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Film / Matinee

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"Grownups don't know what they're doing either, kid. That's the real hustle."

"Once you let that atomic genie out of its bottle, there's no turning back, gentlemen!"
Dr. Flankon, MANT!

Matinee is a 1993 Dramedy film directed by Joe Dante.

In Key West, Florida during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Gene and his little brother Dennis live on the military base with their mother while their father is deployed in the Navy. Amidst the growing paranoia surrounding possible imminent nuclear destruction, schlock-movie producer Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) arrives in town to premiere his latest creature feature, MANT!, and uses his unique brand of showmanship to play off of people's fears.

The film received critical acclaim when it was first released but has fallen to the sands of time and currently lives on as a Cult Classic.

The movie provides examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: "Men, fire your DDT missiles."
  • Actor Allusion: The actors who play Herb and Bob, Dick Miller and John Sayles, are forgotten veteran B-movie actors both in-story and out (their association with Joe Dante goes back to Piranha, which Sayles co-wrote and in which Miller appeared).
  • Adam and Eve Plot: Sandra thinks she and Gene are in one after they're locked in the fallout shelter.
    "What if we're the last ones left on earth?" "That'd make us... Adam and Eve."
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sherry
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: The Dentist at the end of MANT.
  • Apocalypse How: Howard the Theater Manager as well as Sandra, Gene and most the theater patrons think the apocalypse has already happened.
  • Art Initiates Life: During his speech comparing moviegoers to cave men, Woolsey draws an imaginary Woolly Mammoth on the side of a building. It comes to life.
  • Atomic Hate: Most folks in the '60s seem to realize that the Cold War is Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: MANT!
  • Author Appeal: Joe Dante doing a movie about a movie about monsters.
  • Ax-Crazy: Harvey Starkweather.
  • Beatnik: Sandra (who Gene has a crush on) and her parents even more so.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ending becomes this when you realize the copters coming in forebode the inevitability of the Vietnam War being not so far away and how much of an impact it will have on the younger characters moving forward. Otherwise, its a pretty clear upbeat ending with Woolsey saving both his career and his relationship with Ruth thanks to the success of "MANT!"'s premiere, the Cuban Missile Crisis ending, Starkweather going back to jail, Gene being with Sandra and Stan being with Sherry.
  • Blackmail: How Sherry's little brother plans on getting to the movies.
  • B-Movie: The film is an homage to the William Castle B-Movies with Emergo, Percepto and the like. John Goodman plays Lawrence Woolsey, an expy of Castle whose previous work was The Tingler and involved shocking people in their seats. Actors are hired to work the crowd before and during the show.
  • Casting Gag: William Schallert, Robert Cornthwaite and Kevin McCarthy, who play three of the actors starring in MANT!, each appeared in 1950s science fiction films. Joe Dante regular Dick Miller appeared in numerous B-movies during that decade.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Gene after dreaming that his father came home just as the bomb fell.
  • Character Filibuster: Lawrence Woolsey delivers the film's message.
  • Complaining About Shows You Don't Watch: In-Universe with Citizens For Decent Entertainment protesting against MANT!. It is, of course, a stunt to drum up publicity.
  • Creator Cameo: Charlie Haas, one of the screenwriters, plays Mr. Ellroy, a teacher at the school.
  • Darker and Edgier: "Let's put some teeth on this thing and make it even scarier!"
  • Delinquents: Harvey Starkweather of the big haired, leather jacket, wallet stealing variety.
  • Dueling Movies: The Sandlot, another nostalgic film set in 1962 was released mere months after this one.
  • Dull Surprise: The actors in MANT!
  • Eccentric Townsfolk
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Extensive, oppressive and realistic for those who remember the Cold War and how close the world came to annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Eucatastrophe: Woolsey's expectation that the show will do well because people are seeking a release from fear of nuclear annihilation. Woolsey gives a speech about the phenomenon, comparing moviegoers to cave men seeking to confront their fear of the unknown.
  • Expy:
  • Fluffy the Terrible
    General: What in creation do you call that thing?
    Carol: Bill.
  • Forced Transformation: Two In-Universe examples:
    • Bill, the title character of MANT!, is transformed into a half-man, half-ant creature.
    • In The Shook-Up Shopping Cart, Cedric gets turned into a shopping cart. He fights crime.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You:
    • When Harvey Starkweather goes on a rampage in his rubber suit, audience members mistake it for part of the show.
    • The end of the film causes a riot when Woolsey switches to a reel showing an atomic bomb blowing up the screen and burning away the film stock.
  • Friendless Background: Gene. With his Dad in the Navy, they move around a lot.
  • Freerange Children: Justified as this was rather common in at the time. Plus, they live in Key West.
  • Holding Hands: A big deal between Gene and Sandra.
  • Honor Before Reason:
  • Hurricane of Puns: Bill makes them to deal with his transformation.
    You think this is a picnic for me?! Ha ha ha ha! Did you hear what I just said, get it? Ant, picnic? What am I, alone here?
    (scientist picks up bug spray)
  • Jerkass: Andy.
  • Layman's Terms: A Running Gag with the scientist Dr. Flankon, who constantly feels the need to explain mundane terms.
    "Are you mad! You exposed him the electricity! Now he'll grow at an accelerated (or speeded-up) rate!"
  • Meaningful Name: Harvey Starkweather was named after the spree killer Charles Starkweather, and Ruth Corday was named after classic b-movie scream queen Mara Corday.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: Pretty similar to Back to the Future in this regard, but with more social commentary.
  • Mr. Exposition: The Professor Dr. Flankonin MANT!. Also, the Dentist:
    Dentist: X-rays, Carole. A form of radiation. An ant must have bitten Bill when he was getting his teeth x-rayed... Anyway, the ant's saliva must've gotten into Bill's bloodstream and gone straight to his brain — just as the radiation, which is measured in units called Röentgens, was released!!
    Dr. Grabow (shrugs) "...MANT!" (Scare Chord)
    • Lampshaded later on.
    Carole: Do you really think these atomic weapons could change Bill back?
    General Ankrum: You like to talk, Doc. You tell her!
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Bill, the title character of MANT!, mutates into a half-man, half-ant creature after he and an ant are exposed to radiation while he is being x-rayed by the dentist Dr. Grabow.
  • Moral Guardians: Woolsey commissions actors to pose as these and picket his movies to generate publicity.
  • Mugging the Monster: Harvey vs. Herb and Bob, the "decency" committeemen who turn out to be tough-guy second-string actors on the run from The Hollywood Blacklist.
  • My Eyes Are Up Here: When Spector gets introduced to Ruth, he kisses her hand and looks right at her chest, to which she testily says, "I'm right up here."
  • Mythology Gag: Roger Corman and Joe Dante regular Dick Miller were staples of the B-movie of the '50s.
  • Naughty Nurse Outfit: Ruth wears a nurse's uniform at the premiere.
  • Nothing but Hits
  • Nuke 'em: General Ankrum want to do this to Bill. "Once you let that atomic genie out of its bottle... there's no turning back, gentlemen!"
  • The Professor: The scientist Dr. Flankon in MANT! is a classic embodiment of the trope. He's also the Only Sane Man.
  • Real-Life Relative: In-universe. Woolsey's girlfriend Ruth Corday played Carole in MANT!.
  • Reality Subtext: In-universe. The film-within-a-film MANT! is all about the horrors created by nuclear testing. Meanwhile, nuclear war seems imminent.
  • Red Scare: Key West is (shudder) only 50 miles from Cuba!
  • Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl: Sherry. Though she makes it clear early on she's eager to get racy.
  • Shining City: Key West.
  • Shout-Out: The movie is a practically one long list of Shout Outs.
  • Show Within a Show:
    • MANT! is a completely recreated '50s-style B-Movie. Excerpts of it exist online.
    • The Shook-Up Shopping Cart.
  • Spectacle: Lawrence Woolsey's films.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Both in MANT! and during Harvey's kidnapping of Ruth and Sherry.
  • Standard Snippet: "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
  • The Stinger: "Oh Bill!"
  • Stupid Evil: Harvey Starkweather, The Greaser, who also turns out to be a kidnapper.
  • Stylistic Suck: MANT!, also Harvey's poems and The Shook Up Shopping Cart (what mercifully little we see of it).
  • Take My Hand!: Dennis in the climax.
  • Ten Minutes in the Closet: Or, in this case, 10 Minutes In The Bomb Shelter.
  • Think of the Children!: Herb and Bob pretend to be part of the League of Decent Entertainment in order to stir up ticket sales for MANT!
  • Torches and Pitchforks: In MANT!, a mob attempts to destroy Bill.
  • Touch of the Monster: The poster for MANT!
  • Trash the Set: The interior of the Strand Theater at the end of the film.
  • Trickster Mentor: Woolsey. He comes off as dishonest at first with his risky plans for promoting his movie, but shows great passion for showmanship and is very direct with Gene.
  • Tuckerization:
  • Unabashed B-Movie Fan: Most of the characters, and clearly Joe Dante himself. The movie is partly about why you don't need to be abashed about being a b-movie fan.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The scientist Dr. Flankon lectures Bill about how atomic energy is turning him into an ant.
    Dr. Flankon: And that's not all. You'll grow... (tsk tsk) get bigger!
    Dr. Grabow: I'm sorry, Bill!
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Sandra recognizes the futility of nuclear drills and paints a grim picture of the effects of radiation. She is also a crusader for social justice, familiar with Gandhi and the plight of Negroes in the United States. This is probably thanks to her parents, who seem just a little out of place.