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Black aces the ‘School of Rock’

‘Rules of the Game’ is a cinephile's dream. By Michael Ventre
/ Source: contributor

“School of Rock”
Special Collector’s Edition
“School of Rock” is a Jack Black attack. He’s a maniac. He’s a lunatic. He’s a comedic inferno. Without Mr. Black, “School of Rock” would never have gotten its certification.

This is not to say that he stands alone at commencement. Director Richard Linklater, working from a Mike White script, nails the perfect tone for this tale of a down-on-his-luck guitarist with Jimmy Page fantasies who takes a job as a substitute teacher at a stuffy institution and transforms a group of kids programmed toward rigidity into a swaggering band of rockers. Whenever the tale drifts toward the hokey or the cliched, Linklater  and White restrain themselves in terms of the narrative while at the same time letting Black rip.

This was one of the most enjoyable movies of 2003, and Black’s performance is a gem. It did not go unnoticed, but it was underappreciated. I realize it’s a rarity when an actor in a comic role gets recognition from the Academy. But if Johnny Depp — as sensational as he was in “Pirates of the Caribbean” — can get an Oscar nomination for best actor, then Black should be given the Irving Thalberg Award for “School of Rock.”

The DVD is packed with goodies. There is a satisfying commentary featuring both Black and Linklater; a kids’ commentary; a making-of featurette organized into something called “Lessons Learned in ‘School of Rock’”; a kids’ video diary at the Toronto Film Festival; the “School of Rock” music video, and lots more.

Occasionally you come across a picture that is so much fun you don’t want it to end. The extras on this DVD keep the guffaws coming and complement the experience that begins with the feature film. This is an air guitar player’s dream.

Check out this special feature: Black and the filmmakers got it into their heads that they had to use Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in the movie, even though remaining members Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones are notoriously wary of allowing their music into Hollywood productions (see what Cameron Crowe had to go through for a similar request on “Almost Famous”). So Black decided the best course of action was to beg. He does so here on video, and it’s a riot. Mission accomplished: “Immigrant Song” is in the movie.

Paramount, $29.99.

“The Rules of the Game”

There are classics you gush about over dinner with your fellow cinephiles, and then there are those you devour in order to contribute to your film education. “The Rules of the Game” probably falls into the latter category.

The year was 1938. Jean Renoir, coming off his acclaim from “Grand Illusion” and “La Bete humaine,” wanted to make a picture that shined a harsh light on the self-obsessed upper-middle class of French society as Hitler grew in power and rumblings of world war echoed across Europe.

“The Rules of the Game” is not about one character but a gaggle of them. It takes place in the French countryside, during a hunting trip, and juxtaposes the shooting of small game against the equally predatory misadventures of amorous but confused partygoers as well as the hired help. It’s a soufflé of social criticism, comedy and tragedy.

It bombed upon release, and was trashed by French critics and pundits who apparently didn’t enjoy having their foibles exposed and lampooned for mass consumption. But “Rules” has gone on to claim a central place in the pantheon of French cinema. Francois Truffaut calls it simply “the film of films.”

Because of its loose and carefree narrative  and its subject matter, “The Rules of the Game” may not hold up as well today or pack the same wallop as “Grand Illusion,” but it was groundbreaking for its time and it stands as a masterwork of directorial innovation.

This special edition double-disc set is the product of the folks at Criterion Collection, and as usual, they’ve outdone themselves when it comes to adding features that put the film in context and provide explanation and examination. A considerable amount of reconstruction needed to be done on “Rules,” because the original negative was destroyed during World War II, and that subject is comprehensively covered.

There is a fascinating introduction by Renoir himself; an audio commentary by film scholar Alexander Sesonske and read by Peter Bogdanovich; scene analysis by Renoir historian Christopher Faulkner, and much more. There is even a 24-page booklet with thoughts on the film by people like Truffaut and Bertrand Tavernier.

“The Rules of the Game” is a must-see.

Check out this special feature: Included is Part One of a two-part BBC documentary on Renoir, made in 1993. Although a little dry and scholarly, it tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the life and career of one of cinema’s great masters.

Criterion Collection, $39.95.