Matinee (Dante, 1993)

Joe Dante achieves an amazing subversive quality in seemingly light, fluffy material. Often brushed off by the critical mainstream (only The Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum shows undying love), Dante continues to make pictures that tackle and dissect pertinent topics like militarization of the media, family values, and patriotism. In Matinee, Dante uses the Cuban Missile Crisis to frame a story of small town angst in the face of global annihilation. John Goodman plays horror filmmaker Lawrence Wolsey, a man known for his schlock and monster effects. Wolsey brings his latest creation, a story of a half man/half ant appropriately named MANT to Key West, Florida, where his raucous style of movie entertainment riles up the town and it’s adolescents, distracting from the impending nuclear war. Dante doesn’t play for cheap laughs, instead setting up comedic story situations which reflect prejudices, complications, and contradictions of Cold War society still pertinent today. Goodman as the sly, ultimately humane producer has never been better, and the strong supporting cast makes up a believable and finely tuned mosaic of pre-teen movie nerds and stiff but smart adults. Matinee slices into the modes of panic filmmakers usually exploit to initiate chills and thrills. Dante understands the artificiality of such ventures can become moot, and by simply revealing the horrors of indecision and growing up, one can comment on national traumas with a more potent and meaningful brushstroke.


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