School Of Rock
There’s nothing particularly original about School Of Rock, an all-ages comedy about a loser who redeems himself by helping a bunch of kids, except that it’s more successful than it should have been.
Jack Black plays the loser in question, a garage band washout who takes a job as a substitute teacher at an exclusive prep school and transforms a class full of wonks, keeners and potential burnouts into his battle of the bands entry. It’s about as plausible as it sounds, and thanks to Black, director Richard Linklater, and some impeccable casting choices (Joan Cusack as the uptight principal is as watchable as Black).
Black’s Dewey Finn is an extension of the rock nerd he played in High Fidelity, and honed into a public persona with his band, Tenacious D. He talks like an FM disc jockey’s fever nightmares, and thinks like a Rolling Stone magazine record review. He’s pathetic but compelling, hopelessly immature and, if only because he’s made the entertainment industry his whole context, where fervent belief in delusional rubbish passes for integrity.
Black is proof that there’s no limits to self-parody, and School Of Rock is proof that intelligent people can still make entertaining movies out of clichés so threadbare they barely keep out a draught.
Comes with commentary tracks with Black and Linklater, and the kids, as well as video diaries of Black and his underage co-stars, the latter filmed at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, plus more.
Cold Creek Manor
Director Mike Figgis is probably a very bright and creative man, but he has a fantastic overestimation of his own abilities that should be obvious to anyone who’s sat through Timecode.
In the production documentary that comes with Cold Creek Manor, a thriller disguised as a haunted house movie, Figgis lays out the laws of the thriller, prime among which is that the audience should never be ahead of the characters. A wise rule, but one broken the moment when Stephen Dorff arrives onscreen, playing the latest in his gallery of psycho punks.
From then on, the only suspense in the film is suspending your disbelief that Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone don’t see Dorff’s bloody freak-out coming. Also comes with director’s commentary track, production featurettes, deleted scenes and an alternate ending that hint at a more interesting film that Figgis couldn’t make.
Prime Suspect 2
Prime Suspect 3
Lynda La Plante’s crime miniseries’, starring Helen Mirren as London police detective Jane Tennison, is the kind of thing that gives British television it’s only sporadically accurate reputation as quality stuff.
The second Prime Suspect series, where Mirren has to deal with tinderbox racial tensions while solving the murder of a young girl, is probably the best of the lot, a taut piece of writing that revels in Tennison’s occasional but habitual poor judgment. If Mirren does nothing else, she’ll be remembered for Jane Tennison, a driven and deeply unhappy woman whose humanity is always visible through the pursed lips and fatigue.
The third Prime Suspect, alas, was a bit of a “jump the shark” moment for the series, when the taut tone turned sensationalistic with a story about rent boys and a conspiracy of powerful pedophiles. Still immensely watchable, but not quite up to La Plante’s high standard. No bonus features.
No collection of 50s movies is complete without the movie adaptation of Grace Metalious’ scandalous potboiler about the moral hypocrisy that lay behind the placid surface of a New England town. Incest, rape, murder – the story has it all, painted with narration that perfectly captures Metalious’ bruise-purple tone.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could have watched films like Peyton Place – or Giant, or Rebel Without A Cause, or any number of the period’s overstuffed melodramas – without figuring out that something was going on behind the decade’s surface, something that would only get nasty before it subsided. Comes with a retrospective featurette, a commentary track with two of the film’s once-young stars, Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore, and newsreel footage of the premiere.
Masked And Anonymous
It’s a testament to Bob Dylan’s power to beguile that he was able to attract such a stellar cast for a film as full-on weird as Masked And Anonymous.
Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Angela Bassett, Luke Wilson, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Ed Harris, Mickey Rourke, Fred Ward, Giovanni Ribisi and more contribute what are often little more than walk-ons and cameos, and the “making of” featurette that comes with the disc make it clear that it’s Dylan’s considerable mystique that brought them there.
As for Dylan, his latest persona – Hank Williams meets quack doctor – truly is fascinating, while the film as a whole (your standard counterculture paranoid fantasy about America turned into a seedy banana republic police state) is full of dialogue that would only sound right in a Dylan song. For Dylan fans only.
Cheaper By The Dozen
This 1950 box office hit was recently re-made into a Steve Martin vehicle, then spawned a sequel, Belles On Their Toes, two years later. Myrna Loy and Clifton Webb play the parents of a vast brood of children, who use their skills as efficiency experts to raise their platoon of offspring in 1920s New Jersey. It’s a film top heavy with sentiment, as subtle and original as a Saturday Night Post cover, and it’s proof that there’s never been a shortage of people willing to make Hollywood’s mediocre efforts into blockbusters.