I don’t understand how Joe Dante cajoled the Universal brass into completing his love letter to cinema, the 1993 film Matinee, after the film’s original producers went bankrupt, but I am glad he did, because it’s such a wonderful, unique, and all together joyous little gem that it stands to reason that in today’s movie climate, this film just doesn’t get made, let alone contemplated, by the major film companies.
Dante’s film is a period piece set in Key West, Florida, centering on a William Castle-esque indie filmmaker played with jovial enthusiasm by a perfectly cast John Goodman, and set against the back drop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Co-starring Cathy Moriarty, filmmaker and Dante collaborator John Sayles, Simon Fenton, then popular Kellie Martin from TV’s Life Goes On, Dick Miller (a longtime Dante buddy and good luck charm), Omri Katz, child star Lisa Jakub, and Robert Picardo (Dante’s other good luck charm!), Matinee is so many things: A wistful coming of age story, an ode to the inherent power of movie magic, and a spirited shout-out to old-school showmanship.
Written by Jerico Stone and Charles Haas, the film contains a film-within-the-film called Mant, which is essentially a throwback to the pulpy sci-fi movies of yesteryear featuring a half-man/half-ant with outlandish practical make-up and special effects; it’s oh-so-clear that Dante must’ve been in cinematic heaven with these scenes, as all of the footage from Mant was shot to aesthetically approximate how those movies used to get put together. The acting on the part of the teen leads was decent (if a bit stiff at times), but that doesn’t matter, because this film’s heart is so massive, and it’s wildly evident that it needed to be made by these particular creative entities. Dante is one of those filmmakers who never got his true due as a premiere director of smart and funny and always inventive mid-budgeted studio pictures, a friend of Spielberg’s who also subscribed to the Amblin philosophy of subversive family entertainment; his terrific and continually underrated credits include Explorers, Small Soldiers, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, The ‘Burbs, Innerspace, and The Howling.
The film also features a fantastic score from Jerry Goldsmith, splendid cinematography by John Hora, and perfectly timed comedic editing by Marshall Harvey. Seek this one out as my guess is that it’s escaped many, many people who would absolutely love it.
Review by Nick Clement