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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Best of Penn Says: Religion
Best of Penn Says: Religion
Sony Pictures // Unrated // February 9, 2010
List Price: $11.94 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 20, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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The Webisodes:
 
When discussing a movie, or in this case a series of short videos that originally 'aired' on the web, about religion I think it's important to know where the reviewer stands on the subject going into the review.  So I'll confess that I'm an atheist, and that I'm a fan of Penn & Teller.  (I'll sidestep the whole 'why should anyone care what an actor thinks about politics or religion anyway' argument for now... that's a rant for another time.)  When I first popped The Best of Penn Says:  Religion into my player, I wasn't sure what to expect, since I hadn't seen Penn Says on the web.  After watching the disc, I have to admit that there were a few surprises in store, that I was entertained throughout the nearly two hour long set of episodes, but was disappointed in the lack of substance or 'meat' in many of the mini-rants as well as way the disc was arranged.
 


Penn Jillete, the vocal half of Penn & Teller, is a stage magician (he has a show in Vegas that I really, really want to catch some day... I don't gamble though, and I can't rationalize traveling across the country just to see a show) author, and host a program on Showtime Penn & Teller's Bullshit where he and his silent partner debunk pseudoscience and poke fun at the people who eschew rational thought.  (It's a great show, you should check it out if you haven't.)
 
He also creates a webcast program, Penn Says.  It's a series of short clips (a couple of minutes each) that Penn records himself where he talks about whatever's on his mind.  He relates amusing anecdotes, talks about what's bothering him, points out hypocrisy that he sees, and even answers fan mail.  It's not a polished and scripted show, so things are a bit rough around the edges.  (Penn walks around in front of a fixed close focus camera that's a bit irritating and sometimes holds the camera on himself moving it slightly which is more nausea inducing.)  That's fine and doesn't bother me.  It gives the show an authentic, off the cuff feel.
 
In this 'best of' collection he talks about religion and atheism.  It's not a series of shows that presents his philosophy of the world, or even a set of arguments supporting his beliefs though.  It's just a collection of semi-random thoughts on the subject and as such you have to read between the lines some times to discern exactly what Penn believes.  This is not the equivalent of Christopher Hitchens' book God is not Great on the web (a wonderful book that Penn plugs several times) and that's my main gripe with the disc.  It didn't really get the gears turning in my head.  There were few entries in the series that got me thinking, but only a few.  That's not to say the installments are bad.  There are several great moments, like when an evangelist mentions that one of Penn's webcasts were shown at a retreat and the magician asks him if they got permission to show it from Sony (the owners) and how he feels about that, but they don't really get you thinking.  A series of monologues about why he's an atheist and how he came to believe what he does would have been more educational.
 


The show is entertaining however.  Penn's been performing for years and years and knows how to tell a joke and set up a story to give it the maximum impact.  The story about being confronted in a Borders book store was fun, and the tale about the guy who said that the Beatles were proof that God existed was hilarious.  Others, a few too many maybe, were light and easily forgettable.  Like the installment where he talks about going to pick out a school for his children.  He asks about Easter and the teacher says they decorate eggs and talk about the Easter Bunny, but in a non-religious way.   How can you do that he asks rhetorically.  Yeah, people are stupid. 
 
There are a couple of very irritating things about the way the disc is put together however.  First and foremost there's a lot of crap at the end of each and every episode.  There's an ad for following Penn on Twitter, the copyright notice, and a 'distributed by Sony' animation after each short installment.  Man, does that gets old quickly.
 
Second, I was astounded by some of the episodes selections, actually one in particular.  There is an installment of Penn Says where he says that religious people proselytizing is not only okay, but morally correct.  That segment gets a pretty big response, and he discusses the reaction a few times in other segments.  I'd really like to hear his rationale for that statement, but I can't (on this disc at least) because it's not included!  What a bone-headed move.  If Penn is going to talk about the most popular segment of his show to date, a 'best of' compilation should include that show.   
 
The DVD:

 
Audio:
 
The stereo soundtrack is a mixed bag.  Sometimes Penn is outside and the wind is blowing pretty hard, and other times there's some background or ambient noise, but it's never too distracting.  You can hear him clearly, and that's main thing.
 
Video:
 
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image isn't great.  It's soft and the level of detail isn't that great, but then again it was made to be seen on the web, not blown up on a big screen TV.  The colors are average but compression artifacts are minimal.
 
Extras:
 
There are three extra installments of "Penn Says" included on the disc.  One where he talks about Glenn Beck and the controversy surrounding his statement that President Obama is a racist (no, Penn doesn't say that Beck is an idiot for saying that, though he does disagree with him), another urging people not to vote (he says that he'll explain why in other segments that are not on this DVD), and one on the fact that caucuses are stupid. 
 
Final Thoughts:
 
I was expecting a bit more from these segments.  They were entertaining, but not very intellectually stimulating, which is what I was hoping for.  There's really little replay value in these, being just a couple of minutes of some guy (who just happens to be a famous entertainer) talking about whatever's on his mind at the moment.  Fans like myself will get enough enjoyment out of the disc though.  It would make a nice rental.
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