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  Matinee The Atomic Age
Year: 1993
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub, Kellie Martin, Jesse Lee Soffer, Lucinda Jenney, James Villemaire, Robert Picardo, Jesse White, Dick Miller, John Sayles, Kevin McCarthy, William Schallert, Robert Cornthwaite, Naomi Watts
Genre: Horror, Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: Here is movie impresario Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) to introduce his latest, which is concerned with a most serious subject: atomic power. Sure, we can harness the atom for creating electricity, but do we really understand the implications of toying with radiation? Woolsey does, and he's about to outline it as man is crossed with ant thanks to the unreliable atom to create... MANT! Watching this trailer in this Florida theatre is Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton) and his little brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer); they love the monster movies they can see at their local cinema, but when they get home they learn there's something scarier than a monster on its way...

How about the impending World War Three? Matinee was set during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and thanks to Charlie Haas's script put across a well argued point of view about the necessity of horror movies in a society which already had its share of all too real fears worrying the population, both young and old. On the surface this looked like another Joe Dante movie which operated as a tribute to the schlocky flicks he saw as a child, with its youngster protagonists and reverence towards the genre that had made so much impression on him that it appeared with every film he wished to recapture that thrill he would get from his formative years.

And translate that to the audience watching in more modern times, too, of course, but if Matinee appeared as if Dante was wallowing in his youth more than ever before, that did not mean it should have been underrated quite as much as it has. Contemporary critics were generally well-disposed towards his film, but the passing of time has meant that it has been all but forgotten outside of a few loyal fans, which is a shame as it was not only one of the most distinctive movies of the decade, it was one of the talented Dante's best conceived works. Heading a faultless cast was Goodman as a self-promoter patently modelled on showman extraordinaire William Castle, and his superb performance was not only a highlight, but even the heart of the piece.

This in spite of Woolsey being out to make money and exploit his audiences, but the script offers him some choice dialogue which doesn't so much give him enough rope to hang himself as place him on a pedestal as an unlikely sage: even a poet of sorts. Goodman approaches this with a relish that makes the viewers giggle at the character's audacity, while still seeing that what he says is making a funny kind of sense, not only in his own mind but to Gene as well, who develops a father-son relationship with him in light of the fact that Gene's actual father is away in the U.S. Navy, stationed on a ship all ready to blast the hell out of the Soviets, just as the Reds are poised to do the same to the Americans. It's plain that Gene moves around so much due to dad's job that the science fiction and horror movies he watches are the closest this he has to stability.

He can rely on those faces and monsters he sees up on the big screen, and is such a fan that he recognises one of the "moral majority" protestors outside the cinema as one of Woolsey's repertory company (played by who else but Dick Miller, accompanied by Dante's former scriptwriter John Sayles). Mant itself has been decked out with Castle-like gimmicks such as chair buzzers and an earthquake simulator, but the footage we see of the film within a film is the true treat, a fond pastiche that not only stars authentic players of the era, but is the comedy highlight. So good is it that some wished they could have seen the feature length Mant as well: a double bill of these two would have been inspired. Yet as this points out, the manufactured scares of horror flicks are far more life-affirming than anything cold existence might throw up once the lights have come up, making Matinee a "movie movie" with something crucial to say about the medium. It's simpler to go to the movies for your heroes - or your scapegoats. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Joe Dante  (1946 - )

American director of science fiction and horror, a former critic who got his big break from Roger Corman directing Hollywood Boulevard. Piranha was next, and he had big hits with The Howling and Gremlins. But his less successful films can be as interesting: Explorers didn't do as well as he had hoped, but illustrated the love of pop culture that is apparent in all his work.

Other films include flop sequel turned cult favourite Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Innerspace, the underrated The 'burbs, Matinee (a more obvious tribute to the movies of his youth), Small Soldiers, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, The Hole and Burying the Ex.

 
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