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Matinee (1993)
Director: Joe Dante

review by Steven Hampton

Registering highly on the 'rumble-rama' scale, and tricked out with 'atomo-vision', Matinee is a brilliantly incisive yet wholly affectionate satire on movie gimmicks and promo-gags, of the sort popularised by genre filmmakers like William Castle back in the 1950s. It's also an imaginative recreation of public concerns about nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. Matinee is a delight for classic sci-fi buffs, or movie in-joke spotters, with a non-stop blast wave of knowing pastiche set-ups (particularly for its excerpts from Mant! - the homage movie-within-a-movie that's presented here), and Joe Dante's assured parodies of outrageous cinema tat.

John Goodman is superb as Lawrence Woolsey, a man who is both coldly calculating and wide-eyed with wonder at movie magic. He's a central character that we suspect not unlike Dante himself. The younger cast are uniformly excellent, too - with even Eerie, Indiana's Omri Katz giving a tolerable performance, unlike his annoying role in the aforementioned TV series. As Dante proved with his earlier movie Explorers, he can get some surprisingly effective portrayals from child actors - often better than even Spielberg. Matinee confronts holocaust survivalism with a positively Roger Corman style as a pair of nervously smart kids are accidentally locked in an emergency bunker/ fall-out shelter, while apocalyptic war is simulated outside their nuke nest.

Dante's other great forte is the smart casting of genre stalwarts like Dick Miller and Robert Picardo in key roles, along with familiar film-industry names in guest cameos, and here John Sayles puts in a notable screen appearance. However, Matinee's main attraction is undoubtedly the clips from Mant! - which quite hilariously sends up all of those garish 1950s atomic-mutation and monster-on-the-rampage movies such as The Fly, Tarantula, and especially Them!

When, at the Key West premiere screening of Mant!, a matinee show gets way out of control, it's Woolsey's quick thinking that saves the day, springing one last cinematic shock upon the audience, in order to evacuate the crumbling cine-theatre as swiftly as possible. And this is an audacious finale; perhaps the most jaw-dropping, awesome, and wondrous practical joke that Dante has pulled out of his metaphorical magician's hat, and never mind a few cultural anachronisms.

Stereotype characters are mouthpieces for conservative censorship, and socio-liberal enlightenment, but detailed with cunning twists that blur the frequently thorny issues involved in conflicted thinking on both sides of the moral arguments. Demonstrating (while also putting the demon into straits), a comprehensive understanding of crazily inventive showmanship and the vicarious thrills of seeing the unknown bought to life, Matinee is not a perfectly authentic evocation of 1960s Americana, or the typical quality of an average monster movie from that era, but it is very effective as a picture of colourfully cheesy nostalgia, salted with acute political awareness that contrasts with its celebration of gross absurdity.

Matinee is a far superior entertainment than was offered by Spielberg's over-praised Jurassic Park. This superb blu-ray edition from Arrow boasts a worthwhile package of extras, including the 16 minute b&w Mant! as a standalone (short film) featurette.


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