Matinee (1993) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna turned me on to this movie. He thought I would like it because:
  • it's funny
  • half of it is about the great schlockmeisters who promoted horror films in the 50's, and the schlock they promoted
  • the other half is about the real life of a bunch of kids who were about 13-14 during the Cuban Missile Crisis (my chronological peers)
  • it has a unique visual style - bright primary colors, like a comic book

I really loved it.

John Goodman plays a film creator/promoter, and he's loosely based on the legendary William Castle - the guy who placed electrical shocks in the theater seats, blew ice-cold air through the theater, and had real skeletons dragging on wires over the patrons' heads. Of course, since the Goodman character is a composite of Castle and many other schlockmeisters, the writer took every possible promotional gimmick from an entire decade and condensed them into one incident, in which the film premieres in Key West, conveniently so close to Cuba during the Missile Crisis. In one of my favorite scams, Goodman hires actors to walk around town, pose as "Citizens for Decency", and denounce his own picture, because parents shouldn't let their children see something so terrifying! Needless to say, this makes every kid in town want to see it.

It's really clever how he binds the movie plot and the Cuban Missile plot together. Because the movie's corny special effects (rumble-rama?) are so exaggerated, and because people are genuinely expecting the REAL world to end, the patrons in the theater can't distinguish between what's part of the movie's tricks and what might be part of a nuclear war outside. 


No nudity at all. Rated PG, but arguably could be G.

And the coup de grace, for me at least, was the actual B&W movie being screened: "Mant" -half man, half ant, all terror. Appropriately starring Kevin McCarthy and William Schallert, this is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I must have laughed out loud ten times during the thing. Great stuff.

Although "Matinee" is an exaggerated comedy, it has some interestingly realistic and likeable characters in the larger-than-life setting, and it makes a very serious point underneath the humor. Back in the 50's, we were innocent, and even the movies were innocent. If you could take some genuinely scary or creepy horror movie like Hellraiser and showed it to those audiences, they'd be completely unprepared for it culturally. In those days, it was pretty much all in the showmanship.

The world changed first, of course, not the movies.

Into the innocence of our lives came the Cuban Missile Crisis. This film identified that turning point exactly right. Can you identify the exact time when your childhood ended? Most of us born from 1948-1950 can almost pinpoint the moment - on Oct 22, 1962, at 19:00 New York time, when JFK began his televised address to the nation. JFK told a nationwide TV audience that we wouldn't back away from nuclear war if necessary, and that the missiles in Cuba could strike any city in the Southeastern U.S. You don't think that was scary?

JFK's address said:

"Our unswerving objective must be ... to secure their withdrawal from the Western Hemisphere. We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war ... but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced."

Read that again, amigos, because it's scarier than shit. It says - get those missiles out of Cuba, or it's nuclear war. JFK didn't dance around the issue. We really thought the world might end. And we were pretty damned close to right.

Although JFK wasn't a hawk like his joint chiefs, he was reckless. He played the entire scenario out in public instead of attempting a quiet resolution. He and his advisers were contemplating nuclear war without ever having made contact with Khrushchev. We can be thankful that Stalin was dead, because the whole thing boiled down to guys waving their dicks in public. In reality, the United States had missiles in Turkey, closer to the Soviet Union than the Cuban Missiles were to America. Although they publicly lied many times about what they were doing in Cuba, the Soviets were simply making a countermove. Heaven knows how many secret missiles we had planted throughout the world. But they got caught, and we didn't. So JFK waved his dick, stopped some ships, talked tough, and Krushchev backed off. Thank the lord for Khrushchev's weakness and Kennedy's prudence, such as it was. Their presence in those positions position probably saved the world. Stalin would certainly have waved his dick back. The US joint chiefs relished an invasion of Cuba, and had nuclear war gamed out.

Before then, we weren't really aware that global events affected our everyday lives. We had to worry about our folks grounding us, or the older kids swiping our lunch money. All of a sudden, the person who affected our lives the most wasn't our moms, but some old, fat bald Russian guy. We didn't quite understand why, but our comic books, Mad magazines and baseball cards didn't ever seem as important again. A short five years later, there was no more Ike-era innocence. The Kennedy and King assassinations, the war in Vietnam, the campus revolts, the sexual revolution, the drugs - all of that seemed to happen so quickly, as if a completely new culture was superimposed on the one we grew up in.

People always have to change a lot between age 13 and age 19, I suppose, but we had to undergo complete culture shock and the birthing of a new world before we ever had time to figure out the old one. It was dramatic. I mean, if you lived in 1994, and someone showed you the year 2000, you'd have no big surprises. The internet came along, but big deal. Cultural values stayed fairly consistent. On the other hand, if you lived in 1962, and somebody showed you a preview of 1968, you'd swear that much change couldn't possibly happen in such a short time. Oddly enough, my dad went through the same sort of thing in his generation. He turned 14 in December 1935, a pretty innocent time, despite the Depression. He turned 20 two days before the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor, in a world in which his uncles had already been crushed under Panzers.

I guess that's why some of us old geezers, whether born in 1949 like me or 1921 like my dad, always seem reverent about the innocence of our boyhoods. Because it was crushed so completely in such a short time.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.66:1

  • great transfer, but no features

And the movies? Well, by the time the early 70's came along, all those sweetly charming softcore sex movies and mutated ant movies were being replaced by real sex and violence, just like in the streets. But we old geezers - a big part of us still longed for the days when The Brain from Planet Arous was the perfect way to pass a Saturday afternoon, a time when we thought we could avoid the effects of the bomb by going into the hall and placing our heads between our knees.

Matinee is probably a funny movie if you are any age, but if you are about the right age, you have to see this movie. To remember. To get a lot of laughs. And maybe to get a tear or two that you can't control, for a time you lost and can't ever recapture. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 3/4.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary.  21 articles on file.

The People Vote ...

  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a hit, taking in only $9 million in domestic gross.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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