Defending Joel Schumacher

Silver Linings #2

"Honestly, there is more to the guy than ice puns!"

Hello, and welcome to another installment of Silver Linings, the column where I find the positive aspects of the most maligned things in pop culture.


Most moviegoers only pay attention to the people actually onscreen, hardly sparing a thought for those who work behind the scenes.  There are some exceptions. The average viewer can recognize the style of Tim Burton or notice the similarities in the scores of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice even without knowing the name Danny Elfman. There are also a couple of behind-the-scenes figures known negatively like Uwe Boll.  One of those infamous exceptions is writer/director Joel Schumacher.

To the vast majority of the film watching public, Joel Schumacher is known as the guy who killed Batman with ice puns, Bat Nipples, and the Bat Credit Card. Batman & Robin was an absolute catastrophe reviled by just about everyone. A poll done by Empire magazine in 2010 even named it the worst movie of all time! Unfortunately, most people judge the guy purely because of that one admittedly gargantuan black mark and completely overlook some excellent films he's put together throughout his career.

In chronological order, here are the great works of Joel Schumacher with absolutely no sign of a freeze suit.

The Lost Boys

The Lost Boys had become one of the definitive vampire movies of our generation. It tells about a family moving to a small town in California where the oldest brother (Jason Patric) falls in with a biker gang of vampires (led by Kiefer Sutherland). This movie did more than just putting together Corey Haim (as the younger brother) and Corey Feldman (as a comic geek and vampire hunter). The movie has fun with the vampire tropes and with the vampires themselves. Unlike the normally broody vampires seen just about everywhere, this gang is a bunch of party animals. One could see the appeal. It deftly mixed horror and comedy and entertains thoroughly. Ignore the crappy direct-to-DVD sequels, and check it out this Halloween!

Flatliners

Typo - this movie actually came out in 1990.

Kiefer Sutherland apparently became Schumacher's go-to guy since he went from heading a gang of vampire bikers in The Lost Boys to heading a group of reckless med students in the creepy-as-hell thriller Flatliners. On a mission to see what happens after death, Sutherland ropes fellow students Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt into a dangerous experiment where they would kill themselves just to see the afterlife and get revived. The results really mess with the students' perception of reality, and Schumacher's over-the-top delivery really sells the horror. I don't know if the 2017 sequel will be any good, but the original from 1990 is one of Schumacher's underrated classics.

Falling Down

You ever have one of those days where you lose all patience with the world? That's the premise of the thriller Falling Down which follows Michael Douglas as the little inconveniences of modern life add up until he just snaps. This movie shows that Schumacher works best when his over-the-top sensibilities are tempered by a scenario people can relate to.  Douglas flipping out over fast-food menu changes and failing to get change for a payphone is overblown, but the audience can relate to the frustration. Though the ending can be seen from a mile away, the journey getting there is a wild ride.

A Time to Kill

Joel Schumacher directed two outstanding adaptations of John Grisham novels. While The Client was excellent, A Time To Kill was phenomenal.  The story of a black man in Mississippi on trial for killing two white supremacists who raped his daughter resonated flawlessly. Every performance knocked it out of the park. Matthew McConaughey proved that he was much more than a heartthrob; his impassioned performance (especially the closing argument) deserved an Oscar. This was also one of Samuel L. Jackson's greatest moments; his power came through perfectly especially when he took the stand.  The racially-charged atmosphere was flawlessly captured by Schumacher, and even the over-the-top parts with the Klan (headed by Kiefer Sutherland) work well.  This is an amazing drama.

8MM

As over the top as Nicolas Cage tends to be in his performances, he manages a terrified reservation in the thriller 8MM. He plays a PI investigating the origin of a collection of snuff films found in a dead guy's safe. Cage's straight-man delivery compliments perfectly with the demented performances of Joaquin Phoenix and James Gandolfini, and Schumacher's direction finds the sweet spot between atmospheric tension and terrifying insanity. The violence can be very hard to watch, but it doesn't reach the sickening absurdity of an exploitation film. This is a very chilling film that's very underrated.

Phone Booth

This is one of my all-time favorite thrillers. A full-of-crap two-timing PR guy gets trapped in a phone booth by a psychotic avenging angel armed with a sniper rifle. The atmospheric tension is so thick it can be cut with a meat cleaver. Schumacher's over-the-top indulgences build onto the scenario amazingly well. All of this is complimented by the desperate performance of Colin Ferrell as the guy trapped in the booth. Finally, I have to give props to Kiefer Sutherland, who manages pure menace with a hint of insane humor with just his voice; he isn't even seen through the majority of the movie. This is one of the best thrillers of the last twenty years, and it seems hard to believe it was done by the same guy who made Batman & Robin.


As you can see, Joel Schumacher has done plenty of great stuff.  It's such a shame that one terrible movie almost covers all of the good movies up.  He's had hits and misses like any other average director, and he deserves recognition for the times he scored rather than just being reviled for his big strikeout.

Are there other good Schumacher films I'm missing?  Let me know (as well as any other subject for future installments of Silver Linings)!

Adam Wallace
Adam Wallace

I have been writing video game reviews for the past three years for two different websites, but I wanted an outlet for other game- and movie-related articles.  So I came here.  Enjoy and find me on Twitter! @tenchu3379

Now Reading
Defending Joel Schumacher