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‘Matinee: Collector’s Edition 4K UHD (Blu-ray review)

Shout Factory

Just as Starman feels, in part, like John Carpenter pulling back from the unhinged alien horror of his previous masterwork The Thing, Matinee feels like a sentimental reworking of Joe Dante’s immortal black comedy The ‘Burbs. Whereas Carpenter traded the paranoia of an alien intruder who can absorb and mimic you down to the cellular level for a star-crossed love story where alien and human come to understand one another on a level deeper than biology, Dante reworks his examination of all the foibles of the American middle class from pitch black satire to sentimental ode against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the classic theatrical experience.

Matinee is an ensemble piece about a small American military town near Key West getting a special screening from horror schlockmeister Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman, in one of his finest roles) against the backdrop of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Cuba.

Surrounding him are kids experiencing their first crush, out of work actors on a publicity stunt to draw up interest by posing as outraged citizens (Dick Miller, a Corman and Dante regular is teamed with actor/director John Sayles who gets a surprising amount of pathos out of such a funny part), a town wondering whether there will be a tomorrow, and a two-bit showman wondering what good his horror films can do in a world that seems to outstrip them for cruelty on a daily basis.

As you can probably tell from that synopsis, Matinee is juggling a lot of plots and I don’t always think it does so perfectly.

nosThe sincere nostalgia which is so clearly animating every frame of this film can also read as cornball if you’re not willing to go on the ride or didn’t experience the theatrical world of the 1950’s and 60’s. In a way, it’s much easier to go for madcap (as in Gremlins 2) or satire (the aforementioned The ‘Burbs) than it can be to wear your heart on your sleeve, and I think Dante rides that line with much greater success.

Large portions of the film take place from the point of view of pre-adolescent children, which normally in a Hollywood movie would only compound the feeling of saccharine, but Dante has never forgotten the essential mischief of the dark side of boyhood and the kids here feel authentic and much more real than most children in Hollywood films in the 80’s and 90’s.

I harped on the script earlier but it has punch, and unexpectedly sharp verbal comedy.

Its main triumph though is the character of Lawrence Woolsey, played to perfect effect by John Goodman. Showman, huckster, light con man, and dime-store philosopher this is my favorite role of John Goodman’s career, right up there with his immensely likable turn in True Stories. Woolsey has built his life’s work on the childish fun of a harmless scare, and Goodman knows how to sprinkle the child who never grew up into the man dodging marriage and worried about the bomb, but mostly in how it’ll affect his screening.

Completely remastered, Matinee: Collector’s Edition is packed with extras including a new audio commentary. new interviews, plus a plethora of vintage extras including interviews, featurettes, behind the scenes footage, still gallery and deleted/extended scenes.

This is Joe Dante’s most restrained film as a director (and considering it ends with a mock nuclear explosion that’s saying something) and it is suffused with a lifelong love for the movies and the movie theater as a kind of vulgar cultural center for the American town. As we increasingly lose touch with both the American movie industry and the movie theater as the most important staging ground for enjoying films, I wonder how Matinee will play to future generations, if indeed future generations are interested in films from the 90’s.

As for me, I found Matinee imperfect, but sweet and heartfelt with brains and wit. It’s worth seeing.


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