs the rope binding Dash's wings, pulling it clean off.  Rainbow Dash declares all bets off, and heads for the sky.  But Applejack manages to tackle her mid-air, and the two become a big ball of violence that eventually crosses the finish line.
As they argue over who actually won, Spike informs them that it was tie, and not only that, but a tie for LAST place.  Twilight, it should be noted, managed to get fifth place by pacing herself and making a sprint for the finish at the end.  Applejack and Rainbow Dash are utterly shocked that they were beaten by Twilight of all ponies, but she points out that they spent more time "horsing around" than actually running, so it wasn't that hard.  Seeing the errors of their ways, Applejack and Rainbow Dash are contrite, which is good, because who should show up, but Princess Celestia!  It turns out that fall is one of her favorite seasons, and she was there to see the Running of the Leaves.  Which means she saw how badly Applejack and Rainbow Dash behaved.  Fortunately, she's understanding about how easy it is to get swept up in a competition (and appreciative that Twilight Sparkle is there to give out the moral: never let competition get in the way of your friendship), and only asks for Rainbow Dash and Applejack to take care of the leaves that got missed thanks to their shenanigans.  And so the two ponies take off one more time, this time without any thought of competition.

I gotta say, this was just a 'meh' episode for me.  Neither Applejack nor Rainbow Dash is my favorite, so having an episode that almost all them, all the time automatically puts this episode on a lower tier than some others.  Plus, all the racing was just kind of boring, even with the antics later on.  I also feel that there could have been more done with Spike and Pinkie Pie.  Too much of it was just Pinkie being Pinkie, and Spike being "What?", without even trying to really banter with her.  We know Spike can roll with it, as evidenced in "Bridle Gossip," so really, there's no reason he couldn't have done a better job.
Furthermore, why did we need Princess Celestia to show up at the end?  Applejack and Rainbow Dash were already contrite before she showed up, and it would have been just as easy to have Pinkie Pie point out all the leaves that didn't get blown down.  It felt really out of the blue and didn't add anything to the episode.  And frankly, if everyone else was running, how is it that the shenanigans of two ponies kept so many leaves from falling, huh?

Misc. Screenshots
Doing the wave
Rainbow Dash is a little tied up at the moment

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What I Read - David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary

I got into David Sedaris relatively recently.  It was last spring, when I was working on a bridal clutch for my older sister's wedding, using crochet thread and a steel hook.  Usually when I crochet I like to watch TV or a movie, but I had to work too closely with the thread to really pay attention, so I turned to audio books instead, including Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, which was what put him on my radar, so to speak.  So when I came across his latest book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, I was inclined to read it, though I knew I preferred his essays based on his life rather than his fictional stories.  I learned this while reading Holidays on Ice this past Christmas.  I was grooving along with the hypocritical humor of "Seasons Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!" until suddenly there was Dead Baby.  *shudder*  The other stories were less blood-draining, but their jokes grew old pretty quickly.
Fortunately, most of the stories in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk are fairly short, so this isn't really a problem.  Most of the stories are slightly unsettling, which didn't really surprise me, and some stories are made even more so by the illustrations, which develop into yet another layer of disturbing when you find out that they were done by Ian Falconer, best known for the Olivia series.  But there are a few that are close to heartwarming, especially the last, "The Grieving Owl."
I guess that what I'm trying to say is that in general I like David Sedaris, but he's an acquired taste.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I Don't Get It - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2005 Original Broadway Cast)

When the OCR for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels came out, it made some waves for including a track that warned listeners not to listen to the rest of the album if they hadn't seen the show, since the following tracks gave away the show's twist ending.  Furthermore, the CD's booklet put in a dummy paragraph in the synopsis (which included a number of shout outs to other musicals) to similarly keep people from being spoiled.  To this day, I really don't understand why they went to the trouble.  You see, the twist they were protecting is exactly the same as the one in the movie it was based on, which came out some twenty years before the musical.  You'd think that most of the people interested in the musical would be familiar with the movie?  Or would have checked out the movie when they heard about the musical coming out (as I did), at least.