Matinee [1993]

Matinee offers one of the best matches of director and screenplay that you're ever likely to find. Raised on a steady diet of 1950s monster movies, Joe Dante later contributed to the genre with such films as Gremlins and Explorers, but it was Charlie Haas's script for Matinee that gave Dante a perfect platform for comedy, dramatic context, and nostalgic homage. Set in Florida during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the movie focuses on a schlock-movie promoter named Woolsey (inspired by real-life producer William Castle and played to perfection by John Goodman) who arrives in Key West with his latest Grade-Z extravaganza, Mant, about the raving half-man/half-ant product of "science run amuck." (This movie-within-a-movie is a perfect tribute by Dante, who cast B-movie stalwarts in the kind of roles they'd built careers on.) Balancing youthful exuberance with the ominous threat of nuclear attack, Dante finds his alter ego in Simon Fenton, who plays a 15-year-old captivated by Woolsey's cheesy showmanship. This affectionate devotion is matched by Dante, who captures the anxiety of the missile crisis even as Matinee delivers an abundance of humor. Director John Sayles and Dante-movie veteran Dick Miller have cameos as Woolsey's show-biz accomplices, and Cathy Moriarty is brilliant as Woolsey's wisecracking mistress and Z-movie queen. All of this makes Matinee a polished gem that's sweetly entertaining while staying true to the serious context of its story. It's the movie Joe Dante was born to direct. --Jeff Shannon

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