Thursday, October 29, 2009

cinema obscura: Joe Dante's "Matinee" (1993)

Speaking of 1962 as a great movie year...

Now is the time to praise "Matinee," which happens (perhaps not so coincidentally) to be set in 1962.

Paying homage to genre shlockmeister William Castle, Joe Dante - a genre filmmaking giant himself - resurrects the peerless movie year, 1962, for this astute, affectionately detailed imagining of a shameless, C-level mogul whipping his teen target audience into a frenzy over his latest gimmick flick.

Light and vivacious on the surface, but with a subtle undercurrent of melancholy and regret, "Matinee" is irresistible to anyone who has been transported - and who sorely misses - such Castle-style diversions as "The Tingler" and "Homicidal" with their one-of-a-kind novelty props. ("The Tinlger" had the auditorium seats wired to goose the audience at apt times, while "Homicidal" came with its nifty "fright break," offering patrons a chance to get out of the theater or be scared to death.)

That effortless actor John Goodman uses his size and his winning personality to play the Castle on-screen surrogate here, a man of sheer force, one Lawrence Woolsey, who pulls out all stops and breaks all the rules of showmanship to unveil his latest kitschy horror effort, "Mant," to the teens of Key West, Florida.

Lurking in the background are the Cold War and the Cuban Missle Crisis which, Woolsey, of course, exploits for all they're worth.

Dante faves, Robert Picardo and Dick Miller, pop up as expected, adding to the fun, and there are game turns by Jesse White, David Clennon, Kevin McCarthy, William Schallert and filmmaker John Sayles in supporting roles. But there's also memorable work here by the women - Cathy Moriarty and Kellie Martin, a talented, fetching screen presence who seems to have all but disappeared.

"Matinee" is one of two criminally neglected films by Dante, the other being "The 'Burbs"," a funny film with Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher. Both films have made it to DVD, "The 'Burbs" apparently in a "director's cut" version, and are definitely worth adding to your film library.

BTW, in time for Halloween, HBO will telecast "Matinee" at 6 a.m. (est) on Saturday, 31 October, but probably the the HBO pan-and-scan style.


Headquarters 10 said...

MATINEE was issued on DVD in 1998 by Image Entertainment, through a licensing deal with Universal. That disc is out of print and goes for good money online. No doubt Universal will re-issue it on DVD at some point.

John said...

While I wholeheartedly agree about "Matinee" being a
cold war classic, I must disagree about "The 'Burbs".
I don't know about any director's cut, because the
only version I've seen is the one in theaters which
was also on DVD. I didn't like that the ending tried
to have things both ways. The whole thing with Henry
Gibson and family really being up to no good,
seemed tacked on and ruined what was a great treatise
on paranoia.
As for a great Dante movie that people dismiss, my
vote is for "Gremlins 2", features a fantasticly
crazed John Glover as a cross between Ted Turner and
Donald Trump, plus the Brain Gremlin with voice by the
late Tony Randall.

J. Nyhuis said...

Surprisingly, I just picked up a used VHS copy of Matinee for $1.00 at Half-Price Books. I was thrilled.

David P. Kirk said...

Matinee also appeared on laser disc. Widescreen, too. I know because--happily--I have a copy

joe baltake said...

Thanks, guys, for the feedback. When I originally wrote about "Matinee," I mentioned that, to the best of my recollection, it had never been on home-entertainment in any form. Joe Dante, its director, was quick to correct me on that one.

The laser version sounds like it would be a real keeper. I guess I'm eBay-bound for that one.

Incidentally, HBO did indeed run a pan-and-scan version of the film.

John Kaiser said...

Saw it the day it opened and a couple more times after that upon initial release. A great movie. I even got my parents to see ( they liked it ) because of the great use of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the background.

wwolfe said...

I've seen the second half of "Matinee" twice, and really enjoyed it both times. Someday, I'm hoping to see the whole thing! (By the way, Kelli Martin works pretty frequently on TV, most recently in a show called "Mystery Woman." Not a great show, but she was very appealing in it.)

jbryant said...

That's KELLIE Martin. In addition to the MYSTERY WOMAN Woman stuff, she's done several series guest shots recently. She was also a regular on ER for two seasons and toplined CBS's excellent but short-lived CHRISTIE series. Last movie I saw her in was MALIBU'S MOST WANTED, in a smallish role unworthy of her talent (I did enjoy the movie though, despite poor reviews).

I met Kellie once several years ago through a mutual friend, one of her CHRISTIE producers. Seemed like a real sweetheart.