Matinee
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Matinee

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One thing that is actually good about gaining a few years is to be a witness to major changes in our society. Frequently these changes are ignited by advances in technology. One example that we baby boomers saw was the change in the main source of entertainment from theatrical movies to television. In the fifties the movie industry felt their grip on the American entertainment dollar slipping away. In response some film makers sought to find new ways to entrance the audience and bring in that all important box office dollars. Some of the methods they employed resulted in major advancements in the technology of cinema such as transitioning from black and white to color and broaden the screen from the almost square picture to wide screen spectaculars. Other attempts to promote movies were less impressive with far less overall impact on the industry but still a lot of fun especially for kids like us back then. I remember going to the theater on a Saturday afternoon to see things like a crate set up in the lobby with a motor to shake it, some branches sticking out and a speaker to make eerie sounds to promote the classic science fiction flick ‘’Triffids’. A lot of these promotional gimmicks could get quite elaborate with things like ‘smell-o-vision’ where chemicals were released to simulate odors on the screen or shaking the seats to make it seem you where in an earthquake. The king of this kind of ballyhoo was ‘William Castle’. In the fifties and early sixties his promotions where well known to the public managing to achieve the desired effect of pulling audiences in. Since many of these tricks worked best with the kids the best place to catch them at work was the matinee showing of the film. Many of my first memories of films I grew up enjoying occurred during an afternoon watching a William Castle flick. This time was nicely captured in the 1993flick ‘Matinee.

The script came from Charles S. Haas based on a story he created with Jerico Stone. Previously Stone came up with the story for ‘My Stepmother Is an Alien’ while Hass previously worked on ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’. This at least gives them so experience with off-beat, conceptual comedy. For those of my generation this comedy will strike a chord that perhaps may be missed by other age groups. The great thing about the construction of the story is the time and place used for its setting. Along with the fond memories of Saturday afternoon matinees there was the extremely tense geo-political conflict known as the cold war. The film examines a typical group of teens at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world was moments away from an all out nuclear confrontation between America and Russia. The film provides a microcosm of our childhood when we really weren’t aware of just was upsetting the adults but we knew something serious was going on. This was truly the embodiment of the literary phrase ‘it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’ At this point sufficient time has passed that we can have a laugh over that time.

For brothers Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton) and his brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer) life and current events are just a bit more intense since the live on a military base located on Key West, Florida. Their father is serving on a submarine while their mother (Lucinda Jenney) holds down the home front. An announcement that low budget film maker Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) will make a personal appearance in town to promote the opening on his new flick; ‘Mant: half man half ant’. Casting a dark shadow over the impending festivities occurs when President Kennedy interrupts television programming to announce the existence of Soviet missiles 90 miles off our shores in Cuba. As a consummate showman Woolsey begins to hatch a scheme to cash in on the growing public fear to launch his new ‘innovations; Atomo-Vision and Rumble-Rama. Just hear names like that really brought me back to Castle’s infamous flicks. Not everyone is onboard with his plan. The theater manager, Howard (Robert Picardo), resents Woolsey’s patronizing attitude towards the people on the community. Looking at the issue from a first amendment are activists Jack (David Clennon) and Rhonda (Lucy Butler). While all this is unfolding some local teens are caught in the middle. There is the new kid, Andy (Nick Bronson) who finds it difficult to fit in Gene has a crush on Jack and Rhonda's daughter, Sandra (Lisa Jakub) who received detention after she protested an air raid drill. Gene’s best friend Stan (Omri Katz) is currently dating Sherry (Kellie Martin). Sherry had been involved with a sensitive guy from the wrong side of the tracks, prison poet Harvey Starkweather (James Villemaire).

The film was directed by Joe Dante who has helmed more than a few fun flick in his time, he is also an alumnus of the so called Roger Corman placing him along side some of the greatest directors of our generation. He paces the movie to perfection. The film starts off focused on the preparations for the opening and concludes with an increasingly zany showing of the film within a film. There is a freewheeling sense of humor here that carried me away and back through time to 1962. I sat there laughing out loud, something a comedy movie hasn’t provoked in quite some time. There are also excellent performances most notably by Goodman. The msn just has one of the best feel for comic timing around and is able to pull off the likable con-man persona. You should also keep an eye out for appearances by some of the actors that made those fifties flicks so great.

Posted 04/26/2010

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