John Goodman headlines Joe Dante's Matinee playing a movie producer named Lawrence Woolsey, a man that runs his business in the grand ‘ballyhoo' tradition of showmen like William Castle (a clear inspiration for the character).
In the Key West, Florida of 1962 lives a teenager named Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton), a big-time movie fan who learns that Woolsey will be in his very town to promote his latest picture, a film entitled MANT! that involves irradiated ants run amok! Around the time that Woolsey arrives, however, things take a turn to the serious side of life when the Cuban Missile Crisis makes the threat of nuclear war very real indeed. Regardless, as the area prepares for the worst, Woolsey and his lovely leading lady Ruth Corday (Cathy Moriarty) prepare to give the town the movie premiere of a lifetime!
Matinee is very definitely a comedic film that simultaneously serves as a love letter to the B-grade creature features made in the era in which it was set, but it smartly treats the Cuban Missile Crisis as the very serious threat that it was. While Woolsey and company are out to exploit all that they can in the name of the almighty dollar and younger characters like Gene only too happy to go along with it, adult characters in the film pay attention to the news, and for good reason. Dante doesn't skirt around this at all, and neither does he ignore the civil rights issues that America was dealing with at the same time (best embodied by a high school student named Sandra, played by Lisa Jakub, who at one point in the film speaks out against segregation). So on one hand we have the silliness inherent in MANT! and its advertising campaign and on the other hand we have a fairly poignant look back at a somewhat troubling time in American history. As such, Matinee might play better for adult audiences than for kids, but to be fair this is a movie that works on both levels. If you choose not to dig below the surface at all you can enjoy the rose tinted look at the more innocent side of theatrical exploitation tactics, and if you do dig a bit deeper, well, there's the political side of things embodied not just by Sandra but by smaller characters in the picture: a black military man, a down on his luck student having to pick pockets to get by… characters like that which Dante uses to remind us that the country wasn't as perfect back then as some would have us believe. Let's not forget that only a few decades ago kids were taught to duck and cover in school and people were building bomb shelters.
But we don't need to let that overshadow the film's fun factor. Goodman is absolutely fantastic in the part, playing it with a lot of seemingly quite genuine enthusiasm and doing a damn fine job of it. He's perfect for the part, able to turn the charm on and off with ease and really make the character his own. Cathy Moriarty is also well cast, bringing an old-school sex appeal to her part as Ruth, while Simon Fenton is just plain likeable a Gene. Of course, as this is a Joe Dante movie expect Dick Miller to show up, and keep your eyes open for a blink and you'll miss it appearance from a young Naomi Watts. The cast all shine in this picture. And then, of course, there's MANT!, the ‘movie within a movie' that all of this revolves around. It's clear that Dante's influences worked their way into this part of the film, his love of monster movies making him the right choice to handle this material and really make it work. It manages to capture the spirit of the era's films without completely making fun of them, standing more as a tribute to the creativity and inspiration that a lot of low budget filmmakers brought to their projects. Yes, we're supposed to get some laughs out of this to be sure, but the tone, the vibe, the look of the thing. It feels very authentic and Matinee is all the better for it, showcasing MANT! as the entertaining escapism and temporary diversion from the trials and tribulations of the outside world that movies always were and hopefully always will be.
Matinee arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. While the Arrow disc isn't readily available for comparison, screen caps online hint that this is likely taken from the same source, which is fine as this is a solid transfer. Some scenes look a little softer than others but fine detail is generally quite good. The image is clean, showing only a few white specks now and again and never bothered by heavier print damage than that. Colors look quite good, reds occasionally pop quite nicely, and if black levels stop just short of reference quality they're certainly quite solid. The film's grain structure is left intact, as it should be, and there's no obvious DNR to note, nor is there any obvious edge enhancement. Compression artifacts aren't a problem and in short, this is quite a solid transfer.Sound:
Matinee was released theatrically with a 5.1 mix so it's to Shout! Factory's credit that a DTS-HD 5.1 mix is provided (international releases all appear to be 2.0) in the film's native English. This is a really fun track with some solid LFE present when the movie calls for it and some fun directional effects used throughout the movie. Dialogue stays clean, clear and concise, never hard to understand, while the levels are properly balanced throughout. An optional DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also included on the disc, as are optional subtitles in English only.Extras:
Extras on the disc begin with a series of new featurettes exclusive to this release, the first of which is Master Of The Matinee, a twenty-minute interview with director Joe Dante in which he speaks quite candidly (which is usually his style!) about how the story from the film evolved from a different project, how he worked elements of his own childhood into the movie, working with the cast and crew and quite a bit more. In The Leading Lady actress Cathy Moriarty spends twelve-minutes in front of the camera basically gushing about how great John Goodman was to work with as well as what a great director Dante was to collaborate with. She, and pretty much everyone else interviewed in the extras on this disc, looks back on the movie very fondly. MANTastic! The Making Of A Mant is a great twenty-five minute piece in which the tech who created the MANT costume and the actor who got stuck in the suit discuss their work on the picture, what was involved in this aspect of the production and what their experiences were like on set. Out Of The Bunker gets actress Lisa Jakub in front of the camera for sixteen minutes about this early role in her career, her first kiss on camera, her thoughts on working with Dante and on spending so much time in the bunker itself. Making A Monster Theatre interviews production designer Steven Legler for sixteen minutes as he discusses his work creating and building some of the sets that are featured in the film, at times specifically the theater, as well as his thoughts on collaborating with Dante. The Monster Mix sees editor Marshall Harvey talk for twelve minutes about cutting the picture, dealing with the MANT! footage and the music featured in the film. Lights! Camera! Reunion! sees director of photography John Hora talk about how and why he wound up behind the camera for the film, the shooting schedule, some of the trouble he ran into during the shoot, and working with Dante.
Also found on the disc are some archival bits, starting with Paranoia In Ant Vision: Joe Dante Discusses The Making Of The Film. This is exactly what it sounds like… an interview with that runs thirty-two minutes and sees him again talking up the making of Matinee and telling some fun stories from the shoot. Fun stuff. We're also treated to the full-length version of MANT!. This runs roughly twenty-two minutes, though approximately seven minutes of that running time is taken up by an interesting introduction from Dante in which he notes that he tried to make the best little low budget monster movie he could, rather than just churn out something sloppy and corny. A four-minute Vintage Making Of Featurette includes some basic EPK style talking head interviews while eight minutes of Behind The Scenes Footage Courtesy Of Joe Dante gives us a quick but interesting look at what it was like on set while the production was still under way. Also on hand are just over two-minutes of Deleted And Extended Scenes Sourced From Joe Dante's Workprint that are, if not essential, at least interesting to see.
Rounding out the extras are a few still galleries and a theatrical trailer. Menus and chapter selection are also included. The standard sized case fits inside a nice cardboard slipcover.Final Thoughts:
Matinee should bring a big smile to the face of anyone who can appreciate late fifties/early sixties B-movies and the often times quirky characters that brought them to us, especially if you've got a love for William Castle style gimmicks and sales tactics. Dante's film is a love letter to all of that, John Goodman shines in the lead and the supporting cast also does great work. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray presents the film in very nice shape and with an impressive array of extra features. Highly recommended!