The Case That Went Back to School

We all know the feeling. You’re playing outside on a hot August day, and suddenly a cool breeze hits your face as a yellow bus drives by, running a test route for the coming school year. You go inside and hear a particularly catchy Office Max commercial boasting about their school supplies sale. Your heart falls as a parent hands you a letter from your school containing a message from your new teacher. You look around, wondering where the summer went. 

Well, August is over, and school is officially back in session! So grab your pencils and your composition notebooks! It’s Back to School September! In this first episode of the month, we decided to give you a crash course in three of our favorite school-themed films. 

ADAM’S PICK: SCHOOL OF ROCK 

Synopsis

  • The film stars Jack Black playing a struggling rock guitarist named Dewey Finn. The story begins with Dewey’s band kicking him out for his over-the-top rock and roll shenanigans. Out of a job and in desperate need of money, he disguises himself as his roommate, a substitute teacher, and accepts a job at a prep school. After witnessing the musical talent of the students, Dewey forms a band of fifth-graders under the guise of a school project to attempt to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands.

Production

  • School of Rock was directed by Richard Linklater, produced by Scott Rudin, and written by Mike White. White called up his friend and once-neighbor Jack Black to pitch an idea for a film, partly inspired by the Langley Schools Music Project of the 1970s. Recorded in 1976–77, it is a collection of children’s choruses singing pop hits of the time, from the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie. They were found and re-released 25 years later in 2001. So basically, the world’s first Kidz Bop! (Which, by the way, was first released in 2001 as well!)
  • Some additional inspiration came from Jack Black. He said he once witnessed a stage dive gone wrong involving a man named Ian Astbury of rock band The Cult. This story made its way into the opening of the film. 
  • Much of the film was shot on location in New York City. For the interior shots of the school, the film uses the Main Hall at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. According to some of the children in the movie, the different hallway scenes were all shot in one hallway with slight changes to the walls. 

Music

  • The movie is obviously filled to the brim with many well-known rock and roll songs, including top bands and artists such as AC/DC, The Doors, Kiss, Black Sabbath, The Who, Metallica, The Black Keys, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie, and much more. If you are looking for a great selection of rock to jam to, look no further than School of Rock. 
  • Musician James Jr. of the band The Mooney Suzuki and screenwriter Mike White wrote the title track, “School of Rock.” The Mooney Suzuki played as backup for the child musicians on the soundtrack recording of the song. 
  • One interesting thing to note is that the soundtrack also includes “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. For years, the band had been known to be stingy with the use of their music in media. Director Richard Linklater had first-hand experience with this issue, as he wanted to use their song, “Dazed and Confused,” in his 1993 film of the same name. So, Linklater filmed a video of Jack Black standing on the stage used at the end of the film, begging the band for permission to use the song. According to Jack Black, about 1000 extras were chanting behind him. After receiving the video, the three living members of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones) granted permission for the song.

Cast

  • Jack Black as Dewey Finn
    • A very well-known actor who has been in many things. Films such as Kung Fu Panda, Goosebumps, Nacho Libre, and Jumanji: The Next Level, to name a few.
  • Joan Cusack as Principal Rosalie Mullins
    • Cusack is another very well-known actress who has had a very successful career since the 80s. Some of her top movies include, In & Out, Working Girl, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. 
  • Mike White as Ned Schneebly
    • Primarily known as a writer for shows such as Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks, Nacho Libre, and the screenplay of Pitch Perfect 3.
  • Sarah Silverman as Patty Di Marco, Ned’s girlfriend
    • Silverman is a comedian who was on Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, Robot Chicken, and more recently provided voices on Bob’s Burgers.

-All the kid cast members had rock and roll names in the movie and throughout production.

  • Miranda Cosgrove as Summer “Tinkerbell” Hathaway (band manager)
    • Unsurprisingly, she went on to have a hugely successful acting career after School of Rock. Especially with iCarly being as popular as it was.
  • Joey Gaydos Jr. as Zack “Zack-Attack” Mooneyham (lead guitar)
    • After School of Rock, Joey quit acting and instead decided to focus on his music.
  • Kevin Clark as Freddy “Spazzy McGee” Jones (drums)
    • Sadly, he passed away in May of this year at age 32.
  • Rivkah Reyes as Katie “Posh Spice” (bass)
    • She still plays bass and is part of the band Sweet Revenge. She has also appeared in several other titles on-and-off since the movie.
  • Robert Tsai as Lawrence “Mr. Cool” (keyboards)
    • He has also left acting and still plays concert piano.
  • Maryam Hassan as Tomika “Turkey Sub” (lead and backing vocals)
    • She is a musician under the name Mayhrenate, and as of this year, she has released a few singles and one album.   
  • Aleisha Allen as Alicia “Brace Face” (lead and backing vocals)
    • Her career as an actor started as the voice of Sidetable Drawer on Blue’s Clues and has been in various other films since School of Rock. 
  • Caitlin Hale as Marta “Blondie” (lead and backing vocals)
    • She took a break from acting to focus on her studies and would later graduate from Arizona State with a degree in journalism.
  • Brian Falduto as Billy “Fancy Pants” (band stylist)
    • He is no longer an actor, but he does sing and is a successful life coach.
  • Angelo Massagli as Frankie “Tough Guy” (security)
    • After School of Rock, he featured in some titles, including Stuart Little 2 and The Sopranos. Also, as a side note, he and Catlin Hale are currently a couple.
  • Cole Hawkins as Leonard “Short Stop” (security)
    • He has been in a few movies before and after School of Rock and has had appearances in Law and Order: SVU.
  • Z Infante as Gordon “Roadrunner” (assistant, lights)
    • They have continued acting and were in the TV series Gotham and the 2016 film Carrie Pilby.
  • James Hosey as Marco “Carrot Top” (assistant, special effects)
    • He has been in a few TV series since School of Rock, such as Boardwalk Empire and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Reception

  • The opening in 2003 was well-received, grossing $131 million worldwide on a $35 million budget. The film received positive reviews from critics, with praise for Black’s performance and humor. It was the highest-grossing music-themed comedy of all time until 2015 when surpassed by Pitch Perfect 2. Due to this success, a stage musical adaptation was developed for Broadway in 2015, and a television adaptation also made its way to Nickelodeon in 2016.
  • The film received several awards and nominations, including a Movies for Grownups Award for “Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up.” It won Best Comedy Film at the British Comedy Awards and a Grammy nomination for “Best Compilation Soundtrack Album.” Additionally, Jack Black received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and won an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance.
  • In 2013, a 10th-anniversary screening of the film was held in Austin, Texas, at the Paramount Theatre. Those in attendance included director Richard Linklater, Jack Black, Mike White, and most of the young cast members. The event had a red carpet, a full cast and crew Q&A after the screening, and a VIP after-party performance by the School of Rock band where they reportedly played “School of Rock (Teacher’s Pet),” “The Legend of The Rent,” “Step Off” and “It’s a Long Way to the Top.”

ROBIN’S PICK: DIARY OF A WIMPY KID

  • Why I Chose it: 
    • Middle school was not a good time for me. I was just as weird and awkward as I am now, but in a cesspool of mean and unaccepting pre-teens. Marci and I had just started going to a new school, which is actually how we met Adam! But alas, Adam was one of the few bright spots in this otherwise bleak time. Am I being dramatic? Probably, but I think anyone who was an awkward middle-schooler might relate. 
    • In middle school we had a computer class elective, and were allowed to spend free time on approved websites. One such site was called, “Funbrain,” and was filled with games and comics. This is where I first discovered an online web series that I really identified with. It followed an awkward middle school kid as he navigated the perils of growing up. It was called, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
    • It may sound silly now, coming from a woman who is just south of 30, but this comic really helped me get through school. I actually remember when Jeff Kinney, the creator, hinted that he may someday make a book! About three years later, the first book of the series hit shelves, and the rest is history. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a huge franchise made of 11 books and four feature films. Greg Heffley, the series’ main protagonist, even has a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 
    • In 2010, when I had grown from an awkward pre-teen to an awkward teenager, I went to see the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid in theaters. Of course, I was past the age of the target audience, but I still went with my younger sister and our mom. To my delight, the movie was entertaining, funny, and downright adorable. I still think it is one of the best back-to-school movies out there, so I chose to talk about it today!
  • Synopsis
    • Greg Heffley is nervous for his first day of middle school. As many of his peers have experienced early growth spurts, Greg is one of the smallest boys in school. Determined to have a great year, Greg devises a series of schemes with his best friend Rowley, in an attempt to achieve popularity. As each plan backfires, Greg and Rowley learn more and more about growing up. 
  • Production Behind the Scenes – Diary of a Wimpy Kid 
    • Directed by Thor Freudenthal, Diary of a Wimpy Kid premiered in March of 2010. The film was a faithful adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s bestselling book series of the same name, with some scenes created and staged based solely on the cartoonist’s illustrations. 
      • Thor had worked as a special effects artist and animator before becoming a director, which would be great experiences for him to build on for this project. He wanted to use whatever film techniques necessary to create the feel of a comic-turned-film. This meant blending animation and live-action in some sequences, and finding an animation studio that could bring Jeff Kinney’s work to life, while maintaining its style and charm. 
      • One of his favorite scenes to shoot was the “cheese touch” sequence, which had been planned from the very beginning of the production process. The cheese itself is a character, and its creation was a group effort between the prop designer and the team at Custom Film Effects, who used CGI to update the look of the cheese throughout the film. 
    • Writers Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, and Jeff Judah all worked on the screenplay. Sachs has said that adapting a book of funny, episodic stories was difficult. The writers had to create a through-line story that connected these silly moments that Greg would write about in his diary. The writers decided to focus the film on the relationship between Greg and his best friend, Rowley, and the challenges young friends face as they grow up together. 
      • The screenplay went through 10 different drafts before 20th Century Fox settled on a final version. 
    • They auditioned 5000 kids across the US and Canada before filming the movie in Vancouver. Zachary Gordon won the part with an audition using the title sequence monologue of the movie. Freudenthal said that he stood out because he was such a likable kid, who really brought a layered performance. Gordon was able to act with a cockiness and snark that clearly masked someone with a lot of insecurities. 
  • Music
    • Theodor Shapiro composed the music for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, crafting a main theme that is reminiscent of Vincer Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy. Shapiro has scored many film projects like Tropic Thunder and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Most recently he scored The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+. 
  • Cast 
    • Zachary Gordon as Greg Heffley
      • Writer Jeff Kinney first created Greg Heffley in 1998, the same year that Zachary Gordon was born. Eleven years later, Gordon would be cast as the character. Before the film was even in production, Gordon had read the book and told his mom that he wanted to play Greg if they ever made the movie. 
      • Gordon starred in the next two Wimpy Kid films. He has a recurring role on the TV series “Good Trouble.” 
    • Devon Bostick as Roderick Heffley
      • Thor Freudenthal said on the DVD commentary that Bostick was one of the biggest surprises that came with making this film. He is a very talented actor, and really brought Roderick’s character alive as a gleefully mean older brother. 
      • Bostick had a recurring role on the TV series The 100, and has appeared in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. 
    • Robert Capron as Rowley Jefferson
      • Capron was very popular with the adults on set, as he was much like his character, Rowley. In one scene, he famously dances to the Beastie Boys song, “Intergalactic” with his real-life and on-screen mother!
      • Capron has recently done a lot of voice work, and will reprise his role as Rowley for an animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie and TV show! 
    • Rachel Harris as Susan Heffley
      • An experienced comedic and dramatic actor, Harris has recurring roles in Suits and Lucifer. She is also known for her role in The Hangover.  
    • Steve Zahn as Frank Heffley
      • Steven Zahn would bring a lot of ideas to his role as Frank Heffley, adding hilarious pieces to his character. He perfectly encapsulated the Frank Heffley of the book, a seemingly angry and annoyed man that, deep down, was off-beat and silly. 
    • Chloe Grace Moretz as Angie Steadman
      • Moretz’s character was not in the book, and was added by the writers to help give the story more depth. Director Thor Freudenthal noted that the book doesn’t have any main female characters, and that most of the girls are all drawn similarly. He read this as an indication that Greg doesn’t understand girls, and therefore doesn’t know how to represent them. The character Angie also serves as a, quote, “jiminy cricket” character to Greg, showing up and questioning his decisions.
      • Moretz recently starred in the film “Tom and Jerry,” but is also known for her roles in “Hugo” and “Kick-Ass.” 
    • Karan Brar as Chirag Gupta
      • Part of the reason that the film works so well is because it focuses on mundane issues, blown out of proportion from a child’s perspective. Karan Brar as Chirag Gupta really sold his scenes by delivering his lines in a dramatic way.
      • Brar had never acted before but has since been in a lot of projects, including the Disney show Jessie
    •   Grayson Russel as Fregley 
      • Russel was perfect for the role of the off-beat and unusual Fregley. He is also set to reprise his role in the animated film! 
  • Reception
    • Although the movie wasn’t highly promoted, it still made well over its budget with a worldwide gross of over 76 million dollars. It also gained respectable critical reviews. Roger Ebert gave the movie 3.5 out of four stars and called it, “a bright little charmer.” He said in his review: “It is so hard to do a movie like this well. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is a PG-rated comedy about the hero’s first year of middle school, and it’s nimble, bright and funny. It doesn’t dumb down. It doesn’t patronize. It knows something about human nature. It isn’t as good as “A Christmas Story,” as few movies are, but it deserves a place in the same sentence. Here is a family movie you don’t need a family to enjoy. You must, however, have been a wimpy kid. Most kids are wimpy in their secret hearts.”

MARCI’S PICK: BACK TO SCHOOL

  • For my pick we head back to college! It portrays a wilder college experience, especially because it is an 80’s movie version of college. Although some of the humor may be dated it still brings about all the embarrassment, pressure, and fun that school has to offer.
  • Synopsis
    • Thornton Melon is a self-made millionaire that got his riches without attending college. He becomes worried that his son Jason is unsure about finishing college and Thornton therefore makes a deal with him that he will attend college as well. Hilarity ensues as Thornton falls in love with Professor Diane Turner and uses his riches to get through his courses while his son Jason falls for another student and tries to make the cut for the diving team.
  • Production
    • Grand Lakes University was actually portrayed by three different colleges: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Southern California, and California State University.
      • The divers in the movie were expert college divers! They were told to perform their worst as the Grand Lakes University team.
    • Originally the idea was that the character of Thornton would be a struggling father that would need to work and do dishes in order to just be there. The team was having trouble getting the script right and so one night director Alan Metter was talking with Harold Ramis.
      • Ramis said he would rather go back to college after he had all the money and resources so he could just have fun and “get laid.” This led the script to be changed to what it is now.
    • When casting his love interest was a difficult job, they needed someone kind and warm but that set his sights higher than you might expect for a comedy such as this. They talked to so many women but Sally Kellerman really stood out when she came in.
    • They packed the entire movie with jokes!
    • The first scene shot was Rodney walking across the campus in his bathrobe. Metter felt that it would break the ice since everyone was so nervous for shooting.
    • One of the funniest and most impressive things in this movie is when Thornton does The Triple Lindy dive into the pool. This dive was about 6 different dives put together and Rodney of course had a stunt double, Michael Ostovich. He didn’t actually have to land on the other boards. In order to make it look like it was actually Rodney they did a cast of his face to create a mask. They also used foam rubber to make the stomach. Michael Ostovich wore all this and put an old diving suit on to cover the fake belly. The first time getting it all on took 6 hours. Rodney avoided him because it would just freak him out.
    • Rodney was the glue. The talent was all amazing and that helped make this movie great.
  • Music
    • Danny Elfman composed the music for the movie. The director made the condition that Elfman and his band Oingo Boingo must be in the movie. So much to our delight they are in the party scene playing Dead Man’s Party.
  • Cast
    • Rodney Dangerfield as Thornton Melon
      • Rodney took a little while to find his footing as an actor but once he did it was gold. You may know him from other things such as Caddyshack!
    • Sally Kellerman as Dr. Diane Turner
      • Sally appeared in MASH and several other things.
    • Keith Gordon as Jason Melon
      • He is an actor and now a director as well, directing the FX show Fargo.
    • Terry Farrell
      • She plays the love interest for Jason and was one of the last people cast. She was so charming that she got the part. They were only a smidge reluctant because she is taller than Keith Gordon. It ended up being no problem however and the two seemed to enjoy kissing!
      • She is also known for being in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
    • And plenty of others such as Robert Downey Jr. as his friend Derek Lutz! He at the time was also starring in SNL. Also William Zabka as Chas who is known for playing bad guys but did not want to make this character evil.
  • Reception
    • The Chicago Tribune called it “the surprise hit of the summer.”
    • With a budget of a mere $11 million, it grossed an impressive $91 million in the US making it the second highest grossing comedy of ‘86.
    • Roger Ebert said that “The most interesting thing about “Back to School,” which is otherwise a pleasant but routine comedy, is the puzzle of Rodney Dangerfield. Here is a man who reminds us of some of the great comedians of the early days of the talkies – of Groucho Marx and W. C. Fields – because, like them, he projects a certain mystery. Marx and Fields were never just being funny. There was the sense that they were getting even for hurts so deep that all they could do was laugh about them. It’s the same with Dangerfield.”
  • Fun Facts
    • Jim Carrey almost got the part of the screaming Professor Terguson but it was decided that he was too young to be the professor and so it went to Sam Kinison instead. Sam improvised to shock the students and it worked, those were real reactions.
    • Dangerfield’s final oral exam room may look familiar as it is also where the dance scene from Flashdance happened!
    • Kurt Vonnegut loved the lines about him and thought they were hilarious.

Well kids (of all ages) we know that the end of summer can be sad, but at least you have these movies to get you through it. Summer will always live on in our hearts, and help us find something good about every season…even the season that makes you go back to school. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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