Plot: What’s it about?
Jack Black, a funny-looking sort of man, is back with his new movie “School of Rock”. Those who are familiar with the persona of Mr. Black will undoubtedly realize (or be forced to, anyway) that he’s a musician of sorts. Black makes up one half of Tenacious D, a cult show that documents the successes and failures of a musical duo. Though Black gained notoriety in 1999’s “High Fidelity”, he went onto some more mainstream success with roles in films like “Shallow Hal”. The typical romantic leading man, he’s not; then again it was a Farrelley Brother’s movie – so all the rules are essentially out the window. Let us not forget that the movie was directed by one Richard Linklater; the mastermind behind such movies as “Before Sunrise”, “Dazed and Confused” and “Waking Life”. Linklater, obviously a music enthusiast, seems to be not only one of the more popular directors; but also one of the more consistent when it comes to making entertaining movies that are also critically acclaimed. But, could it work? The movie, that is? Sure, you can borrow the “Rolling Stone” logo, but you have to create something pretty interesting to live up to that standard. And I’m pleased to say that they do.
Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a deadbeat with hopes of hitting it big in the rock world. The trouble is that he’s listened to too many Zeppelin albums and it’s made him think that he’s the biggest star in the world. He’ll go into twenty minute guitar solos and, when he thinks the crowd is ready, will stage dive (though the crowd doesn’t seem to catch him). Dewey lives with his friend and former “rocker”, Ned Schneebly (Mike White). Ned has grown up and now substitutes part time to make ends meet and is now under the control of his one, and possibly only, girlfriend (Sarah Silverman). Dewey is behind on the rent and when he intercepts a call for a substitute teaching “gig”, intended for his roommate, he accepts the job in order to get some quick cash. Now this is where the movie could either become predictable and dull or really take off. It takes off. Though the class is full of stereotypical types (the brain, the cool guy, the troublemaker, the nerd, etc.) Dewey becomes a great teacher when he hears how bad their musical talents are. Wanting to win the “Battle of the Bands”, he crafts together a band out of the students.
The principal of the school (Joan Cusack) is a strict by the book type of gal, who evidently got drunk at a party and did her best Stevie Nicks impersonation. This is all that Dewey needs to go on as he tries to convince her to let him take the kids on a “Field Trip” (which is actually the Battle of the Bands). He has a system set up so that the class can work on their routine, but at the same time convey the message that he’s teaching the class other subjects besides “music”. Though the movie seems fairly predictable and one that you think you’ve seen before, this is a very entertaining and I’d say a “Family” film. Certainly fans of Black’s humor and any music fan will want to take a look. Linklater has done a superb job at directing here and Black is right in his element. Add to this that Mike White (Ned in the film) wrote this movie but has also written “Orange County” (which also starred Black) and the Jennifer Aniston movie, “The Good Girl”. The film is just offbeat enough to be noticed in the crowd and just entertaining enough to want to see again. For all those who enjoy a great movie, this one is a no-brainer.
Video: How does it look?
After seeing a few movies that were new to DVD and not being that impressed, I can safely say that I was so with “School of Rock”. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is showcased nicely in the Widscreen version (a full-frame is also available) and Paramount has done a great job of transferring this movie to DVD. The colors are bright and vivid throughout and I noticed a level of detail that I didn’t notice with other movies, even the new ones. The fleshtones seemed right on target and they didn’t have that somewhat “muddy” appearance that some films are plagued with. There were only a few areas that I noticed maybe a few specs on the print, but certainly nothing to worry about. This is almost as good as they get when it comes to how DVD’s can look.
Audio: How does it sound?
For a movie about rock and roll, I’d have to say that I wasn’t too blown away with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Sure, there are plenty of great songs included, but the surrounds didn’t kick in nearly as much as I thought they would. I even made sure I had the 5.1 soundtrack selected, as a Dolby Surround option is also available. This shouldn’t be the case when viewing a new to DVD movie that should, no pun intended, rock. The sound isn’t something to be worried about as the dialogue is reproduced very naturally and though most of the action takes place in the front three channels, the surrounds do kick in a few times. While I wasn’t blown away, I certainly wasn’t let down, either.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is another in Paramount’s “Special Collector’s Edition” line of DVD’s and when we see those three words, we know that many supplements are to be found. And, indeed, they are. We start off with two commentaries. The first is by far the more entertaining; it contains Director Richard Linklater and Actor Jack Black. The two talk and talk and talk, which is a good thing considering it’s a commentary track. Black does more of his schtick, which does liven the track up a bit; but it’s clear to see how into the movie these two were with this track. The second track is a bit more for novelty. It’s a “Kids Kommentary” and certainly it does contain a number of the children found in the film. I believe, for all of the kids, this was their first film and definitely their first commentary track. Though they don’t add a whole lot of information, they are genuinely excited to be a part of it. For the more informative track, listen to Black and Linklater. Next up is a featurette entitled “Lessons Learned in ‘School of Rock’”. This isn’t your usual piece of fluff that’s found on most discs, rather it’s a look at how the movie was made and the idea (by writer Mike Black) got the ball rolling. Interviews with the cast and crew are found as well. One of the funniest features on the disc is “Jack Black’s Pitch to Led Zeppelin”. Evidently the “Kings of Rock” aren’t too fond of letting their music be used in feature films and Black, along with hundreds of extras, has videotaped a plea to let them use a song in the film. Evidently it worked, because afterwards we’re shown the scene in which the “Immigrant Song” is played. Who says begging doesn’t pay off?
We then find a “Kids Video Diary” of their time at the Toronto Film Festival, where the movie first appeared. This is shot by the kids and features them as well. In a change, we can see how excited they are and don’t really know what lies ahead of them. Though it’s not all too informative, it’s an interesting feature nonetheless. There is also a “School of Rock” video, the same that they sung in the end of the movie; but this has been shot especially for video. It’s nice and features Black and the kids. “Jack Black’s Video Diary” takes us through his day, August 16, 2003 as he literally gets out of bed, showered (and we see way too much of him, by the way) and off to rehearsal (and he constantly says he’s late, but I don’t think the guy can be taken seriously). One thing that impressed me, though made sense, was that the kids were cast because of their music abilities, rather than their acting abilities. This was most of the kids’ first movie and perhaps we might find one or two that will make a career out of it? Some DVD-ROM material is included as is the original theatrical trailer. Paramount, unlike so many other studios, has actually give us the option of watching previews for other movies whereas other studios just force it upon us (great, just what you want when you spend $25 on a movie, ads). A teaser for the upcoming “The Stepford Wives” is shown as is a home video trailer for “Paycheck”. “School of Rock” is all it’s made out to be and sure to please most, if not everyone who sees it.