School of Rock review by Mike Long

As a life-long movie fan, I'm more interested in who's behind the camera on a movie than the actors, and I have my list of favorite directors that I look out for. But, I must admit that I don't always pay attention to screenwriters -- certainly not as much as I should. But, one writer that I've learned to look for is Mike White. I loved his work with Orange County and The Good Girl, and was very excited about The School of Rock. And I'm pleased to say that I loved the movie, but Mr. White's screenplay takes a backseat to a certain Mr. Black, who is very much in control of this film.

Black stars in The School of Rock (which is the on-screen title. The DVD box is labeled simply "School of Rock") as Dewey Finn, a hardcore rocker who has just been fired from his band. Dewey lives with Ned Schneebly (Mike White), whose new girlfriend, Patty (Sarah Silverman), suggests that Dewey be kicked out as he can't make his part of the rent. When Ned, who works as a substitute teacher, receives a job offer, Dewey, tempted by the money, takes the gig instead, pretending to be Mr. Schneebly. Dewey is able to fool the school's headmistress, Ms. Mullins (Joan Cusack), and takes the reins of the class of youngsters. Dewey has no intention of teaching the kids anything at all, but when he sees them performing in music class, he gets an idea. He convinces the class that they should do a class project in which they form a rock band, and they will then compete in a state-wide competition. That competition just happens to be the local "Battle of the Bands" and Dewey plans to use these talented kids to win the contest and receive the respect of his rock & roll peers.

This will be one of the easiest reviews that I've ever written. Here's the bottom-line on The School of Rock: If you like Jack Black, then you will love this movie. If you don't like Jack Black, stay as far away from The School of Rock as possible. (Also, an appreciation and/or working knowledge of classic rock will also come in handy.) Black carries this film and his seemingly boundless energy keeps the film moving along at a good pace. Mike White has said that he wrote this script specifically for Black and it's a good thing that he did. Unlike White's other works, The School of Rock is far from original, as the main premise is very reminiscent of other films (such as Sister Act) and every plot twist in the movie is incredibly predictable. Director Richard Linklater has shot the film in a very natural style, which is fine, as he simply turns the camera on and lets Black do his thing.

So, if you can tolerate Jack Black, there is a lot to love about The School of Rock. The Dewey Finn character is a consummate loser, but one cant help but get caught up in his enthusiasm for music. The kids in the class, most of whom are real-life musicians who were recruited for the movie, are fantastic. Joan Cusack is great as the prudish Ms. Mullins. But its Black who brings this movie to life. Looking as if hes never even seen the script, Black barrels through each scene giving an incredibly loud, yet very natural performance. The music is the other big star in the movie, as the mixture of classic rock and original songs put the finishing touches on this fun movie. Given the pedestrian nature of the movie, The School of Rock has no right to be good. (And please try to ignore the plothole during the finale. What time of day is it?) But, Im grading on a curve here, as the cast gives 100% making this a magical movie that can be enjoyed by most members of the long as they like Jack Black.

The School of Rock rocks its way onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film is being released in two separate DVD packages, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This transfer earns high marks for being very clear and free from overt grain or defects from the source material. The image is a bit flat at times, but for the most part, the picture looks fine. The colors are good, and the artifacting problems are kept to a minimum. The transfer wont knock your socks off, but it is definitely serviceable. The DVDs Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track works very well as it offers clear dialogue and, more importantly, does a great job with the music in the film. The Battle of the Bands produces a great deal of surround sound action with the crowd noise and the music supplies endless subwoofer action.

This DVD is packed with extra features. We start with an audio commentary from Jack Black and director Richard Linklater. I didn't know what to expect from this talk, as Linklater seems cold towards Black in the making-of featurette, but they come across as buddy-buddy here and talk at length about the making of the film. They comment on the casting, the changes in the script and how Black approached his role. Next up is the Kids Kommentary, which features Joey Gaydos, Jr. (guitar), Kevin Clark (drums), Maryam Hassan (vocals), Rebecca Brown (bass), Miranda Cosgrove (manager), Caitlin Hale (vocals), and Robert Tsai (keyboards). This is an entertaining commentary as the kids talk about their experiences on the film, but they mostly comment on the movie and say, "Hey, I remember that." This is good fun, but it's best taken in small doses. Lessons Learned in School of Rock is a 25-minute making of featurette in which Mike White discusses the origins of the script and we also learn how the kids were chosen. This segment includes ton of behind-the-scenes footage with interviews and band rehearsal scenes. With Jack Blacks Pitch to Led Zeppelin (4 minutes) we get a peek at the video which was sent to the surviving members of Led Zeppelin in which Black begs for use of Immigrant Song in the movie. (Incidentally, this paid off.) We get to know the kids better with Kids Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival (8 minutes), which follows the group around Toronto as they enjoy the perks of being in a movie. MTVs Diary of Jack Black (16 minutes) is a segment from the MTV program in which Black takes us to a rehearsal for the film, to a jam session with fellow Tenacious D member Kyle Gass, and then to a recording studio. Along the way, we get to see Black engulf a lot of fast-food. The extras are rounded out with a music video from the film and the films trailer, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1, but not 16 x 9.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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