❉ A wistful coming of age story, an ode to the inherent power of movie magic, and a spirited shout-out to old-school showmanship.
I don’t understand how Joe Dante cajoled the Universal brass into completing his love letter to cinema, the 1993 film Matinee, after the film’s original producers went bankrupt, but I am glad he did, because it’s such a wonderful, unique, and all together joyous little gem that it stands to reason that in today’s movie climate, this film just doesn’t get made, let alone contemplated, by the major film companies. Everything has gotten so slick and cynical, and the types of films that Dante specializes in, especially in the early part of his career, feel like works that could never be replicated.
Dante’s film is a period piece set in Key West, Florida, centering on a William Castle-esque indie filmmaker played with jovial enthusiasm by a perfectly cast John Goodman, and set against the back drop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Co-starring Cathy Moriarty, filmmaker and Dante collaborator John Sayles, Simon Fenton, then popular Kellie Martin from TV’s Life Goes On, Dick Miller (a longtime Dante buddy and good luck charm), Omri Katz, child star Lisa Jakub, and Robert Picardo (Dante’s other good luck charm!), Matinee is so many things: A wistful coming of age story, an ode to the inherent power of movie magic, and a spirited shout-out to old-school showmanship. And because Dante has always been a sly and deft storyteller, all of the characters coalesce into a fabulous tableaux of people and personalities, while their individual quirks shine through.
Written by Jerico Stone and Charles Haas, the film contains a film-within-the-film called Mant, which is essentially a throwback to the pulpy sci-fi movies of yesteryear featuring a half-man/half-ant with outlandish practical make-up and special effects; it’s oh-so-clear that Dante must’ve been in cinematic heaven with these scenes, as all of the footage from Mant was shot to aesthetically approximate how those movies used to get put together. Anyone with a love or simple fondness for old-school creature features will derive some serious pleasure out of these sequences. The acting on the part of the teen leads was decent (if a bit stiff at times), but that doesn’t matter, because this film’s heart is so massive, and it’s wildly evident that it needed to be made by these particular creative entities. Sometimes a film feels born out of the filmmaker’s soul(s), and this one is an example of that.
Dante is one of those low-key auteurs who never got his true due as a premiere director of smart and funny and always inventive mid-budgeted studio pictures, a friend of Spielberg’s who also subscribed to the Amblin philosophy of subversive family entertainment; his terrific and continually underrated credits include Explorers, Small Soldiers, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, The ‘Burbs, Innerspace, and The Howling. Most of those movies just wouldn’t connect with current movie-going audiences for a variety of reasons, but for those of us who grew up with this special brand of film-making, it’ll be the memories that carry us through the thinner times. Matinee also features a fantastic score from Jerry Goldsmith, splendid cinematography by John Hora, evocative production design by Steven Legler, and perfectly timed comedic editing by Marshall Harvey. This is one of those gems in hiding that I love recommending to people, as many seem to have never heard of it. Matinee is available on Blu-ray, DVD and as a streaming option via Amazon.
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott, and co-operates the website Podcasting Them Softly.
❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.