Ah for the early Nineties when PG movies could have casual swearing, grievous bodily assault on children and the ever present threat of Armageddon.
The bohemian days of 1993 were truly great ones for cinema. It was the year of Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, Philadelphia, Groundhog Day and Last Action Hero.
Screw you, I enjoyed it.
What I’m trying to get at is 1993 gave us some of the best entries that cinema has provided us with. However, in a year of gold it’s easy for one small gem to be overlooked and this is where we find the film Matinee.
Directed by Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987) stalwart Joe Dante; Matinee is one of those rare things in cinema. An honestly charming little movie that is now available on dual format DVD/Blu-Ray.
An ensemble cast of characters go about their daily lives in 1962 Key West Florida until news of the Cuban Missile Crisis breaks across the airwaves. Military brat Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton) world gets put on hold as he finds out his father has been stationed with the blockade fleet. As he adjusts to life in a new town, new school, with a possible nuclear holocaust on the horizon he finds escape in the works of Independent filmmaker Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) – a William Castle type – who prepares to bring his latest masterpiece, the B-Movie Mant!, to the local theatre.
Woolsey, ever the showman, sees the threat of annihilation as the perfect backdrop for his atomic themed horror. As he prepares to bring his gimmicks such as shock buzzers in the seats, a fake nurse handing out legal wavers, and staged protesters to stir up the controversy, the town goes into hysterics that the four minute warning could go off at any second, with riots at the grocery store, air raid drills, and the installation of deep ground nuclear bunkers.
Gene, meanwhile, starts a friendship with local boy Stan (Omri Katz) and becomes smitten by local social rebel Sandra (Lisa Jakub). Stan himself starts a relationship with the flag-waving Sherry (Kellie Martin) unaware that her older ex-boyfriend has just got out of prison and looking to pick up where they had left off.
The second half of Matinee deals with the screening and the film-within-a-film, as gimmicks go into overload, Gene and Sandra get trapped in a nuclear fallout bunker as the theatre collapses under the weight of filmgoers including his younger brother. Sherry’s ex, having been employed to run the stage effects, instead decides to beat up Stan and threaten Sherry with a knife and the prospect of kidnapping because it can’t be a pre-2000 family comedy without the spectre of juvenile murder.
Well that’s the plot, but what is the movie about? A deeper reading would say that the horror on the screen acts as an escape for the real horror of the crisis and the film has moments in it when the characters find themselves up against the unconquerable menace of nuclear war; suffering nightmares of mushroom clouded destruction, and ranting at the futility of duck & cover. Going hand in hand with Gene’s difficulties of settling into a new life in a new town it would make a lot of sense. A Coming of Age comedy with the prospect of the Age being over by next Wednesday is a solid, if slightly existential reading to Matinee.
That is part of the movies drive but it’s not the whole.
Matinee is, first and foremost, a celebration of cinema and in this case the B-Movie. It would be easy to dismiss Woolsey as a hustler with a camera but Goodman plays him as someone who genuinely cares about filmmaking and the experience of cinema. His gimmicks are less the exploitation of the locals and more the enhancement of the viewer’s involvement. B movie director or not he understands the experience of going to the cinema.
The characters are well rounded and, for the most part, fleshed out to the point of being actually interesting. The dialogue is solid, though if at times a bit twee because…what do you expect it’s still a family movie. But it flows rather than stagnates into awkwardness with some shining moments from Woolsey.
There is a simple, straightforward humour that won’t have you on the floor in hysterics but will have you sat there with a big sloppy grin plastered across your face. The juxtaposition between B-Movie and main film is a source of much of the humour in the second half. And you know, it actually works.
The Dual Format disk also contains the special feature Mant! a full length edit of the film-within-a-film. Mant! is a salute to the insane, campy B-flick monster movies of the Fifties and Sixties with butter soft science, acting that’s played straight and over the top with production values so cheap they’d make Ed Wood blush. An ode to films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Them!(1954) and The Blob (1958) it captures the spirit of the Big Monster genre to a tee.
A vintage ‘making of’ featurette and original theatrical trailer with two discussion with Joe Dante also complete the special features.
Dir: Joe Dante
Scr: Charles S. Haas
Cast: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Kellie Martin, Lisa Jakub
Prd: Michael Finnell
DOP: John Hora
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Runtime: 99 minutes
Matinee is available in Dual Format from the 12th September 2016.