TV on DVD Review: Batman – The Second Season: Part Two (1966-1967)

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Batman -- The Second Season: Part One

No longer content to coast by on the same cliffhanger dependent two part formula in the second half of the second season, Batman's behind-the-scenes team opted to take what they learned making the now-classic original movie and apply it to the hit series.

Along with supersizing the storylines into multi-episodic TV-movie style arcs that were as ambitious as they were outlandish, Batman upped the action and doubled down on the villains to raise the stakes.

From an underwater chase to a slow motion fight, Batman no doubt took a cue from the skyrocketing popularity of globetrotting James Bond blockbusters in order to keep audiences tuning in for more than just the endless alliteration and comic book bright cinematography.

Of course, it's as campy as ever – particularly when it has to rely solely on the scenery chewing charms of some of its B-villains from the Shakespeare quoting Riddler variation, The Puzzler along with The Mad Hatter, and The Sandman.

However, it still manages to win us over with the boundless energy of its core ensemble and sheer dedication to keep its audience entertained by whatever means necessary.

As we get back into the swing of things, we discover an unexpected side effect of Batman's success with the rise of prison overcrowding. Unable to keep up with the demand for more guards or cells, more villains have been sneaking out of lock-up and back into the city – partnering up with fellow mischief-makers in order to keep both the viewers and the caped crusaders on their toes.

Overworked with the rise of jail-breaks and more sophisticated attacks, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara find themselves having to rely on the Bat-signal in order to send Gotham's guardians an S.O.S. message, interrupting Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson's long overdue vacation.

From the return of Joker and Penguin as part of a Zodiac crime spree (which is all the more eerie given the actual Zodiac crimes of the era) to the flirtatious mayhem involving one villainess who wears love potion laced lipstick during the repeated takes of an on-set movie makeout, the thirty included episodes are packed with outrageously diverting plotlines.

At its best when the show swings for the fences and goes for that creative home run even if it fails, as opposed to playing it too safe by relying on the stale formula, while it's occasionally brought down by incorporating the same techniques again and again, overall there's a lot to admire about Batman's undeniably daring second season.

Growing increasingly over-the-top with each passing episode, Batman is nonetheless elevated once again by the musicality of its dialogue as well as the total commitment of its cast to play it straight.

Artistically intoxicating for its vibrant combination of setting, costume, props and makeup – while it's hard for die-hard millennial fans of the Christopher Nolan adaptations to accept something so uncharacteristically light and bright – Warner Brothers' flawless re-release of the '60s series serves as a great reminder that there are many ways to tell a story.

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Text ©2015, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.


Digital TV Review: Silicon Valley – The Complete Second Season

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In the race to make our lives easier with their own tech, start-ups, apps, and lines of code, a group of young men make their own lives ridiculously complex while navigating the tricky terrain of the titular Silicon Valley in HBO's ingenious Emmy nominated hit.

Yet rather than focus a majority of its energies on laughter with a more immediate punchline payoff on par with the "us vs. them" approach taken by network television’s smash sitcom The Big Bang TheorySilicon Valley makes us feel like a fellow conspiratorial member of underdog compression start-up Pied Piper's team throughout.

Operating like well-oiled comedic machines, while each technique serves their respective series well, it nonetheless provides an important distinction between two frequently compared programs. And when it comes to the HBO show, it's one that makes us feel far more invested in the in the goings-on of the stressful environment where with each laugh, we stumble a little further down the path of our slow uphill climb to the top of Silicon Valley.

Fueled by conflict and chaos, the second season of Silicon Valley burns through as much plot in one half hour episode than ABC's sudsy watercooler drama Scandal does in double the running time and twice as many episodes.

And while it's all played for fast-talking, fast-walking thrills in the arena of politics on ABC, the high stakes threats of lawsuits, bidding wars, and reverse engineering woes are no less compelling, despite Valley's laid back demeanor and witty presentation.

But similar to the way that the average consumer isn't going to understand what it takes to make a computer run besides simply relishing in the end result, casual viewers aren't going to give Valley a deeper thought the first time around other than just kicking back for some much-needed Sunday night laughs.

And that's precisely what makes taking a second and closer look at the stellar second season all the more exciting as within the first few minutes of the Emmy nominated season opener, patterns begin to emerge as you realize just how frequently throughout Valley, flickers of what will become some of its strongest subplots are woven into seemingly throwaway exchanges several episodes in advance.

Namely, just like a stand up comedian will often close out their act with a punchline that harks back to one of the first jokes they made in the set, one of the most impressive feats of Silicon Valley's most recent season is in the way that the final cliffhanger in the season finale alludes to a warning given to our main character in the opening sequence of the season premiere.

Obviously, of course, the layering in or foreshadowing of a plot twist that will pay off later on is hardly a new tactic in comedy or drama alike. But when you also consider the countless ways that Valley moves beyond the traditional juggling of an A, B, and C storyline each week without letting you forget the half dozen other characters potentially working against Pied Piper that could come out of the woodwork at any time, you begin to realize just how structurally sophisticated it is all around.

In addition to bringing in some terrific new supporting players to challenge the Pied Piper team in the ten episode second season, Silicon Valley's talented writers built upon the foundation they'd crafted in the first season to likewise enrich each individual preexisting character.

As such, season two is at its best when it pins its ensemble cast into a corner and the forces the guys to rely both on their own intellectual creativity as well as each other to turn things around.

Moving past the limitations of watching antagonists Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) simply try to one-up each other, the series soon realizes how staggeringly funny the two are as (albeit combative) allies, particularly in scripter Carrie Kemper's season highlight episode, "Homicide.”

While Zach Woods remains one of my favorite bright spots as Jared, the selfless teddy bear often overlooked by the rest of the group, one of the smartest things the writing staff did was to expand upon the persona of Freaks and Geeks and Party Down sitcom veteran (and frequent series scene-stealer) Martin Starr's sardonically deadpan Gilfoyle.

Knowing that they have an ace in the hole with Starr, Silicon makes him Pied Piper's secret weapon in season two as he instigates some ethically shady outside-the-box thinking that pushes the troubled start-up in some surprising directions for better and worse.

In addition to giving T.J. Miller’s larger-than-life Erlich Bachman a foil in the sleazy entrepreneur Ross Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos) – a rumored extreme composite of Donald Trump and Mark Cuban – which by extension helps soften some of Erlich's often tasteless edges, the series offers Amanda Crew’s delightful Monica a few more great female personalities to play off of as a straight (wo)man and potential romantic interest for Richard (Thomas Middleditch).

Although attempting to fill the shoes left behind by the death of first rate character actor Christopher Evan Welch who played oddball visionary Peter Gregory is an impossibly thankless task, casting Suzanne Cryer as Laurie Bream, another (yet decidedly different) oddball was one of the best behind-the-scenes decisions made by the comedy so far.

Going from over-the-top crass to conceptual to cultural, the series (created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky) culls comedy and conflict from any number of sources, which makes it compulsively watchable for its sheer unpredictability alone.

Deriving some of its most relatable laughs from the stresses of work and everyday life from a precarious phone battery to income rivalry, in addition to skewering the tech industry, Silicon Valley makes a worthy successor to co-creator Mike Judge's word-of-mouth breakthrough hit, Office Space.

Yet while it plays extremely well on its own as a highly entertaining sitcom, HBO's most consistently inventive, topical series is even better when you break down the method behind the madly funny code – reverse engineering the laughs to better appreciate what makes this tech comedy tick.   

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Text ©2015, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.


Blu-ray Review: The Duff (2015)

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Alternate Title: The DUFF

A whip-smart honor roll student with a killer sense of humor – in the real world, a girl like cult film fanatic Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) has an awful lot to offer.

Unfortunately in the superficial world of high school where cliques rule the hallways and yearbook labels like "Best Hair" or "Biggest Flirt" reign supreme, even Bianca knows that right now, the thing she's probably best known for is having the hottest friends.

What she wasn't prepared for, however, was the realization that – in the cutthroat social hierarchy of prom kings and queens – fulfilling this role as the "gatekeeper" to her more beautiful friends makes her a "duff" by comparison.

As shocked as she is saddened by the acronym which she soon discovers stands for "designated ugly fat friend," after she lashes out at her two equally clueless, loyal gal pals, Bianca decides that the best way to get over the five stages of duff is to confront the label head-on.

Hoping to climb up the ladder from "duff" to "datable" in time for homecoming, Bianca enlists the help of Wesley, her oldest childhood friend turned jock next door (played by Robbie Amell) who'd been the one with the foolish guts to tell it to her straight by persuading him to "un-duff her."

Although unwilling to get involved at first, when he finds out he's close to flunking science, Wesley soon agrees to Bianca's terms to ensure that he can remain in scholarship contention as the football team's MVP.

Arranging a field trip to the mall where he puts his years of watching Project Runway and dating 10s to good use, Wesley challenges Bianca to build up her confidence by daring the wallflower to strike up casual conversations with dozens of guys.

Far more creative and clever than a mere fashion montage, in spite of the fact that obviously there's one of those as well since it's a necessary evil when it comes to the subgenre of high school Pygmalion movies, overall it's little surprises like this that continually set The Duff apart from start to finish.

Fresh, fast-paced, and fiercely quotable, the film which is based on Kody Keplinger's beloved best-selling novel was adapted by screenwriter Josh A. Cagan, who'd proven his artistic ingenuity a few years back while working on the underrated teen sleeper Bandslam.

Exploring the same terrain of the high school caste system that made the still topical Breakfast Club an instant contemporary classic thirty years ago, The Duff wholeheartedly embraces the generations of genre favorites that came before it.

The latest in a long line of makeover-centric teen movies from Grease to She's All That, Cagan builds his script around the hallmarks of the genre from the dream boy to the penultimate dance without simply spoofing the titles or sending them up.

Platonic but with potential, while the relationship between the popular kid and the duff is a refreshing new twist on the same dynamic that made the gender-reversal romance Some Kind of Wonderful work so well, it's too bad that it's at the expense of the other characters who feel less fleshed out this time around.

Helmed by Oscar winner Ari Sandel who took home the statue in 2007 for his innovative live action short West Bank Story, although at times it's hard to deny that Sandel could've done a much better job at reeling in some of his comedic performers' painfully broad antics, thankfully the film is just so darn likable that any scenery chewing is easy to forgive.

And while it lacks the character development worthy of the talented ensemble cast including Allison Janney who had a similar scene-stealing role in 10 Things I Hate About You, The Duff gets credit for touching on more complex issues including cyber bullying and the perils of social media that make the terrain so tricky to navigate for teens today both on and offscreen.

Thematically and structurally similar to the films of John Hughes, despite its modern touches, part of The Duff's charm is its timeless feel.

Likewise, similar to the way that its characters defy any labels that cross their path, The Duff manages to defy genre expectations as one of the sharpest and most genuinely affable teen comedies of the '00s, not only taking its place alongside Mean Girls, Juno, Easy A, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower but also standing proud and strong on its own.

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Text ©2015, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.