Right now there’s serious debates as to the state of cinema. While blockbusters are still making fortunes at the box office, way too many films released evaporate immediately. People just aren’t coming to the mid-level release. Why should they? Televisions are huge now. You can buy a 4K UHD disc that gives you the same resolution in your living room that’s delivered on the silver screen. The time between a movie opening and showing up on home video has shrunk to a few months instead of half a year or more. What’s it going to take to make movie theaters not merely survive, but create a thriving culture? This isn’t the first time this question has been asked. During the 1950s and ’60s with the arrival of televisions, cinema owners faced the fear of being shuttered like they did to the nickelodeons. There were a few brave producers and minor distributors who did their best to make seeing a film a communal experience. You wanted to see their films with a crowd in a theater. Director Joe Dante’s Matinee pays tribute to those visionaries made cinema a be here now experience.
Things are tense in Key West in 1962 as the Cuban Missile crisis puts the world on edge for a nuclear war. Gene Loomis (Band of Brothers‘ Simon Fenton) and his brother Dennis (The Brady Bunch Movie‘s Jesse Lee) are nervous since their father is on a submarine near Cuba. But they are also excited because Lawrence Woolsey (Raising Arizona‘s John Goodman) is coming to town to promote his latest SciFi epic Mant. Woolsey is a showman and he’s going overboard to pump up the experience for those lucky enough to get a ticket. From the outside he’s extended ant legs out of the marquee. But he’s doing so much. He’s got two of his buddies (Dick Miller and John Sayles) ginning up anger in locals claiming the movie is just evil and must be protested. Inside he’s installed tons of gimmicks around the theater to make the film come alive including Rumble-Rama. Can the people of Key West ignore the theater of an atomic war to enjoy a movie about a man who turns into a giant radioactive ant? Can Lawrence Woolsey be the man to make it happen?
Many people just wrote off Lawrence Woolsey as merely a fictionalized version of William Castle (The Tingler). While Woolsey smokes a cigar, appears in his trailers and uses many of the same devices, Castle was a little less sleazy. Watch the documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story to get a big picture of the real filmmaker. Woolsey is a composite of so many including Sam Arkoff, Roger Corman, Sam Katzman and others. Woolsey’s film logo is a tribute to American International Pictures. Goodman plays the role as big and Hollywood as possible and remain so believable. His partner in crime, Ruth Corday (Cathy Moriarty) has multiple roles in his life including being the female lead in Mant and the nurse who has to get people to sign a life insurance form in case they die of fright in the theater. This is my second favorite role of Moriarty after Raging Bull. Her voice and attitude holds together so many scenes that has her facing a mutant ant husband.
The big thing that makes Matinee work is director Joe Dante (The Howling and Gremlins. This is his love song to his youth with kids fearing nuclear disaster and loving Famous Monsters magazine. In a sense this is his Wonder Years. Dante gets to pay tribute to the genius of Castle and others who knew you should make a trip to the movies more special than turning on a television set. And Dante makes sure that this isn’t just a normal screening as things go overboard during the screening of Mant. This is a continuation of what happened when the Gremlins took over the theater. Matinee is a perfect nostalgia trip back to a tense time and gives a glimpse of what can be done to make you want to see a movie in the theater.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the best in John Hora’s cinematography. There’s a glow to the Florida locations and the black and white action sparkles. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a Stereo version. The mix brings out the fun of the theater as the crowd gets shocked. The movie is subtitled.
Master Of The Matinee (20:29) chats with Director Joe Dante. He discusses how much of the film reflected on his childhood love of these movies. He mentions the budget issues that were solved when Universal stepped in to fun the production.
The Leading Lady (12:02) interviews Cathy Moriarty. She had a lot of fun with John Goodman and the material.
MANTastic! The Making Of A Mant (25:12) allows Jim McPherson to describe making the Mant suit. Rick Baker set him up for the gig. Actor Mark McCracken talks about wearing the creation.
Out Of The Bunker (16:17) catches up with Actress Lisa Jakub. She loved Innerspace so it was a delight for her to meet Joe Dante.
Making A Monster Theatre (15:35) gets Production Designer Steven Legler to break down creating a movie theater worthy of a William Castle style production. Legler started working with Joe on The Howling. He was working on making the set in Los Angeles, but ended up using Universal Studio’s soundstages in Orlando.
The Monster Mix (11:39) allows Editor Marshall Harvey to breakdown working in color and black and white. He was nostalgic for the time too.
Lights! Camera! Reunion! (21:30) gets Director Of Photography John Hora to talk about a party for Joe where everyone gave the director ant themed presents. He got a couple week’s notice to shoot the film in Florida. He had to deal with the constant weather and lighting change in the Sunshine state. There’s weirdness that they had to rent lumber. I’d just like to once more thank John Hora for letting me interview him back in the ’90s about the emerging digital cinema.
Paranoia In Ant Vision (32:37) is a French production that lets Joe Dante explain how the original script wasn’t quite the film. There was a vampire projectionist. They turned it into the movie we just saw.
MANT! – The Full Length Version Of The Film With Introduction By Joe Dante (22:45) puts together all the segments of the black and white film in one reel. Shame Joe wasn’t able to make a 65 minute Mant movie that could have played on Svengoolie.
Vintage Making Of Featurette (4:27) is the original hype for the film.
Behind The Scenes Footage (8:22) is video shot on the set. You can see the rented wood on the sets. The footage is courtesy Of Joe Dante.
Deleted And Extended Scenes (2:21) is mainly extra time with the kids.
Still Galleries (3:59) involves the development of the ant head, the theater and props.
Theatrical Trailer (1:57) pushes the feeling of the excitement of seeing a Woosley film.
Shout Factory presents Matinee: Limited Edition. Directed by: Joe Dante. Written by: Charles S. Haas. Starring: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz and Dick Miller. Running time: 99 minutes. Rated: PG. Blu-ray Release: January 16, 2018
Tags: Joe Dante, John Goodman, Matinee, william castle