"Matinee" DVD Movie Review

5/05/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD Movie Review


Directed by Joe Dante, Written by Jerico Stone and Charles S. Haas, 99 minutes, Rated PG

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

In Kennedy-era Key West, horrormeister and provacateur Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) plans a premiere of his latest creature feature, "Mant," about a man turned into an ant after being struck by radiation. He and his film arrive in the town just in time--fear of nuclear annihilation is bringing people to their only escape--the movie theater--more than ever, and as people outside wait on pins and needles as the Cuban Missile Crisis rears its ugly head, folks at the matinee sit in nervousness themselves as Woolsey introduces his "revolutionary" seat-shaking, audience participation gimmickry.

"Matinee" came around a bit off the radar in 1993, right in the middle of Goodman's career-high with "Barton Fink" and "Roseanne." It's a criminally underrated and underseen little gem.

Doing for the Cold War-era what Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" did for the Depression, director Joe Dante explores the parallels between film and real life and how film is, in many ways, more magical than people generally give it credit for. It thrills, it shocks, it terrifies, it provokes, but it also gives the audience a means to view life from a different angle and lets them escape from the real fears in their lives, if even for 90 minutes.

They couldn't have picked a better actor for Woolsey than John Goodman. Mixing the best of Hitchcock and Welles, and maybe a smidgen of every self-centered but bizarrely likable movie producer out there, Goodman is at his very best here, bringing so much charisma and sharp wit, the film is at its best when he's onscreen.

But for the most part, the film focuses on some young Key West locals. Gene and Dennis are two brothers whose family has just moved to a naval base in Key West. Gene is struggling with making new friends and both of them miss their father, who has shipped off to halt shipment of arms to Cuba. Gene meets Stan, another kid his age infatuated with a local girl whose greaser boyfriend has just been released from juvie, and Sandra, who has liberal and intellectual parents, and who desperately tries to convince those around her that crouching in a school hallway with your head between your legs won't accomplish much in the event of an atomic blast.

Coming-of-age stories combined with stuff about the magic of film during the Cold War--what could go wrong? Not much.  It's a solid concept executed almost perfectly, except for a few cheesy (possibly purposefully) bits late in the proceedings. The cast couldn't be better, the pacing is nearly perfect, and the writing is quick, sharp and almost devilishly funny. As affectionate as it is toward film and its audience, "Matinee" is definitely willing to get in a few jabs at how gullible an audience can be, and the reactions of characters in the film to Woolsey's cheap gimmicks makes you think a lot about the current rush of 3D movies we've been getting the past couple of years.

Every so often, you find a little gem like "Matinee" that really brings cinema back to life more than many more "immersive" films claim to. It's sad to see it go so long without a large audience--hopefully, that will change soon. This is one film anyone who likes to have fun at the movies really shouldn't miss.

Grade: B

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