Harry Potter Stamps at Your Local Post Office Equals Treasure Trove

“I’d like a book of stamps, please,” came my usual request.

“Flags, birds, flowers, or Harry Potter?”

Cover Page for the Harry Potter Booklet. Photo by Pat Cuadros.

Cover Page for the Harry Potter Booklet. Photo by Pat Cuadros.

I raised my eyebrows in surprise as the final item in that sequence was waved in front of me. Like me, you may have missed the announcement last year about the release of Harry Potter Forever® Stamps. The assortment of stamps includes many of your favorite characters and spans the entire series. Check out Professors Snape and Dumbledore below. Fortunately, they are still available for sale. It folds out with multiple pages like a souvenir packet, unlike your standard booklets. Does it seem reminiscent of old magical tomes and storybooks? 

A look inside the Harry Potter stamps booklet. Photo by Pat Cuadros.

A look inside the Harry Potter stamps booklet. Photo by Pat Cuadros.

Be sure to buy a booklet (or two!) at your local post office. As you may be aware, J.K. Rowling is still revisiting the Harry Potter series, will there be another booklet of stamps in the near future?

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Latest ‘Doctor Who’ News: Capaldi’s ‘Listen’ Teaser and ‘No Flirting’ Dealbreaker

You may have caught the newest teaser for “Doctor Who” this past weekend. The BBC commercial shows the inside of the Tardis before scrolling up to the top. Seated there with his legs crossed is none other than the Doctor himself (Peter Capaldi). He aims to arrest your attention with a serious expression and a single word, “Listen!”

It’s a fun teaser but it doesn’t offer much in the realm of new details about the upcoming season. Luckily, other headlines have come in over the weekend. The Guardian reports that the newest Time Lord won’t be “flirting” with Clara (Jenna Coleman) this season, a plot line about which Capaldi was adamant.

Is that why they are bringing on Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink? Speculation is rampant as to Pink’s true purpose, even as far as to say he’ll be another Doctor, a hypothesis that seems unlikely. After all, Capaldi had to leave his role as Richelieu in “The Musketeers” to play the Doctor. It would be an utter waste to have him at the helm of the Tardis for a mere handful of episodes.

Staying away from a romantic relationship seems like a good idea. It was a thread that was thoroughly explored in the past seasons with Matt Smith, but it often interfered with efforts to craft a more serious Doctor. More attention should be directed toward the puzzles and throwing more light on the “mistakes” that the Doctor wants to tackle, angles that can be fully developed when screen time is adequate and focused. Clara and the Doctor can still be playful and a lively source of entertainment as friends.

What are your thoughts about the new Doctor and these latest developments?

“Doctor Who” returns to BBC America on August 23rd at 8|7c.

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TV Recap: ‘Musketeers,’ Mothers and French Diplomacy in ‘The Exiles’

Caution: This review contains spoilers on “The Exiles.”

The latest episode of “The Musketeers” on BBC America focuses on two different types of mothers, with a nice twist. Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) and D’artagnan (Luke Pasqualino) are charged with retrieving Agnes and her infant son from the country. However, the baby Henry is kidnapped before the men arrive, making the routine assignment anything but ordinary.

Meanwhile, King Louis’ (Ryan Gage) party is interrupted by the arrival of his mother, Marie de’ Medici (Tara Fitzgerald). She seeks protection, claiming that people are after her life. Louis is upset because de’ Medici tried to seize his throne before and was subsequently exiled. The conflict gives a bit more depth to the monarch, who is persuaded to provide help. Cardinal Richelieu (Peter Capaldi) gets a great line here as he says, “Decapitating one’s mother is rarely popular with the people, sire. It always looks a touch ungrateful.”

It’s a tenuous alliance between Treville (Hugo Spear) and Richelieu (Peter Capaldi) as they work to protect King Louis from his mother. Louis seems ready to accept his mother again into the royal household, a move that both officials do not see ending well. Eventually, their suspicions are revealed to be quite sound as political intrique mounts with the discovery that baby Henry’s father is the late twin brother of Louis.

The standout performances of the evening come from Capaldi and Fitzgerald. Their standoff as Richelieu and de’ Medici is pivotal to the fate of the French crown. Richelieu is asked to switch his allegiance as de’ Medici admits her plan to bring her armies into Paris within the hour. Fitzgerald perfectly radiates an aura of danger with her eyes and confident smirk, as Capaldi appears to walk the tightrope with measured unease and annoyance in his countenance.

There’s a clever use of hair and costuming to portray the potential shift in power as well: de’ Medici puts on a finer dress and more elaborate (and regal) hairstyle as she asserts her advantage over Richelieu. Richelieu’s black robes and deep red cape have also changed to a black robe with brighter red accents across his chest. However, the Cardinal manages to turn the tables on the conniving grandmother with his own news of the baby’s supposed death, thanks to the assistance of Treville.

Overall, the episode was entertaining. Aramis shines a bit as the central Musketeer, focusing on his promise to keep Henry safe rather than dive into a predictable plot line of romancing Agnes. For a couple of minutes, one could easily find the baby’s death believable. It also brought in another interesting villain. Marie de’ Medici is going into “retirement” but her return as an adversary for the Musketeers would certainly be welcome in the future, given that Capaldi will not be returning as Richelieu next season.

“The Musketeers” airs Sundays at 9|8c on BBC America.

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TV Recap: David Suchet Returns for a Final Season of ‘Poirot’ in ‘The Big Four’

Caution: This review contains spoilers on “The Big Four.”

It’s hard to believe we’re going into the final season of the “Agatha Christie’s Poirot,” with David Suchet as the beloved Belgian detective. The thirteenth season premiered last night on PBS MASTERPIECE with “The Big Four,” following Poirot as he unravels a series of murders, beginning with the death of a reclusive Russian chessmaster at a reception thrown by the Peace Party. The episode was written by Mark Gatiss, a name no doubt familiar to “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” fans alike.

The film differs markedly from the novel, adding an original character in the form of young pencil-pusher Lawrence Boswell Tysoe (Tom Brooke), who predictably wants an exclusive on Poirot’s investigation. Hugh Fraser reprises his role as Captain Hastings makes an appearance, but only in a couple of scenes. His role of sidekick has been given to Assistant Commissioner Japp, portrayed admirably again by Philip Jackson. Though she is not in the novel, Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) also returns. Check out their respective IMDb profiles and you’ll find that these three actors haven’t been on Poirot for about ten years. One might argue that the “Big Four” could playfully reference this reunion of actors (Suchet, Fraser, Jackson, and Moran) as much as the murder mystery itself!

The series has taken a darker turn since Poirot went on his own nearly ten years ago; the darker psychology is embedded in the Christie novels despite the light tone it takes up. Murder is a nasty business, as it’s often said in crime dramas. This installment leaves out the darker Catholic tones that have been so prominent in recent episodes like “Murder on the Orient Express.” While I am a Catholic, I found the references to be a bit forced and hardly a predominant part of the Christie novels, so it was a bit of a relief to see that “Big Four” focuses largely on stagecraft, deception, and identity.

Here, the threat of war and political conflict looms heavily, as the first killing takes place at the headquarters of the Peace Party, whose members continue to be connected to the crimes. There’s a brilliant series of shots with the newspaper headlines scrolling sideways along the screen, providing quick transitions from the murder scenes to Poirot’s investigations. The effect also serves to give the production a sleek, modern feel. It’s interesting how the murder plot finally gets tied to the strange gifts and notes being sent to fading actress Flossie Monro (Sarah Baxter).

While I disagree with Gatiss’ decision to change a number of elements from the novel in his adaptation (namely, what a disservice to Hastings), a few scenes stick out in their execution and build up in tension. Poirot’s examination of the chessboard was rather extraordinary in everything from the black floor mat and weighing scales to the final close-up of the electric current under the chess piece. Another stellar scene is the confrontation between Flossie and her once-spurned admirer, who is revealed to be Number Four. The third memorable scene is the replay of the flat explosion, which includes the audio of Poirot’s light and excited tone as he is setting the meeting over the phone. The conversation makes a wonderful juxtaposition to the action of Poirot’s realization that something is amiss and his decision to throw the cane and bolt. Indeed, it’s also a treat to see Poirot make a run for it, despite his expensive and tight-fitting patent leather shoes.

Splitting the Final Season: Free and Subscription Streaming

Poirot fans may (and should) take issue with one aspect of the release of this final season. Only two of the final five episodes are available on your local PBS station: “The Big Four” and “Dead Man’s Folly.” As the Wall Street Journal reports, the other three will only be available on Acorn TV. PBS has long been at the forefront of streaming quality and educational programming to audiences at a low cost, thanks to the generosity of donors. Viewers may remember A&E as the other network that aired episodes of Poirot. So why on earth does Acorn TV have the monopoly on most of the final season? It’s hardly a positive way to give Hercule Poirot his last curtain call when “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” premieres on August 25th.

Be sure to catch “Dead Man’s Folly” on August 3rd, in which we’ll see the return of the delightful Zoë Wanamaker as crime novelist Ariadne Oliver.

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Sara Bareilles in Charlottesville: Strong Female Vocals Rule the Night in 3 Acts

If you were in the Downtown Mall on July 12th, you may have noticed a sea of little black dresses. The wardrobe choice of the female segment of the population arose from the fact that Sara Bareilles made a stop in Charlottesville for her Little Black Dress Tour. Despite the high humidity that evening, a large crowd filled the reserved and lawn seating at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion to see the singer-songwriter.

Bareilles was preceded by two opening acts. Opening acts can often leave you scratching your head or praying for the headliner to come out soon. However, the parties responsible for the booking acts on this tour provided a splendid lineup.

The first performer was none other than Hannah Georgas from Vancouver, Canada. In 2013, Georgas won Pop Recording of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards. She led her band on keyboards and guitar. To me, her voice seems to have the lightness of Regina Spektor and an edginess reminiscent of Cat Power’s Chan Marshall. The best song from the indie pop artist was without a doubt, “Enemies”, in which the repetitive keyboard chords leave a bit of a haunting (yet still light) effect in conjunction with her clear vocals. Georgas stayed with her instrument for most of the act, nodding her head in time to the music. She still exuded a wonderful stage presence and warmly thanked audience, sticking around at the merchandise booth to greet old and new fans.

Hannah Georgas Opens for Sara Bareilles, Charlottesville, Va. July 12, 2014. Photo by Pat Cuadros

Hannah Georgas Opens for Sara Bareilles, Charlottesville, Va. July 12, 2014. Photo by Pat Cuadros

Emily King and her band, comprising the second act, served as a nice counterpoint to that of Hannah Georgas. King covered more ground on the stage with her dancing, sporting a pair of black shades in the beginning. Her dark hair was combed up in an elaborate style, almost calling to mind Gwen Stefani. Notable tuned from her set included “Ever After” and “Distance”. And like Georgas, King stayed to greet fans at the merchandise table.

Emily King was the second opening act. Charlottesville, Va, July 12, 2014

Emily King was the second opening act. Charlottesville, Va, July 12, 2014

The third and final act was the headliner herself, Sara Bareilles. One might suspect outfit coordination among the female singers: Georgas wore black, King wore a white top, followed by Bareilles with a black and white dress. In any case, the visual connections would strike color enthusiasts as a nice touch.

Sara Bareilles in Concert, Charlottesville, July 12, 2014. Photo by Pat Cuadros

Sara Bareilles in Concert, Charlottesville, Va.     July 12, 2014. Photo by Pat Cuadros

Bareilles alternated between vocals only, playing piano, and strumming a guitar. She entertained the audience with jokes and stories between songs. “Again, you know that we’re not actually in New York,” she quipped, after cheers erupted at her first mention of the Big Apple. In spite of a tour bus breakdown and little sleep, Bareilles was still in top form.

Partway through her segment, a pair of bedsheets rolled down from the top of the stage to make the atmosphere “more intimate”. The scenery formed a stark contrast with her next song, a perfect cover of Sia’s “Chandelier”; she even copied the accent. She saved her hits “Brave”, “Love Song”, and “King of Anything” towards the end.

If you haven’t seen Sara Bareilles yet, make it a point to check out her Little Black Dress Tour, which offers an evening lot of fun and pure vocals in 3 acts. Be advised that a couple of songs have profanity, if you’re taking the kids. And don’t forget to wear a black dress, ladies!

Sara Bareilles in Concert, Charlottesville, Va. July 12, 2014. Photo by Pat Cuadros

Sara Bareilles in Concert, Charlottesville, Va.                  July 12, 2014. Photo by Pat Cuadros

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New “Doctor Who” Series 8 Trailer Promises “Darkness”

A new trailer came out yesterday for Series 8 of “Doctor Who”. The new series (or season, for American viewers such as myself) appears to take on a darker edge. Clara (Jenna Coleman) asks the Doctor, “Where are we going?” He (Peter Capaldi) replies, “Into darkness”. Mistakes can really add up when you’ve lived for about 2,000 years.

Executive producer and show writer Steven Moffat (“Sherlock”) seems to be moving in another direction this time around. Firstly, Peter Capaldi has been cast as the Doctor. He’s older than the previous actors in the newer seasons. Capaldi, unlike fellow Scotsman David Tennant, will be keeping his Scottish accent for the role. Are Scottish accents eventually going to supersede British ones in villainous roles? Just look back to “Maleficent”, which was rife with Scotsmen trying to kill the titular character (Angelina Jolie). And of course, who can forget Robert Carlyle as Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin?

Earlier this year, Capaldi was dubbed the “Rebel Time Lord”, which would be in keeping with the bleaker tone. The black suit and cape with the red accents certainly enable the Doctor to blend in with the shadowy corridors and rooms in the trailer. We get glimpses of the Time Lord with a serious expression on his face and quick soundbites of a Dalek voice. Indeed, a season of “Doctor Who” would not be complete (at least to Moffat) without the Daleks. The concept of a darker Doctor is not new. We saw it in previous seasons, when Rose suggested that the Doctor was no better than the Daleks at one point and again when the Doctor grappled with his decision not to use guns (to name a couple of examples). One hopes that we will see adversaries other than the Daleks, the Silence, and the Weeping Angels.

The new season does tease a few other details on what we can expect: a burning (and exploding?) Tardis console, some frightening encounters for Clara, Cybermen, and a dinosaur in London. Clara admits that she doesn’t know the Doctor anymore. When he asks her, “Am I a good man?”, she can only answer, “I … don’t know.” What will the Time Lord do to cast such doubt in her mind? Thankfully, the wait isn’t too long, as new episodes begin to air on August 23rd.

Fans in some areas can look forward to the Doctor Who World Tour, which makes 7 stops starting on August 7th and concluding on August 19th. The tour is quite an endeavor and coincides with the extensive promotion for the 50th anniversary of the beloved BBC series. The only stop in the United States is New York City.

“Doctor Who” is broadcast in the United States on BBC America. Season 8 premieres on August 23rd at 8|7c.

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Film News: Robert Carlyle Wraps Up ‘Barney Thomson’

Caution: This post contains spoilers on “The Legend of Barney Thomson” and “Once Upon a Time”.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on one of my favorite upcoming film projects: “The Legend of Barney Thomson”. The film comes from a book series by Douglas Lindsay, following the escapades of the titular character. A barber by trade, Barney continues to get demoted in status (as indicated by the position of your chair). His life changes unexpectedly when he accidentally becomes a serial killer.

Robert Carlyle (“Once Upon a Time”) directs and stars in the black comedy, which only took a month to shoot in Glasgow, Scotland. This week, Carlyle posted a tweet to announce the wrap up of filming:

Robert Carlyle Finishes 'Legend of Barney Thomson' Filming. Tweet belongs to @RobertCarlyle_

Robert Carlyle Finishes ‘Legend of Barney Thomson’ Filming. Tweet belongs to @robertcarlyle_

The brief shooting schedule is admirable, considering that the film is Carlyle’s first foray into directing a motion picture. There are a few reasons to get excited about “Barney Thomson”. Set pictures from JustJared.com give only a few tantalizing glimpses of what we can expect from the final product:

Emma Thompson Gets Older

Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”) plays the role of Barney’s overbearing mother even though she is only two years older than Carlyle. If you look at the photos from the set, you can see that she has undergone a remarkable transformation into an older woman through the use of heavy blue eyeshadow and elaborate hair. The ensemble is further punctuated by her outfit: leopard prints and slacks.

Robert Carlyle: Not Mr. Gold

Robert Carlyle can be seen sporting a dark suit, which may seem to evoke Mr. Gold’s wardrobe penchant for suits. However, the suit probably is not Armani (Eduardo Castro’s costume choice in “Once Upon a Time”). In addition, Carlyle has chosen to comb his hair back, at least in the stills from JustJared.com.

Many fans may be used to seeing him with the looser hairstyle that he’s been sporting in recent roles such as Mr. Gold or Lachlan (“California Solo”). Oftentimes, changing ones physical appearance can serve as a reflection of ones character or what’s on the inside. Whether Carlyle uses the look for the entire film is a good question to ponder.

And Action!

In these scenes, Carlyle and Thompson appear to have good chemistry, an important factor for staying on a tight schedule. Admittedly, it’s hard to determine what news Barney gives his mother, but it’s terrible enough (in her eyes at least) to send her into hysterics. Thompson is stellar here with the quick change in emotions as she shifts from an upright stance, forcing Carlyle to hold her up.

Release Date of 2015?

Unfortunately, we won’t find out what’s bothering Barney’s mother until 2015 (unless you already read the book).

During the wait, you can still catch “Once Upon a Time”, which started filming season 4 on July 9th. Season 3 ended with quite a cliff hanger, taking Elsa to Storybrooke. She was previously locked in Rumplestiltskin’s room of dangerous and unpredictable magical items. She’ll probably have a vengeful plot against Rumple, who just married Belle (Emilie de Ravin). In addition, Regina (Lana Parilla) is upset with Emma (Jennifer Morrison) for bringing back Maid Marian. One can expect plenty of conflict when the show returns to ABC this fall.

Stay tuned to my blog for periodic updates on “Barney Thomson” and “Once Upon a Time”.

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