beware the signs


The Other Joel Schumacher

(Note: This was actually intended for my own blog, but I was hoping to invite some discussion on this subject.)

Filmmaker Joel Schumacher will best be remembered as the man who drove the Batman series off a cliff with rubber nipples and enough gay innuendo to make the cast of Brokeback Mountain blush. I thought about him the other day when I reflected on how ironic it was that a gay activist was resurrecting the Superman franchise considering that a gay director had killed the Batman franchise.

Oddly enough, while I began the train of thought with the idea of ridiculing Schumacher, I found myself thinking that he's actually made a few pretty good movies.

Case in point: 2003's Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell, was easily one of the more imaginative thrillers I've seen in a while. It's pretty remarkable considering that the vast majority of its running time is a series of close ups and long shots of a man in a phone booth. Colin Farrell has to make the audience believe that he can be held hostage by a person on a phone who claims to have a rifle pointed at his head, and thanks to some finely textured acting, and the voice of Kiefer Sutherland tingling with cold menace, he succeeds magnificently. It was taut, riveting storytelling, and while credit must surely go to Larry Cohen for such an interesting concept, a truly incompetent director could have thrown it all away. Oddly enough, it's not the kind of movie you really want to see twice, but if it was a book it would be a real page-turner; one cannot help but wonder, for the entire 80 or so minutes, how the whole thing is going to end.

The movie that actually launched Colin Farrell's North American career is another fine example. Tigerland (2000) could have easily been just another Vietnam movie, considering there had already been a few dozen of them, but rather than try to ape the schmaltz of Stone (in Platoon) or the stark brutality of Stanley Kubrick (in Full Metal Jacket), Schumacher went for a story on a smaller, less dramatic scale. It takes place in a training camp in Texas (I think) and focuses on a group of young soldiers in training. The director spares us the gore of Vietnam, which has already been done to death (although the US government doesn't seem to have learned a damned thing). There is a lovely, rough and tumble feel to the storytelling which feels part documentary, part maverick, low budget filmmaker. It feels real, even though Farrell's fake American accent gets occasionally grating.

I haven't seen St. Elmo's Fire (1985), but I haven't heard anyone reviling it as one of the worst movies of its time. In fact, it is spoken of as one of the films that launched the careers of many of the young stars that were in it, also known as the Brat Pack.

My favorite example, however, is a much earlier film than either of the Farrell flicks, but somewhat later than St. Elmo's Fire.

Falling Down (1993) starring Michael Douglas, has to be the ultimate cathartic fantasy.I don't know of any movie before or since that has more succinctly embodied all of the frustrations of the average working joe. It's basically about a man who has been going through the motions of life for years upon years, taking all of the shit that life has to shovel, until he just snaps. There is some glorious, vicarious wish fulfillment in seeing the thoroughly de-glamorized Michael Douglas beat up street punks, give an asshole geriatric golfer a heart attack, and basically take a good, hard kick at the society that has been screwing him his whole life. This movie has even inspired similar stories in other media, specifically comic books, such as Gerry Alanguilan's internationally acclaimed graphic novel Wasted (1998 or so) and Mark Millar's Wanted (2003). Falling Down is a truly memorable movie for all the right reasons, and you can tell that the stellar cast of Douglas and Robert Duvall seem to be having a heck of a time. As strange as it may seem, JOEL SCHUMACHER MADE THIS MOVIE.

Is there a rule of thumb to be found here? Well, as far as I can tell, Schumacher is at his best doing low-budget films with down to earth characters. Give him carte blanche to tell fantastical, larger-than-life stories and we get disasters like his Batman films or The Phantom of the Opera (though I did like the songs).

I leave you with a question: what other generally reviled director has, on a few occasions, shown patches of brilliance that seem largely overlooked by the mainstream?


Another Reminder of Why It's Great to Be a J-Boy

I can't remember exactly when it was, but about a year ago I wrote a post about the enduring camaraderie of the J boys. It had something to do with Allan Flores briefly reappearing in our lives before abruptly going his own way again.

Having moved to a new job recently, I've been happy to note that my new officemates are as a whole a lot friendlier than my former ones. I only just spent the whole day with them yesterday at a resort in Bulacan owned by the family of one of the female associates. I've known for a while now that they are every one of them consummate professionals, at the top of their games, individually and collectively, and I am humbled by the chance to work to them, but it took me by surprise to see how well they know how to enjoy themselves. It was truly delightful to spend a day with them in an atmosphere where we weren't talking about cases or pleadings or appearances or stuff like that. They are a fun bunch. My God, I've really lucked out with this job.

That said, being in such fine company only reminded me of how special time with the j boys (and significant others) is.

One can say I've earned the right to keep the company of these lawyers. We've all gone through the same thing, endured similar rites of passage and are all part of a larger confraternity by virtue of having passed the bar exams. I'm part of the firm because I have been perceived to possess a certain level of competence in the field of law. I guess it's fair to say I feel I deserve to be here, among them, but it's one thing to have worked hard to get somewhere, and quite another to be part of a group as accepting as the j boys.

I think about the sheer diversity our lives have taken professionally and personally and am awed by how we manage to get together every so often and celebrate our enduring friendship. We have all manner of professionals from completely disparate fields getting together in one place and all managing to have the best of times, with our only common thread being one of friendship. And there is such acceptance. One doesn't have to have passed a professional exam to be a j boy, or even have a college degree. That is a wonderful thing, because I'm starting to realize that to be able to just hang out with a group of people without the slightest hint of pressure to perform, to keep up to a certain standard, is one of life's greater joys. It's nice to sit with a bunch of people for hours and not talk shop. Not that talking shop is bad, and in fact when I'm around other lawyers it's nice to compare notes.

But it's something very unique and special to have friends without thinking, at the back of my mind, that in order to be able to keep the company of these people I have to continue to excel at what I do.

Yes, it's nice to be a lawyer at the firm where I work. I have really happened upon a special, memorable bunch of people.

But they will never be as special as the j boys.