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Patton Oswalt: Finest Hour DVD Review

Patton Oswalt: Finest Hour (2011) DVD cover art -- click to buy the DVD from Amazon.com Patton Oswalt: Finest Hour
Special & DVD Details

Original Airdate: September 5, 2011 / Running Time: 68 Minutes (Extended) / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Star: Patton Oswalt / Director: Jason Woliner / Executive Producers: Patton Oswalt, Michael Petok, Dave Rath, Kara Welker

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Captioned
DVD Release Date: April 24, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $16.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

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Patton Oswalt has developed a pretty solid acting career in recent years, having graduated from bit parts, any voiceover work he could get and a recurring role on "The King of Queens"
to leading roles in films like Pixar's Ratatouille, the acclaimed indie Big Fan, and, most recently, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody's Young Adult. But, Oswalt remains, first and foremost, a stand-up comedian.

On IMDb, his acting credits are about to eclipse the 100 mark and handily outnumber his "self" credits, but the latter tell us more about Oswalt than the former, which are frankly all over the place (a small sampling of his movies: Magnolia, Blade: Trinity, Failure to Launch, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End). The "self" credits begin in 1995 and consist of a variety of comedy showcases, including: multiple "HBO Comedy Half-Hour" and "Hollywood Squares" episodes, VH1's "I Love the '80s" and other pop culture specials, two celebrity roasts, and eleven appearances on each "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

Last September, Oswalt's latest stand-up special, Patton Oswalt: Finest Hour, aired on Showtime, having been taped May 2011 at Seattle's Moore Theatre. Comedy Central brings the hour-long program to basic cable this Saturday and then to DVD next Tuesday in the extended, uncensored form to which the network treats virtually every one of its comedy specials.

Patton Oswalt performs stand-up at Seattle's Moore Theatre in "Patton Oswalt: Finest Hour."

Oswalt doesn't have an especially distinct persona or fascination. Short, fat, and squinty, he talks about whatever comes to mind in a bitter way. He doesn't have much energy or ever get all that animated, but he chooses his words and references carefully as he tries to make sense of modern living. Premium cable allows Oswalt to be just as vulgar as he wants to be and the profanity flies, often as an integral part of the jokes.

Oswalt opens with a discussion of the hallucinatory effects of having a young daughter and getting two hours of sleep a night. If you think fatherhood has softened the comic's edges, think again. Within moments, he's drawing us mental images of Dr. Seuss in a bar and incestuous rape involving a mask of the funny pages' most beloved feline.

If that kind of wildly inappropriate subject matter doesn't lose you, then maybe Oswalt's rants on religion will. Later describing himself as an atheist who is becoming more open-minded toward faith, Oswalt questions the widely-held practice of respecting other's beliefs and proceeds to attack those who vote against gay marriage amendments because "they like a book", equating the Bible with any old literature. Proving he has absolutely no concern of offending, Oswalt goes on to ruminate about Jesus' "superpowers", imagining how the X-Men and The Avengers might respond to his food multiplication abilities.

On occasion, you see a side view of Patton Oswalt in "Finest Hour."

Anyone more devout or even somewhat respectful of faith will be relieved when Oswalt turns to other topics, which he has no shortage of. Anecdotes are a big part of his act, as when he describes witnessing a seasoned traveler's nonchalant use of an in-flight vomit bag;
his sighting of a big-eating "deity" at the O'Hare Airport food court; his favorite holiday memory, attending a Christmas Eve '96 showing of Jerry Maguire with his brother; and the unsettling scene he happened upon in the New York subway tunnel where his dog preferred to relieve himself.

Other bits featuring in Oswalt's Finest Hour: the value of sweatpants, the differences between a comedian and a stripper, the way in which he'd like to see a Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy advertised, a depressing description of the circus, his desire to be the first non-ironic visitor of the Spam Museum, his experiences with Weight Watchers, dreams on Ambien, and a Disneyland attraction with the potential to traumatize children.

Oswalt is clearly comfortable in this element. His transitions from one topic to the next are fluid. His timing and delivery is confident. And though there are virtually no reaction shots, the crowd response to his material does sound favorable. But I can't pretend I enjoyed Finest Hour very much.

I know that Oswalt is perhaps second to Louis C.K. among comedy nerds' most respected contemporary stand-up artists. The offbeat Oswalt has more geek credibility and hipster goodwill than you'd believe possible for someone who spent nine years on a Kevin James sitcom. Oswalt's talent is evident and he has a clever way of retelling his experiences. But he has a nasty tone that is not easy to warm to and just doesn't make me laugh. A lot of C.K.'s comedy is too dark and pessimistic for me, but he provides enough humor to overcome that and keep you entertained. Oswalt's stand-up sensibilities and world view aren't that far removed, but they just do not produce the diversion you expect, at least not at the distance of TV spectatorship. Not many comics have as much experience and confidence as Oswalt, but not laughing is still not laughing.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Finest Hour is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks just okay. The digital video is a bit blurry, especially in medium and long shots. Close-ups tend to be better, and Oswalt's act is a low-motion affair of little color. The soundtrack is offered in both plain stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. I listened to the default latter and was pleased by the distribution of audience sounds. Oswalt's own microphone audio is crisp and clear. Although sadly void of subtitles, the DVD does offer closed captioning on the show and bonus features.

An enthusiastic Patton Oswalt fan declares his appreciation for Ted Drewes' frozen custard shop of St. Louis in "Pre-Show Superstitions." Utz hard pretzel sticks are featured in the "Stuff That Patton Mentions" slideshow.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

The DVD supplies three fitting extras. First up is "Encore: KFC Bit" (8:32),
which benefits from knowing Oswalt's routine on the fast food joint's popular, unhealthy Famous Bowls. This is a follow-up to that, as Oswalt discusses the company's curious responses to his bit: sending him a bobblehead of himself, unveiling the even more bizarre Double Down, and the CEO's retort. This is probably the funniest thing on the disc.

"Pre-show Superstitions" (7:18) has Oswalt's backstage thoughts about what could go wrong amusingly interspersed with crowd member interviews on their appreciation of Oswalt and their favorite of his bits.

Finally, "Stuff That Patton Mentions" (4:10) displays photographs of assorted foods, movies, albums, and miscellany in the order that they are referred to in Finest Hour. Allowing you to recreate the special in your mind, it's a clever touch that apparently the same guy has applied to Oswalt's previous specials.

The menu plays classical music over a static reformatting of the cover art. There are no inserts inside the black Eco-Box keepcase.

Long shots show off Patton Oswalt's short, round stature, but are also the most susceptible to blurry video.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you're a fan of Patton Oswalt's stand-up comedy, you'll probably like Finest Hour. If you're not, you will not. I've found Oswalt a fitting presence in movies and television shows, but watching him on stage for an hour is not my idea of a good time. The DVD's feature presentation is adequate but unspectacular, while the handful of extras adds a little bit of value.

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Reviewed April 17, 2012.



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