What to stream: The best of Joel Schumacher

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The legendary director Joel Schumacher passed away on Monday at the age of 80 after a yearlong battle with cancer. Schumacher leaves behind a cinematic legacy littered with a wide variety of unforgettable films that were incredibly popular and left an undeniable impact on pop culture, but were also often derided by critics. His take on Batman in the mid-’90s, with “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin,” was colorful, campy, kooky and knowingly cartoonish. Critics disliked the films, but they were box office behemoths, and imprinted on the psyche of a generation of millennials.

Both “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin” are available to stream on HBO Max or for a $3.99 rental on Amazon or iTunes. The films are a hoot, just a blast of pure, neon-hued energy and heavily winking humor, a far cry from the dark and gritty superhero turns we saw in the 2000s. “Batman Forever” features Val Kilmer in the titular role, Chris O’Donnell as his trusty trapeze artist sidekick Robin, and an iconic Nicole Kidman as love interest Dr. Chase Meridian. Everyone understands the campy, over-the-top excitement assignment, especially Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, who deliver high-level performances of pure buffoonery as villains Two-Face and The Riddler, respectively. In “Batman & Robin,” George Clooney dons the rubber mantle, and Alicia Silverstone comes along for a ride as Batgirl, while Uma Thurman wows as Poison Ivy and Arnold Schwarzenegger gives us the chills as Mr. Freeze.

Schumacher was born and raised in New York City, a streetwise city kid who went on to attend Parsons School of Design and design window displays for Henri Bendel. He was the toast of NYC nightlife and the fashion world in the ’70s, palling around with the designer Halston (Schumacher appears in the 2019 documentary “Halston” on Amazon Prime), and started out as a costume designer on films such as “The Last of Sheila” ($3.99 on Amazon and YouTube).

His directorial debut was the 1981 Lily Tomlin-starring family comedy “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” ($3.99 on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu), but Schumacher is best known for his films that defined the ’80s, like “The Lost Boys” ($3.99 on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu), one of the coolest and most stylish vampire movies ever made. Schumacher had an incredible eye for casting. He essentially created “the Coreys,” casting both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman in the film, as well as giving Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric breakout starring roles, and creating iconic characters and imagery in this Santa Cruz-set vampire beach movie.

Schumacher also directed the Brat Pack classic “St. Elmo’s Fire” (on Showtime or $3.99 on iTunes, Amazon) and worked with Sutherland again on the death-courting thriller “Flatliners” ($3.99 digital rental), which might be one of his best films. The stylishly gothic and deeply spiritual thriller follows five medical students as they attempt to test the boundaries of life and death, while “flatlining,” inducing death medically and bringing each other back to life. It’s operatic and eerie and boasts a quintet of great performances from Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Billy Baldwin and Oliver Platt.

In the ’90s, he and casting director Mali Finn discovered young Brad Renfro and cast him in the John Grisham legal thriller “The Client” (HBO Max), costarring Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon, and made Matthew McConaughey a leading man with another Grisham adaptation, “A Time To Kill” ($3.99 digital rental) costarring Samuel L. Jackson as a black man on trial for seeking vengeance on his daughter’s white attackers. He’s also responsible for the Hollywood breakouts of Gerard Butler, with the 2004 “Phantom of the Opera” ($3.99 digital rental) and Colin Farrell, casting the Irish actor in his first major American film role with “Tigerland” ($3.99 digital rental) and later giving him a juicy leading role in the lean, high-concept 2003 thriller “Phone Booth” (on Hulu).

After his 2011 film “Trespass” (free on Tubi), which costarred two of his former collaborators, Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, and Australian character actor Ben Mendelsohn in one of his first breakthrough Hollywood roles, and a few episodes of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” Schumacher retired. But he left behind an oeuvre of wonderful and wildly varied films and his own unique mark on Hollywood, as well as in the fond memories of his collaborators and fans. Watching a Schumacher film this week to celebrate his life and career will undoubtedly be an entertaining treat.


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