The Directors: Joel Schumacher and Life After Batman and Robin

Joel Schumacher at an event for House of Cards

Hollywood is remaking Joel Schumacher’s classic sci-fi horror Flatliners. So, now’s the time to take a look at Schumacher’s post Batman and Robin career to help his post Batman and Robin reputation.

Joel Schumacher took a beating after Batman and Robin was released. How could a Batman movie flop with George Clooney as the Dark Knight Detective? First, you put nipples on Batman, Robin, and Batgirl’s costumes. Second, introduce Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane. Finally, add in a corny story and mix.

A lot of people wrote Schumacher off as a director. Ask someone what the last Joel Schumacher film they saw and the answer will either be “Who?” or “ Has he done anything since Batman and Robin?” Those people haven’t  been paying attention. Now with the remake of Schumacher’s Flatliners being released later this year it’s time to give Schumacher the credit he’s due.

The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom and Christine sing
Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum in The Phantom of the Opera. Screenplay by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Schumacher

I’ll admit it, “ I don’t get musicals.” One minute the Jets and Sharks are threatening each other and the next minute they’re breaking out into song and dance. One minute Gene Kelly is walking down the sidewalk and the next he’s singing in the rain, swinging from lamp posts, and no one around seems to notice. One second Mark, Mimi, and Tom are listening to Benjamin go on about how their Bohemia lifestyle is dead and the next they’re singing and dancing on tables. Are these dream sequences? Are we supposed to take these scenes literally? And if so why doesn’t anyone ever mention their song and dance routine later? It’s enough to drive a non-musical aficionado mad.

I may not “get” musicals, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the musical. The performer on stage has to be able to act, carry a tune, and dance. Sometimes the performer has to do all three at the same time. More often than not the actors have to perform a few nights a week and be as good the last day of the week as they were the first day. They have to be on point without the help of retakes, edits, or voice overs.

Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera (Full disclosure: My knowledge of The Phantom of the Opera begins and ends with Lon Chaney) starts in a black and white present and then shifts to a color past when Raoul (Patrick Wilson) wins a monkey statue at an auction. From there things get sort of confusing.

Movie poster for Phantom of the Opera

Story wise, Phantom is a jumbled mess. The story is lost in the random mix of singing and acting. The Phantom after hearing Christine sing once is totally in love with her. Christine is in love with Raoul, but Raoul has to tell her the Phantom isn’t her father. Which is disturbing because in more than one scene Christine is totally turned on by the Phantom.

The monkey statue that started the whole thing should have never happened because Raoul never saw the Phantom in possession of the monkey. If he did there was nothing associating the monkey with Christine. It’s a story that makes giant leaps, but that may be where the songs come into play.

The story may have been a mess, but everything else in the movie was actually entertaining. The singing, performed by the actors and not by professional singers, is a joy to hear. Schumacher toned down his color palette to create a visual appealing movie that matches what’s going on in the story.

The movie may not be for everybody. However, it’s worth watching just to hear Gerard Butler (300) belting out tunes as the Phantom. Schumacher tackle a beloved Broadway work like The Phantom of the Opera.

The Number 23

Walter reads The Number 23 to Agatha
Walter and Agatha debate the merits of The Number 23.

Apparently, if you look hard enough and long enough you’ll find the number 23 appearing a lot in your daily lives. When you see it you can never unsee it. It will consume your every moment and every thought. Jim Carrey as Walter Sparrow, an animal control officer, falls under this spell after reading a book appropriately titled “The Number 23.”

The first half of the movie is a study of how Sparrow goes from being fascinated by the number 23 to full on paranoid. He starts to see the number everywhere and when needed to fit his argument he stretches coincidence to its logical conclusion. His dreams become scenes from the book. Eventually, dreams seep into his daily life furthering his paranoia. Sparrow’s convinced he is the subject of the book while his wife tries to convince him that it’s all coincidental.

Movie poster for The Number 23

A lot of movies with a surprise ending or twist don’t drop enough clues or hints as to the real story. When the truth is revealed it comes off as a resounding thud instead of the zing it was meant to be. The Number 23 is not The Usual Suspects, but the twist isn’t the thud it could have been.

There are a couple of reasons why The Number 23 didn’t thud. First, Carrey gives one his best performances to date. He’s believable as a mild-mannered sometimes smart aleck dog catcher, but he also naturally shifts to the paranoid police officer Detective Fingerling. Second, Schumacher seamlessly blends the present in with flashbacks and dreams to create a mood that matches Sparrow’s paranoia. It may not have the Oh My God ending Schumacher envisioned, however, this should not keep you from watching The Number 23. Just don’t go looking for the number when you turn the movie off.


Welles talks to California about porn.
Welles hires California in his search for a snuff film

Nicolas Cage managed to make a couple good movies before he went off the rails and accepted every script that landed on his agent’s desk. One of those movies was Schumacher’s 8MM.

Cage plays private detective Tom Welles. Welles is searching for a missing girl who may or may not have been in a snuff movie. With help from Max California (A very punk looking Joaquin Phoenix) he descends into a seedy underground of illegal pornography.

Movie poster for 8MM

Schumacher may have gone full four-color comic book for Batman and Robin, but in 8MM he went as dark as possible. 8MM has scenes that can only be described as nasty. The snuff film Welles watches to start the movie is cleverly edited, but that only leaves the audience to fill in the blanks. There’s even a scene of Welles and California walking through an illegal porn flea market with the sickest pornography one could imagine displayed for consumers to browse through. As nasty as these scenes are it’s nothing that would make the viewer look away from the screen. 8MM is best described as a Seven light.


White Mike walks down a New York City street.
White Mike sets up a deal for Twelve.

Twelve follows White Mike as he deals drugs to his rich friends home from elite boarding schools. Twelve is a Bret Easton Ellis for the Millennial set. There’s little difference between the rich kids in Less Than Zero or The Rules of Attraction and the rich kids in Twelve

Whether it’s super popular Susan Ludlow or the drug abusing Jessica Brayson, the rich kid’s problems are the same as any character in an Ellis novel. Will they get into the right school? When can they score drugs and who’s going to get laid at the party? Replace beepers and over sized cell phones with smart technology and you have Twelve.

Movie poster for Twelve

Just like an Ellis story bad things happen to the kids. We’re meant to feel sorry for the rich kids. However, they’re so shallow and devoid of even the smallest amounts of humility when bad things do happen we don’t care. Except there’s still a reason to watch Twelve.

As a rule voice overs and narrations are a waste of film time. Often narrations are used when the information given could have easily been shown. Narration and voice overs are a weak device used to get to a scene the director thinks is more important. In Twelve, Kiefer Sutherland’s voice overs feel more like someone reading from the pages of a novel than traditional voice overs. It works because Sutherland never distracts from what is going on in a scene. His narration provides more to a scene than we would have gotten without it.

If you’re a fan of Bret Easton Ellis you will like Twelve.

Phone Booth

Shepard makes a phone call
Stu Shepard in one of the last phone booths he’d ever want to be inside.

You have to go back several years, maybe ten, to a time when people didn’t have a cellphone permanently grafted to their ears or their eyes were locked onto a 6 inch screen. You have to go back in time when you could still find phone booths on city streets. 

Farrell plays Stu Shepard. Shepard is a slick publicist who sells himself as something that he’s not while making double deals and trying to have sex with an actress he represents. He walks down the streets like he owns the city. This attitude brings him some unwanted attention.

Movie poster for Phone Booth

For much of the movie it’s just Farrell in a phone booth talking to and being terrorized by an off-screen Kiefer Sutherland (Flatliners, Lost Boys). It’s obvious Sutherland’s voice overs were recorded after filming had been completed which makes Farrell’s performance all the more powerful and touching. Make no mistake, Sutherland off screen is just as creepy as some of his onscreen performances. Farrell and Sutherland carry the movie to the very end. 

You may think watching Phone Booth fifteen years after it was first released it would feel dated. The opposite is actually the case. Phone Booth still seems fresh because it reminds us of what it was like before cell phones took over everyone’s lives. One positive it would be difficult to remake Phone Booth for a 21st Century audience.


Colin Farrell giving the middle finger
Bozz leaves bootcamp heading for an unknown futrue

As an unofficial rule, audiences like their war movies with explosions and blood. Ask someone who’s seen Full Metal Jacket what  their favorite part of the movie is and odds are they’ll tell you it’s after Joker leaves boot camp. Most people will remember the elaborate battles in Braveheart before they’ll remember the touching scenes between William Wallace and Murron. People still talk about the bloody and violent opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Yes, we like our war movies with war and not a lot of talking (The Thin Red Line?).

Schumacher’s Tigerland begins and ends at boot camp. There’s no scenes of Vietnam or the movie to fall back on if the first part of the movie didn’t work. Tigerland often gets lost in the mix movies about Vietnam because there’s no actual scenes in Vietnam. It’s a war movie without the war.

Movie poster for Tigerland


Tigerland isn’t a anti-war movie and it’s definitely not a pro war movie. Tigerland is a movie about a group of young men, lead by Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell’s first collaboration with Schumacher), who are trying to figure out why they’re headed to Vietnam and questioning their decisions to join the Army. Although there are no war scenes, Tigerland should still  be included in any discussion about movies and Vietnam.

Veronica Guerin

Veronica Guerin talks to John Traynor
Cate Blanchett as Veronica Guerin.

It’s okay if you haven’t heard of Veronica Guerin. Her death didn’t make national headlines in the United States. In Ireland, her death sparked changes to Irish drug laws. Her death also resulted in the arrest and conviction of some of Ireland’s most notorious gangsters.

You’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for All the President’s Men or Spotlight. There’s no deep investigations shown on screen and there are no “Hold the presses!” moments. Guerin’s investigation into the Irish drug trade is told more through newspaper headlines, television interviews, interactions with informants, and her relationships with her husband and other family members. However, it’s still enough to tell the story of her death and it’s enough to make you think about it while the credits are rolling.

Movie poster for Veronica Guerin

Veronica Guerin works as movie you would want to watch more because of the cast than Guerin’s investigative reports. Guerin was, and probably still, is not widely known to the general public. This lack of notoriety gave Cate Blanchett freedom to play her as she saw fit. What comes across on screen is a strong woman who is dedicated to her job and family.

Playing opposite Blanchett is Ciaran Hinds. Hinds is John Traynor, a Guerin informant and the man who set up her execution. Hinds, best known by the public at large for his role in Game of Thrones, plays Traynor as someone you could trust but never turn your back on. In a career filled with great roles, Traynor could be hinds best.


Hoffman helps De Niro sing in Flawless
Schumacher followed up Batman and Robin with one of, if not the best, movies of his post comic book career.

In short, Flawless stars Philip Seymour Hoffman is Rusty, a drag queen, although that’s not the term Rusty prefers, and Robert De Niro is Walt Koontz, a New York City detective. To say the two are hostile to each other at the beginning of the movie is an understatement.

Flawless isn’t flawless. Rusty has his problems. He has a married boyfriend who abuses him and uses him for money to pay gambling debts. His  mother and father never accepted him for who he is. He lives in a society that won’t accept him or his friends.

Koontz is a foul mouthed intolerant bigot living in a run down apartment building. His best days are behind him. Koontz lives on the glory days; the one day he was a city hero. After his stroke he’s as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside.

Hoffman and De Niro at a party celebrating graduation

The two are brought together after Koontz suffers a stroke while responding to a shooting in the apartment building where the two live. Rusty is hired to help Koontz regain his ability to speak. Over the course of the film, Rusty and Koontz get to know each other as human beings and not the constructs and labels society has created.

Flawless isn’t heavy handed in its message. However, that message is very clear. Rusty and Koontz are flawed  as we all are, but if we can get over our differences and learn a little tolerance maybe we can become as flawless as humanly possible.

Schumacher has done a couple of other movies worth noting, but no one would blame you if skipped them. He teamed up again with Nicolas Cage for the home invasion thriller Trespass. Trespass also stars an Nicole Kidman in role well below her talent. Schumacher also worked with super hero actors Henry Cavill and Michael Fassbender for the horror movie Blood Creek. Schumacher also shares directing credit on two episodes of Netflix’s House of Cards.