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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

An Evening with Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder

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An Evening with Kevin Smith 2:
Evening Harder

2006 (2006) - Sony

Program Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/C

This is my sleeper pick for the week. It's a title that could get overlooked in all the Superman deluge, so we think it deserves a little love from us here. Sure, it's a little raunchy and sure, it's not going to appeal to everyone. But so what? If you're a fan of Smith and/or you liked the original An Evening with Kevin Smith, this is a must have. Even if you're not a huge fan, you might be surprised - it still makes for an entertaining evening's viewing.

Ably directed by a longtime friend of The Bits, DVD producer J.M. Kenny, Evening Harder follows Smith on stage again for another pair of live concert/speaking engagements on his college tour... one at Cornell in London (U.K. for the geographically disinclined) and one in Toronto up in the GWN (read: Great White North). What ensues are nearly four hours of Smith's off-the-cuff, insightful and wonderfully frank musings on his life and his work, the film industry as a whole, his fan base, his many friends and accomplices, the nature of superheroes, Star Wars, recent Mel Gibson news, his own creative limitations and much, much more. Actor pal Jason Mewes joins him on stage mid-way through both gigs and things get even more edgy. Throughout all of this, Smith directly engages his audience, answers their questions and delivers some great laughs. It's very funny stuff.

The video quality is excellent. Shot in HD, it's presented in anamorphic widescreen on DVD and, short of a future Blu-ray Disc release, you can't expect it to look much better. (I'm rather surprised Sony isn't more on the ball with one - niche stuff like this appeals to the audience that's buying HD right now. I mean come on... they released RV on Blu-ray for gods sake!) Surprisingly, the audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.0 (surprising, as I would have expected stereo for a program like this). Given the nature of the material, this isn't going to dazzle you with surround trickery, but then it doesn't really need to. The audio is solid and you'll be fine with it.

The 2-disc set includes just a couple of extras (one on each disc). They're featurettes - one with Kevin cruising around Toronto in his limo to ask the Canadian "man on the street" about the nature of Canadian cuisine, and another with Kevin and Mewes out to see if the latter's American pickup lines will work on the Brit babes in London. It's not a lot of extra material, but it's worth checking out.

It's hard to imagine other big-name feature film directors working so hard to engage their fans, and to interact with them on such a personal level. Whether you love Kevin Smith's films or not (and we DO happen to enjoy them here at The Bits - Dogma is a fave of mine), he clearly appreciates his audience a great deal, and he works hard to give something back to them. It also helps that, when Smith opens his mouth, he almost always has something interesting and refreshing to say. It's damn near impossible not to like the guy. Evening Harder deserves (and gets) our enthusiastic recommendation. Sit back and enjoy.

Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

Saturday Night Live:
The Complete First Season

1975-1976 (2006) - NBC (Universal)

Program Rating: A+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/C-

Well... it's about f--king time! For years fans of SNL have hoped for an eventual DVD release of the series - more than just the "Best of" discs that have been available in the past. The stumbling block in issuing complete SNL episodes on home video before, of course, has been the difficulty in negotiating the rights to the musical appearances at a price that would allow for an affordable DVD release. Thankfully, that challenge has been overcome and the result is the first ever complete season DVD release of the series.

I shouldn't have to tell you what a big deal this is. SNL is America's Monty Python, and while recent seasons have suffered in quality, those first several years are absolute gems. There's an insane amount of classic comedy here, by some of the best performers ever to take the stage.

You get Andy Kauffman's classic: "Here I come to save the day!" bit, the very first Weekend Updates, appearances by The Muppets, early short films by Albert Brooks, Richard Prior's unbleeped "ass" monologue, "Samurai Delicatessen", tons of funny commercial spoofs (Super Bass-O-Matic!), "Duelling Brandos", the very first Mr. Bill Show, "Great Moments in Herstory", Chevy Chase as President Ford, "The Normal Bates School of Hotel Management", the infamous "Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise" and the legendary first musical appearance of The Blues Brothers as part of "Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band". And that's just scratching the surface.

Speaking of music, appearing here are the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Randy Newman, ABBA, Martha Reeves & The Stylistics, Neil Sedaka, Jimmy Cliff, Desi Arnaz, Leon Redbone, Gordon Lightfoot, Carly Simon and many more, with hosts including George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Dick Cavett, Buck Henry, Anthony Perkins, Raquel Welch, Madeline Kahn and others.

Universal's 8-disc set presents the season's 24 episodes in their original TV full frame, arranged 3 eps per disc. You have to be a little forgiving of the quality. The series was obviously shot on dated analog video equipment, so the image is going to look a little soft and washed out compared to what you're used to. That said, the episodes have obviously been tweaked to look as good as possible, and they certainly look better than you've ever seen them before. The audio is 2.0 mono, just as it was presented on the original broadcasts, and it too has been cleaned up. It won't rock your world, but it's good enough to satisfy. The cool thing is that each episode features chapter access to all of the individual skits and performances - a nice touch. My only complaint is, I would have loved a complete list of these in the booklet, to make finding favorite bits quicker and easier.

There are few disc-based extras on this set, but you do get original screen text footage and a vintage interview with the cast. Audio commentary with some of the cast (or perhaps producer Lorne Michaels) would have been nice, but given how expensive getting the music rights must have been, paying cast to come back would probably have sunk the production, so we can forgive it. You do get a gorgeous 31-page booklet featuring great candid, vintage photographs of the cast and writers (love that Land Shark photo on the front), and the packaging is a very nice, book-like affair with great cast shots on both the front and inside covers.

If you love the glory days of classic SNL as much as we do, this box set is just priceless - certainly one of the most anticipated and welcome releases of the year. There are enough good hard laughs here to easily justify the set's surprisingly reasonable $69 SRP (just $45 on Amazon). THIS, dear readers, is what DVD is all about. Miss this baby at your own peril.

Bill Hunt
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