TIFF Reviews: The School of Rock, Prey for Rock and Roll, and End of the Century

TIFF Survivor Dave Creighton reviews three films all with a Rock and Roll theme: Jack Black in  “School of Rock”, director Alex Steyermark’s “Prey for Rock & Roll” and the documentary “End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones”.

29 films over eight days and it’s time to start letting all of you in on the fun!

First from Richard Linklater comes “The School of Rock” another Jack Black vehicle. Black plays Dewey Finn, a slacker rock and roll guitar player who has spent his life trying to make it into rock and never managed to do so. When Dewey’s band kicks him out and his nebish substitute teacher roommate is forced by his new girlfriend to demand an end to his freeloading ways Finn is forced to find a way to make some quick cash. Intercepting a job offer to the aforementioned roommate Dewey decides he can impersonate his pal in order to earn money and winds up as a substitute teaher to a group of pre-teens in a prestigious private school run by the usual snotty principal (played by Joan Cusack). Dewey sleepwalks through a few days before realising many of the pupils have classical musical training and decides to utterly forgeo teaching in order to turn the class into a rock band to help him win the big battle of the bands.

Yup, it’s “Dead Poet Society” for slackers. Of course the kids are cute and you know how the story will go well before it gets there. And of course Dewey comes to learn valuabel lessons, but bad things happen. That’s the real problem with the film. It’s predictable enough you know what’s coming. The problem is the writers seem to expect that and never put in quite enough effort to make Dewey a likeable character. Jack Black is not Robin Williams, though he certainly tries to clown like him at times. He can’t just mug and make one speech and have full audience empathy, espceially since this film refuses to resort to swelling orchestras and angelic lighting to push the point home. It’s hard, for much of the film, to overlook the fact he is committing fraud and selfishly using these children while he deprives them of an education.

That said the ending is good, the rock is good and credit to Linklater for using the entire length of the film (including opening and closing credits) to entertain the audience with some solid rock and roll. Black is, after all, a multi-talented performer and this is a great vehicle for him. In the end, the film balances out to be pretty good and worth sitting through much of it waiting for the other shoe to drop.

My prediticion Opening in theatres everywhere very soon expect “The School of Rock” to pull in over $50 million, but probably under 100. Jack Black can continue to make films and, hopefully, get a chance to stretch someday.

Next comes “Prey for Rock & Roll,” a much more serious look at the same concept. Based on cheri Lovedog’s semi-autobiographical stage play (which played at CeeBeeGeeBees a club also instrumental in the success of The Ramones) Alex Steyermark directs this unglamoros but loving look at those who spend their life just trying to make it small let alone big.

Jacki (played amazingly by Gina Gershon, who also does all her own singing) is a punk rocker turning forty who has been playing the same dives for twenty years while scratching out a living as a tatoo artist. She fronts a band that includes drug addled trust fund baby Tracy (Drea de Matteo), and lesbian couple Faith (played by a Lori Petty of “Tank Girl” fame, who is maturing into a truly excellent actress) and Sally (Shelly Cole of “Gilmore Girls”). Jacki is herself a bisexual and a canvass of amazing tattoos (if you love tatooed women this is the film for you) who can’t hold down a relationship due to her musical obsessions. The rest of the band share a house and must deal with Tracy’s dealer boyfriend as well as the arrival Sally’s recently paroled brother (played by Marc Blucas of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” fame who, surprisingly, can actually act).

Plots abound, as Sally’s brother becomes attracted to the much older Jacki, Tracy’s boyfriend becomes an increeasing problem and a record deal becomes a possibility. At it’s heart, however, the film is about following your dream and how long can one really be a punk rock rebelr Will you be cashing your social security checks and still hoping for your big breakr

The film (like others at the festival) treats homosexual loves scenes exactly as heterosexual love scenes would be treated in Hollywood. Not graphic but certainly overt and treeated as a matter of course, not something shocking or unusual. Credit to the filmmakers for this atttitude.

For the most part the music is solid, though the film-makers do tend to save the better songs for later in the film. There’s no real plot reason for this so it’s hard to get interested in the music at first. Some fothe song, like many punk songs, would probably benefit from being heard a few times and when the soundtrack comes out October 7th I’ll be tempted to pick it up. Check the record credits, the studio perfromers are a veritable Who’s Whor of female punk rock performers.

In the end “Prey for Rock & Roll” is a moving, solid and respectful look at a part of society that doesn’t get seen elsewhere and doesn’t brging in cute twelve-year-olds to help soften the story. All the performances are good and the story is believable and moving.

My prediction: “Prey for Rock & Roll” opens in L.A. Septemeber 26th and expands to San Fransico and Seattle the next week expanding to 45 markets by the end of October. No Canadian deal was in place as of the screening. While a great film I’d expect it to measure its box office using six figures, or perhaps push just past one million.

In Brief: “End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones”

From Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields comes a documentary telling the story of punk creators The Ramones. And that’s about it. Obviously fans of the band the creators simply use stock footage and a number of interviews to tell a chronological history of the band. Real fans will know most of this already and non-fans aren’t given much of a reason to care. The result is a documentary that manages to be about one of the most energetic bands ever that comes off as someewhat listless. Certainly it was a good idea to archive much of this footage in one place (though much of the footage is of poor quality, grainy and in many cases with timestamps right on the screen) but there must have been more the filmmakers could have brought to the table. If you are a Ramones fan you’ll want to see this some day. If not…probably not.

My prediction: I doubt it will see more than a handful of theatres at all but you may catch it on TV someday, especially if you have digitial cable.

That’s all for now, over the coming days and weeks expect more reviews including “Love Actually”, “The Singing Detective” and some incredible documentaries.