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The Films of Joel Schumacher

my 2018 personal Blank Check project

Well, You Did It

Friends, the year is over, and I did it. I completed my little project. A little late, and my scheduling dropped off at the end, but I did it. And I'm so, so glad I did. It was good to complete something-- important to me to have not abandoned my task, to have not given up when life got busy. Maybe my writing suffered under those periods, and my mental energy to engage with the movies thoughtfully, and I'll accept that. That being said, I think a movie like Twelve invites fewer interesting takes than a The Lost Boys, for example. Still, I admit I could have spent more time with those later movies, and tried to dig something out of them. But as I said at the start, I'm not a critic and I don't know how to critic, and eventually, I didn't even know what the purpose of these little essays was supposed to be. Were they reviews? Were they critical essays? Were they just assembled thoughts and impressions? Some are more one thing and some are others. My interest and intellectual engagement wavered. And I felt repetitive eventually, which pulled me down too. The stories got worse, the visuals remained rich and interesting, but different. Etcetera, etcetera. But nevertheless, this was a good experience for me, of that I'm sure. 

And to anyone who followed me down my little rabbit hole, or ever read a single little piece, I am shocked and pleased and very grateful that you took even the slightest bit of interest. It was nice-- very, very nice-- to feel that at least a couple people out there had some interest in my silly little year long project. 

Here's my overall, end-of-project summation: Schumacher good, y’all!

In more detail, I think overall, Schumacher deserves a revisit and a second thought. The general consensus is very down on him, quite unfairly. Reading reviews of any movie of his, especially on a platform like Letterboxd, you get a lot of "can you believe Joel Schumacher managed to make a movie this decent?" and "Surprisingly good from the guy who ruined Batman." I personally think shit like that... is not only unfair but rude and empty. It's a vapid and close-minded view of his work. He's a good filmmaker, and that's where I stand. His movies are more good than bad. They're not all masterpieces, no, but when he's on he's on. When he's good, he's great. I don't think it's fair to judge an entire filmography on a couple movies. He seems like a really good person, and he’s made good movies. So give his pictures another shot, world! There’s twenty-one non-Batman movies, and like, more than ten of them totally rule.

So, more personally, what did I learn?

I learned that Flatliners remains my favorite movie, but it's not the movie I would recommend to people who wanted a taste of the Schu.

I learned that my brain gets worn out, and maybe I need a little more guidance on what I'm talking about and how. That age old tool of a thesis probably would have served me well when trying to start much of my writing.

I learned that I really can like almost anything. I keep saying to my parents (who are kind and supportive) that I could never be a film critic because I have a hard time being critical. I like everything too much. I think also, now, I recognize that my writing isn't up to snuff at all. But across the year, I watched movies that are critically and publicly reviled, and went, "You know? I like this one." I don't think there's anyone who likes 8MM, period. But I do. I know the world hates Batman & Robin, but guys, I love it. My very own past self hated Phantom of the Opera, but upon watching it now, I absolutely adored it. Those are the big ones, sure, but even in the littler ones, there are things I truly love. Even if it's just a moment, a touch of a performance, a certain camera move. Every single one of these 23 movies had something that I genuinely liked. Ask me about any of them, and I'll be happy to tell you.

I learned about some unsung wonders too-- I had never even heard of Cousins before, but I loved it so unbearably deeply. I immediately bought it on DVD (used, probably bootleg), and I look forward to watching it again. That movie is a gift, just to me. I think in five years when I rewatch The Client, I'll like it more than I did this time around. Blood Creek, as well, I didn't even know existed and really enjoyed watching. Tigerland, D.C. Cab, even Dying Young, I didn't know much about and ended up really liking. Revisiting St. Elmo's Fire-- what a revelation! What a new experience! 

I learned there are things you notice even if you're not trained to notice them, or even necessarily looking for them-- the use of color, the attention to background actors, the focus on faces, the patience for performance. These are things that popped out to me over the course of my year, and things that I didn't know to look for at the start. The impression of them built and built until they were unavoidable to notice. There were a lot of movies in this filmography that I hadn't seen before, and so couldn't have known what was in them. But time and time again I was struck by the same things-- that Schumacher likes light, likes faces, likes to watch actors act. It wasn't quite the journey I expected in that regard. There were things I thought I would see more of, and did, but in different ways than I expected. The big one is the focus on found families, that I saw in the movies I had already seen when I started, and that are more pointed in the early movies. But that, as a thematic motif, is certainly present through all the movies, in different ways. By the time I got to Number 23 and Trespass, the concept of found family had shifted into finding your family within the biological family, and that's... sortof cool. It's cool to see the same ideas transferred into a different sphere. These are the things that interest him, and they interest me too. 

Maybe that's part of why I finish this project feeling warm as can be towards Mr. Schumacher. Because we like the same things, and what he had to give me, I enjoyed accepting. I like style and color, absolutely. His movies are awash with style and color, and the ones I like least are the generic, un-stylish ones. I want to be thrilled, rather than bored. The greatest crime, someone once said, is to be boring. Rarely was a Schumacher picture boring-- each one had something that pulled me in and gripped me hard. There are strange twists of interest throughout this career, and I loved spending my time in the lucious world of Joel Schumacher. 

And it truly is absolutely a delicious place to spend time. I said the world of Phantom of the Opera was like a bubble bath in champagne, and a lot of Schumacher's oeuvre is like that. It's candy-- sometimes it's bitter and sour, sometimes it's sweet and light. But it's all there, and I enjoyed seeing how it gets dialed up and down. The stylistic heights are balanced with some really grounded lows, and both are good. 

I love Joel Schumacher, I'm happy to have done this little project. It was good to have something to work on, something to keep busy with. To hold myself accountable to deadlines and to get something done. I’m busy these days, with work and errands and mess, and I don’t often feel creative or productive anymore. I’m not sure this was necessarily a creative project, but it was engaging, and it made me feel like the critical brain I developed in college then let goto waste, wasn’t quite totally wasted yet.

And above all, I had fun. I had a very fun time exploring this filmography of an undersung filmmaker. I do hope he makes another movie… though he has made (bum bum bum) twenty-three. Anyway, it’s been an absolute blast and I’ve enjoyed every second of these movies, even the bad ones. God bless you and keep you, Joel Schumacher! Make another movie, why don’t ya!!

And now that my little project is over, I feel I might do another one. Who's next? Tony Scott (17 films)? Kenneth Branagh (17 films)? Martin Campbell (15 films)? James Wan (10 films)? Lots of good options, pretty much all with smaller filmographies, which will likely be good for me and my little noggin. 

We'll see what I do, but I know I'll do something. Eventually. I didn't buy this website for nothin', after all.

And now, three small lists lists:

The Best Ones:

  1. Cousins
    A beautiful, frothy weekend romance of a film, with happy ending. Endlessly watchable, deeply lovely, warm and affectionate. It glows from tip to tail. I think this is the only Schumacher movie that made me cry, and it was out of joy. So that’s a big win in my book.

  2. Flatliners
    Wonderfully constructed, thematically rich, gorgeously presented. I might be biased, but it’s so freakin’ good.

  3. The Lost Boys
    Iconic for a reason and it holds up. Still fun, still ravishing, still unreasonably sexy.

  4. A Time to Kill
    It’s sweaty but it works! what can I say!? This movie has no right being this good and this effective, and yet here we are.

  5. Falling Down
    A harsh commentary on toxic masculine ego AND how horrible summer can be!? yeah dude

My Favorites:

  1. Flatliners
    My shining star, a perfect marriage of style and substance. I love it utterly. My soft boyfriend Kiefer at his softest! Kevin Bacon! My sweetheart Julia Roberts and her big, curly hair! Colors! Oh god those colors!!

  2. The Lost Boys
    Vampires! That soundtrack! Punks! Family! Ah!

  3. Cousins
    Romantic in a way that murders me.

  4. The Phantom of the Opera
    A confectionery delight, glamorous and pretty and frothy and perfect. The musical is good and this movie is good too!

  5. Batman & Robin
    Heartfelt! Playful! Sweet! Batman!!

What I Would Recommend for a Taste of Mr. Schumacher:

  1. The Lost Boys
    A showy, thematic, rock n’ roll wonder of a movie. For pure Schumacher, I think this is the place to start. It has all the major pieces— the colors, the extravagance, the embrace of non-traditional families and queer subtext and gothic, horrific romance. Every performance is heightened and fun, every scene has something rich and colorful to examine. And this is a popular, well-liked, iconic movie. It’s worth checking out to see a genuinely good movie, and one that people actually like.

  2. The Phantom of the Opera
    On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from The Lost Boys’ dark, moody heightened world is the glittering and gorgeous world of the Opera Populaire. This is the frothy, romantic side of Schumacher. I can’t point out a more Schumacher touch than the way wind appears out of nowhere in this movie to rustle cobwebs and errant curls, or how lighting abruptly changes to suit the mood of a scene. High romantic fantasy in a swirl of mist. What more could you want?

  3. St. Elmo’s Fire
    I think this is probably the most known of Schumacher’s movies, for it’s placement in the Brat Pack canon. I recommend it here because it masterfully demonstrates how good he is with an ensemble, how much he knows how to get good performances out of thin roles. It’s a charming movie, and more mature one than most Brat Pack pictures. Part of that is the non-high school setting. The rest is in carefully tempered direction— and scripting. As a movie written by Schumacher as well as directed by him, this is the one to look at.

  4. 8MM
    You will not like this movie, and I’m sorry. But it’s got cool stuff in it and it’s dark. If you wanna see some dark Schumacher this is for you. AND I cannot recommend the Joaquin Phoenix performance enough. Damn does my dude Joel know how to pick actors!

  5. Batman & Robin
    I mean, it’s gotta be, doesn’t it? If you can open your heart to this movie, god bless you and keep you. Aesthetically, at least, it’s what Schumacher is best known for, and that’s worth taking a peek at. Maybe you will hate it, and like most of the world, turn your back on my good friend Joel. But if you don’t, what you’ll find is a movie full of playful fun, joyous love, and a glitzy, high-concept world to splash around in. It glitters, it’s gold (and purple, and red, and green, and pink), and it’s Joel. And I, personally, love it.

Well! That’s that! Thanks for tagging along while I did this silly thing!

Hannah Blechmanschumacher