Mr. Black: Accept No Substitutes
Here's a fun fact: Jack Black has been making movies for well over a decade. That may come as a shock to some folks who thought Black's thrust into cinema spotlight was 2000's rock comedy High Fidelity. Take a look on the Internet Movie Database and you'll find Black featured in a wide range of movies including Dead Man Walking, Mars Attacks!, Enemy of the State, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and Bob Roberts. In 2003, Black truly became a bona fide star in the family friendly School of Rock, directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) and also starring Joan Cusack (Grosse Point Blank). School of Rock makes its debut on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Some people eat food and drink water to survive. For Dewey Finn (Black), the only substance that will fill him up is rock and roll! Dewey has high hopes of making it big in rock, but when he's kicked out of his band and forced to pay the rent by his roommate, Ned Schneebly (screenwriter Mike White, Orange County), who he's been mooching off of for years, things take a turn for the worse. With no options left, Dewey fakes his way into the profession of substitute teaching by pretending to be his roommate (and nothing's more entertaining than hearing Black recite the name "Schneebly").
The prestigious private school's principal (Cusack) quickly shows Dewey (now known as "Ned") the ropes and lets him loose on a group of mixed bag 10-year olds (geeks, cool kids, etcetera). Dewey's teaching style is unorthodox to say the least; in fact, it's safe to say Dewey has no teaching style…until he learns the kids have musical talent! With a Battle of the Bands contest in sight (with a $20,000 prize), Dewey decides to turn his rag tag group of prep school students into a lean, mean, rocking and rolling machine.
Sign of the devil! Sign of the devil!
You can't deny the power of rock and roll. Though the music business may be in sharp decline right now and the creative Powers That Be have taken a vacation—if I see one more Britney Spears clone I'm gonna gouge my eyes out with a broken Neil Young CD—it's still a fact that all over the world that kids just wanna rock! Never has this idea been more solidified in a movie than in Jack Black's raucous, rambunctious School of Rock. Here is a film that not only praises the fundamental ideas of rock and its power of change, but also bows down to it as if it were the world's only golden calf.
Jack Black is an actor that seems to polarize movie goers. Much like the manic energy of Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, Black is an all-or-nothing comedian—you're either endlessly tickled by his wackiness or think he's treading dangerously close to being the Antichrist of comedy. While I'm not a fan of Sandler or Carrey I have found a special place in my heart for Black's off-the-wall attitude. He may be nothing more than a clown with a guitar, but somehow he's able to make himself into a very endearing clown with a guitar, a rare feat.
School of Rock is a cute little movie that features Black in a great performance and a screenplay that makes the most of its young cast. Director Linklater gets many things right, including making the children believable and funny without becoming cloying or annoying (something that most movies don't even come close to achieving). Black has a real chemistry with the kids, and while this may not be the supercharged family film some critics would have you believe, I still found it to be a sweet natured romp that both adults and their offspring will enjoy.
Screenwriter Mike White (who also plays Dewey's nerdy roommate) has a sharp ear for funny one-liners. The supporting cast, including Sarah Silverman (sister of Jonathan) and Joan Cusack (sister of John) both do fine in what eventually end up being thankless roles as the cranky girlfriend and uptight principal. And how can you dismiss a movie that features Black prancing around a bar lip-syncing a Stevie Nicks song with the fervor of a thousand hurricanes?
It all boils down to the fact that this is Black's show. If his turn as a hyper record collector in High Fidelity pushed him into the spotlight, School of Rock should keep him there permanently. As for the film itself, it's a cute and often entertaining ode to rock, nothing more and nothing less. And if your kids don't know who Led Zeppelin or Hendrix is…it's time to get them started by taking teaching them the fundamentals at the School of Rock!
Sign of the devil!
School of Rock is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I don't have many complaints about Paramount's transfer of this film—overall it's a nice looking presentation with solid colors and dark black levels. The transfer is free of any excessive grain or dirt that would otherwise mar the image. In fact, aside of just a smidgen of edge enhancement, this transfer is a rock solid effort by Paramount.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. If you're looking for a soundtrack to really bring down the house…err, look elsewhere. While this 5.1 mix is nice, it's not quite as aggressive or exciting as I'd anticipated (especially coming from a movie titled "School of Rock"). There is some rear activity, especially when the music is playing. Otherwise, this is a mostly front heavy sound mix. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, as well as English subtitles.
Because School of Rock did pretty well at the box office, Paramount has produced a "Special Collector's Edition" of the film. Starting off the disc are two commentary tracks, the first by Black and director Richard Linklater, and a second by a bunch of the kid actors from the film. The first track featuring Black and Linklater should provide fans with a lot of great information on the film, as well as some entertaining moments where Black's inane hilarity cuts loose. The "kids kommentary" leaves a lot to be desired—they don't have much to say (lots of dead space) and when they do talk it isn't very informative or fun, just a lot of ho-hum giggling and goofing off.
"Lessons Learned in School of Rock" is a nearly half-hour featurette on the making of the film. It includes behind-the-scenes footage of Black and the crew at work, as well as interviews with various cast and crew members. "Jack Black's Pitch to Led Zeppelin" is a short promo that Black and Linklater filmed to beg the Gods of Rock to let them use one of their songs in the movie (Zeppelin is notorious for hardly ever allowing their music to be played in any Hollywood feature films). "MTV's Diary of Jack Black" is a brief overview of Black, his band Tenacious D, and the actor's life in general.
Finally, there is a music video for the song "School of Rock," a "Kids Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival" (which follows the kids as they go on a press junket in Canada), a theatrical trailer for the film, some DVD-ROM content, and a few previews for other Paramount titles.
Jack Black fans and newcomers will certainly enjoy this little ode to head-bangin' good times. Paramount has done a fine job with the disc, maybe even more than is needed. Oh, and I'm not sure as the PG-13 rating is really warranted—there isn't that much here to offend kids over 10 years old.
Sign of the devil! Sign of the…oh, you get the point.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Richard Linklater and Star Jack Black
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