‘Once Upon a Time’ Brings Intrigue, ‘Frozen’ and Villainy in ‘Tale of Two Sisters’

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Disney is looking to capitalize on the popularity of “Frozen”; “Once Upon a Time” is no exception. Last night’s premiere for season 4 opened quite well, picking up right where the third season left off. In Storybrooke, Regina (Lana Parrilla) is devastated about the return of Robin Hood’s (Sean McGuire) wife, Maid Marian (Christie Laing). In addition, the encounter brings us back full circle to tension between Regina and Emma (Jennifer Morrison).

Unbeknownst to Storybrooke residents, Elsa (Georgina Haig) was also brought through the portal. Flashbacks to Fairy Tale Land (FTL) show us the relationship between Elsa and her sister, Anna (Elizabeth Lail). Anna is due to be betrothed to Kristoff (Scott Michael Foster) but she is also determined to venture to Mist Haven to prove that Elsa is not responsible for the death of their parents. We later learn that Mist Haven is another name for the Enchanted Forest. Elsa is confused and lost in Storybrooke, bent on getting to Rumple’s (Robert Carlyle) pawn shop for Anna’s necklace.

It’s actually rather impressive the great extent to which they were able to incorporate elements of “Frozen,” down to the “evil snowman” that was wreaking havoc in the town. Elsa is on a mission to find Anna, but whether she is a villain or simply misunderstood remains to be seen. Given that she spent some time in Rumple’s room of unpredictable magic, she may take the fight to Rumple.

Speaking of the Dark One, he stops by Baelfire’s grave, vowing to be a better man. It’s clear that his lie to Belle already weighs heavily on his conscience, but as we know, Rumple is used to having power. For their honeymoon, he and Belle take over an empty house and even do the iconic “Beauty and the Beast” dance. He invokes the power of his dagger over an odd cylinder, revealing the iconic sorcerer’s hat. Is Rumple also the Sorcerer? Who then is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice?

Another big question of the evening concerns Regina: will we see the return of the Evil Queen, as Henry and Snow fear? Regina seems to be heading in that direction, having brought back Sidney Glass (Giancarlo Esposito) as her Magic Mirror. Killing Marian doesn’t seem to be the best solution, she realizes. Instead, we get to revisit a lingering question through her new objective: find the author of Henry’s book and force him or her to set down happy endings for the villains!

The premiere teased a lot of questions without losing focus. The show revolves around the quest for happy endings; once the true happy endings are reached, the show would probably end. As much as one hopes for happy endings, the dark tendencies of villains (or perhaps anti-heroes, as some would argue) like Rumple and Regina are what really drive the program. Another delightful aspect was to have so many iconic Disney moments weaved in so effortlessly: the “Mirror Mirror” speech, the dance, and the Sorcerer’s hat. Not only are these all elements that Disney fans of all ages can appreciate, but they make for a fun game as we all gather around and take in a great hour of television every week.

“Once Upon a Time” airs every Sunday on ABC at 8|7c.

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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.': Good Season 2 Opener Despite Low Ratings

Caution: This review contains spoilers on “Shadows,” episode one of season two.

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” returned to ABC last Tuesday in its new time slot of 9:00 p.m. est. According to Tech Times, ratings were very low for this episode, which is a pity as it was a good one. Interest may have dropped off due to the end of the first season, which rode on the coattails of the Captain America movie with the rise of HYDRA.

The season two premiere featured an appearance by Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter and the Howling Commando task force, capturing Daniel Whitehall and an obelisk (the first 084). “Agent Carter” has been highly anticipated but the “Captain America” spin-off won’t hit the small screen until January 2015. Anyway, skip forward to the present day at The Playground, where Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is now Director Coulson for the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. May (Ming-na Wen), Skye (Chloe Bennet), and Triplett (B.J. Britt) team up with mercenaries led by Agent Hatley (Lucy Lawless from “Xena”), botching an intel sale. In the confrontation, they meet a new villain in the form of the Absorbing Man (Brian Patrick Wade), whose body creates protective armor from any substance he touches.

Journalist George Stephanopoulos makes a cameo, interviewing Brigidier General Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar), who is bent on taking out S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA. Unfortunately, Talbot has broadcasted the fact that many dangerous weapons are being held by the U.S. Government. Absorbing Man is captured too easily and is taken to this facility, making Coulson and team appeal to Talbot for an alliance and Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) for information.

Predictably (but still brilliantly executed), the agents infiltrate the base and locate the 084, the obelisk we saw earlier. However, it starts to attack Agent Hatley’s arm, which she bravely requests to have cut off. As one would expect, Absorbing Man catches up and takes the obelisk, which leaves him as a problem as we continue to the second episode of the new season.

It’s obvious that quite a few changes have arisen with this new S.H.I.E.L.D. task force. Coulson as director doesn’t step out into the field as much; it’s better to see him in action and to leave the director role to someone like Nick Fury. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) seems different in the episode, still trying to recover from his injuries. The scenes seem annoyingly repetitive but only make sense when Coulson reveals that Simmons is gone, acting as a figment of Fitz’s imagination and withdrawal from the world.

One other thing was probably annoying or amusing to some viewers: it seems implied that the agents have had a rough time since they’ve gone underground and face exhaustion and limited resources. Nonetheless, the characters look as polished as ever, particularly Chloe Bennet, who sports a new hairstyle. Rather, they look like content actors who have been picked up for another season on their television show.

Tune in this week to see what happens next. What is Agent Ward hinting about Skye’s past? How do you stop the Absorbing Man?

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” airs every Tuesday on ABC at 9 | 8c.

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Giancarlo Esposito Talks ‘Breaking Bad’ and New Projects at Wizard World

As you may have noticed, I have returned to the blog scene after a bit of a break. Earlier this month, Richmond, Va. hosted a Wizard World convention with many exciting panels. Be sure to check out my main page soon for details about the Adam West and Burt Ward panel.

Down the hall from the “Gotham” sneak peek, Giancarlo Esposito spoke to fans in his panel, “Behind the Role.” He is currently best known for his role as Gustavo “Gus” Fring from the acclaimed series, “Breaking Bad.” Esposito has also starred as villains in “Revolution” and “Once Upon a Time.”

Giancarlo Esposito Discusses Acting and New Projects at Wizard World in Richmond

Giancarlo Esposito Discusses Acting and New Projects at Wizard World in Richmond

While “Breaking Bad” seems to be his claim to widespread fame, Esposito seems tired of being recognized as Gus, as he has moved onto acting and production projects, such as those in his company, Quiet Hand Productions. “Gus is more well known than I am,” he remarks, almost with annoyance in his tone. Of course, many questions from adulating fans during the Q&A dealt with “Breaking Bad” or comments about their favorite parts of the show. Yes, Gus fans, Esposito has not discounted the possibility of taking on a “Breaking Bad” spin-off series.

The more interesting questions concerned Esposito’s attitudes toward his job as an actor and producer, as well as his favorite venue for acting. When asked about Shakespeare, he confessed that he would like to play the role of Hamlet; such a character appeals to him as he originally hails from Denmark. Esposito positively glowed as he spoke of his love of the theater, an art form that is so “visceral and immediate” with the energy and audiences. Taking on roles involves both “acting and reacting,” facets that can be impaired by the methods and shorter schedules in TV and film roles. He expressed his disapproval of actors with ego issues, emphasizing the importance of staying grounded and positive.

He admitted that many acting offers have been coming to him as of late. However, he would like to focus on his own projects, stressing that it is important to look at the big picture and to stay patient. Keeping things in perspective allows one to be available for those wonderful and unexpected opportunities, life lessons that he also wanted to impart to the audience about life in general. Overall, Esposito’s panel was rather enjoyable and one hopes he will keep sharing his insights at conventions in the future.

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‘Gotham’ Premiere is a Murky, Unfocused Start for Batman Prequel

Caution: This review contains spoilers on episode one of “Gotham.”

The highly anticipated premiere of “Gotham” aired last Monday evening on FOX. Such a show is to be expected with the success of the “Dark Knight” franchise and predictably begins with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents. The incident is witnessed by Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), whom we revisit throughout the course of the episode as we focus on Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie). Detective Jim Gordon exudes a bit of arrogance and confidence as a young man in the police force, walking the tightrope of police corruption and mobsters. The fiery spirit contrasts to Gary Oldman’s excellent portrayal of a seasoned Gordon; it will be interesting to see how McKenzie’s character progresses during the series.

The pace was somewhat slow during the episode, but picked up with the pursuit of suspect Mario Pepper (Daniel Stewart Sherman). During the investigation, we are also introduced to a number of characters: Harvey Bulloch (Donal Logue), Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) to name a few. Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) comes in as a strict, no nonsense butler for young Bruce Wayne.

Unfortunately, as promising as the show’s premise is, the premiere was disappointing for a number of reasons. There seemed to be too many cityscape shots between scenes. After the first two, viewers probably understand that Gotham City is a dark and corrupt place.

In addition, the episode was not focused with respect to the tone and camera techniques it would employ. The chase scene breaks awkwardly into extreme closeups of Jim Gordon. The atmospheres of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” as well as that of Bruno Heller’s “The Mentalist” compete for precedence throughout. Finally, there are too many “cameo” moments for the villains we know. Introducing perhaps a couple of villains per episode would have been a better solution. It’s far too convenient that everyone crosses paths with one another so early in the Batman history. Out of all the villains, Penguin stuck out as the winner of the evening, but it seems he’ll be out of the picture for a while if Jim Gordon hopes to stay in a secure position.

Overall, as many of you may agree, “Gotham” has some good ideas that could potentially launch it to a top show this season. It made a lot of errors on its first venture. Let’s hope it picks up in pace and focus in upcoming episodes.

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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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