In observance of the 65th Anniversary of Sylvester Stallone’s birth, the Stallone Diary will pause for this essay on the merits of the Yakmala philosophy.
It’s a common enough question that I think it needs to be addressed. When I tell people about Yakmala and our passion for movies of questionable quality, I am soon asked if we’ve watched the 1998 disaster Batman & Robin.
The answer is no.
I think this shocks a lot of people. When one talks about bad movies, the third sequel to Tim Burton’s Batman quickly comes up. Make no mistake, it’s a terrible film. It does not connect with its core audience, the performances are lousy, and it even features cartoonish sound effects in scenes that would otherwise ramp up the jeopardy of the plot. These are all reason why we might watch such a film is not for a very simple thing: intent.
Director Joel Schumacher has gone on record stating his desire to make darker Batman films were thwarted by the studio. They wanted his films to be more “toyetic,” and since Schumacher is a working director, he accepted that mandate and made movie-length toy commercials.
He means for the film to be this way. On the commentary tracks for both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, Schumacher explains the state of the company at the time and their particular need for the films to be lighter in tone because the sales of Batman toys were very important to the corporation’s bottom line. On the Batman & Robin track, he even apologizes for making a Batman film that most Batman fans cannot dislike. It’s actually a pretty noble thing to do, not unlike George Clooney falling on his sword and taking the blame for the movie apparently killing the franchise (at the time). Schumacher goes one step beyond, though, because he offers a pretty convincing argument why the film does not suit a Yakmala screening. He actually made the movie he set out to make; quality is irrelevant.
Along with intent comes a phrase I use a lot these days: “Perfect for our purposes.” A Yakmala movie is not simply bad. The best of the films we’ve watched transcend their lack of quality and become entertaining in spite of obvious failures of filmmaking. Movies like Gymkata, Staying Alive, and the animated Return of the King are all perfectly fine films on a technical level. Scenes are in focus, actors say there lines, and the films never collapse under their own weight. We also watch movies where the opposite is true. Turkish Star Wars, Shanty Tramp, and Teenage Mother are just a few of the films we’ve screened that seem dimly aware of cinematic grammar. What binds these works together is their intent. They want to be taken seriously despite shortcomings on-screen or in the script. It’s that reach often exceeding a filmic grasp that what we look for … and Batman & Robin does not fit our purposes.
There are two films we’ve screened that later were removed from the rolls because they, ultimately, knew what they were doing. The first was The Marine, the second a lovely little film called Deathstalker II.
The Marine was the WWE’s first attempt at making a film. Consequently, wrestler John Cena was cast in the lead role of the titular Marine. His wife gets kidnapped by some evil dudes and he beats up everyone he can to find her. Make no mistake: The Marine is entertaining. Unfortunately for us, everyone in the film is pretty much aware of what is happening and where the movie is going. Well, everyone, except for John Cena. The director, supporting players, camera techs, sound people, all the way down to catering understood the tricky tone of the film. It loves and derides the clichés of 80s action films all at once. That’s actually one of the hardest tones to pull off, but The Marine does it. It also means that The Marine does not suit our purposes.
Deathstalker II, on the other hand was a pinch-hitter. For our first “Full-Frontal Yakmala” night, we intended to show the Annabella Sciorra vehicle Whispers in the Dark. I wasn’t able to get a hold of the film in time, but I did come across a copy of Deathstalker II. Now, I had just seen the film the night before at the New Beverly’s Sword and Sandal Day. It was pretty awesome and I had such a good time that I stuck around to watch Yor: The Hunter from the Future again. I was eager to share the film with all my friends.
And everyone enjoyed it immensely. They loved the gags cribbed from old Warner Bros cartoons. They enjoyed the way it didn’t take its fantasy setting too seriously. They laughed at the appearance of the old tire and the Fiat in the corner of a few shots. It was a nice capper to a day that included films like Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction and the infamous Head of the Family. Of course, as soon as we got to Carrows for a post-mortem snack, the discussion began. Did Deatherstalker II know what it was doing? Watch the above clip again. The answer is pretty clear and, subsequently, the movie dropped off the list and became ineligible for “Best of” status. Is it entertaining? You bet, but it’s not really what you’d call “perfect for our purposes.”
This is true of other well known “bad movies.” Hudson Hawk and Flash Gordon will never appear at Yakmala because of the filmmakers’ intent (And, in the case of Flash Gordon, the movie is actually quite good). A Yakmala movie must do several things, but primary amongst them are to be entertaining in spite of itself and not know how or why it’s doing it.
Which brings me to Deck the Halls. At our last Yulemala — the Christmas themed Yakmala we’ve since discontinued for a lack of material — we watched the Matthew Broderick/Danny DeVito “Christmas Sucks” movie in which the two fight over who has the better lawn decorations. The movie is competently shot, but it has no life to it. Broderick and DeVito show up and say their lines, but they don’t appear to have an opinion of it. The movie exists in a weird sort of vacuum. The filmmakers clearly mean for the movie to fill a runtime so people can get off their feet and drink some cola at the movie theater while doing their holiday shopping. It does it, but it doesn’t do it in a particularly interesting or passionate way. Deck the Halls might be the last of the “Christmas Sucks” sub-genre that began with Jingle All The Way, a movie that passionately believes in its poorly hashed-out premise. I think Yulemala was discontinued in large part because we were down to films of this ilk that really aren’t bad, good, or entertaining. They may be the true opposite of a Yakmala film.
Returning to the Dark Knight, it occurs to me that someone might think the 1960s Batman: The Movie would be a good fit for us. Again, the issue of intent springs up. Everyone involved in that production clearly means it to be campy fun. Adam West might seem like the Yakmalist of all actors out there, but I think he gets it, too. And once somebody gets it, they don’t really fit our criteria.
Yakmala is more than just watching bad movies. We look for the stuff that engages, inspires, and still communicates to an audience. I use the term “questionable quality” because a movie that manages to engage can’t be all bad, right?
Well, except maybe for Vampire Dentist.