Joe Dante’s Matinee is a fantastic love letter to golden age schlock cinema, a nostalgic look back at Cuban missile fever, a multiple angle coming of age story all framed by a playful lens and given life from John Goodman’s boisterous, passionate performance as Lawrence Woolsey, the kind of loving, hands on filmmaker you don’t see a lot of these days. Woolsey blows into a small coastal California town with big dreams and aspirations to release his cheesy horror flick ‘Mant’ (about a killer Man/ant hybrid, naturally) for all to see, but faces some obstacles right off the bat. The 1950’s nuclear scare casts a long and chaotic shadow over both the town and his production, as well as local protesters who label his art as junk and just don’t understand the medium. There’s a gaggle of preteens too, in the throes of growing up and chucked in the deep end when I comes to understanding the world around them, as well as adults. Former child star Lisa Jakub (Robin William’s daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire) is a standout as a particularly sassy, wise beyond her years girl who causes a fuss with the bomb drills and is the soul of the youngster element in the film. Goodman is superb, he has an amped up monologue about what it means to visit the cinema and escape that kind of encapsulates the beloved intangibles of the medium and why it has endured for so long. The film has a meandering and unfocused feel at first glance, but it’s a deliberate fly-on-the-wall peek at a very specific time and place, how Film relates to that place and the individuals who lived through it, and it achieves that goal wonderfully. A literal slice of life on film.
Charlie Haas began his life with no thought of working in film. He was interested in fiction and journalism until, that is, at UC, Santa Cruz he started attending a film history class taught by his future collaborator Tim Hunter.
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters
1978 comes around, and their first collaborative effort, Over the Edge, is sold. It is highly unusual for a first time screenwriter to have his early work produced, but that was what happened. After that it was a rise and rise. A young Matt Dillon would go on the star in Hunter and Haas’s next film Tex, and while hanging around at Disney, Charlie found himself doing an unaccredited dialogue polish on, the now cult classic, Tron.
Two other favorite films of mine were penned completely by Charlie Haas. Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Matinee. Both of course were directed by Joe Dante, a famously collaboratively-generous filmmaker. Charlie’s experiences were similar to those had by Eric Luke (whom I’ve chatted with before) who spoke fondly of his Dante adventure on Explorers. Gremlins 2 was a free-for-all kind of sequel. The studio wanted it and so Joe and Charlie were given quite a lot of rope creatively. Meanwhile Matinee is sadly an unsung delight that surprisingly few people I talk to have seen. If you are one of these people, hopefully listening to this may prompt you to check it out, and, if you’re a fan and you haven’t seen it in a while, well, now might be a good time to rediscover this lost little gem of a movie.
Charlie Haas is a true gentleman and it was great to finally shoot the breeze as they say. Though he is not in the industry anymore he is far from unproductive. He has been writing novels, which I shall post the links to below, so check those out.
Whether you have encountered his writing in print or on screen, please now take the time if you will to encounter the man behind the words, the great, Charlie Haas.
I don’t understand how Joe Dante cajoled the Universal brass into completing his love letter to cinema, the 1993 film Matinee, after the film’s original producers went bankrupt, but I am glad he did, because it’s such a wonderful, unique, and all together joyous little gem that it stands to reason that in today’s movie climate, this film just doesn’t get made, let alone contemplated, by the major film companies. Dante’s film is a period piece set in Key West, Florida, centering on a William Castle-esque indie filmmaker played with jovial enthusiasm by a perfectly cast John Goodman, and set against the back drop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Co-starring Cathy Moriarty, filmmaker and Dante collaborator John Sayles, Simon Fenton, then popular Kellie Martin from TV’s Life Goes On, Dick Miller (a longtime Dante buddy and good luck charm), Omri Katz, child star Lisa Jakub, and Robert Picardo (Dante’s other good luck charm!), Matinee is so many things: A wistful coming of age story, an ode to the inherent power of movie magic, and a spirited shout-out to old-school showmanship. Written by Jerico Stone and Charles Haas, the film contains a film-within-the-film called Mant, which is essentially a throwback to the pulpy sci-fi movies of yesteryear featuring a half-man/half-ant with outlandish practical make-up and special effects; it’s oh-so-clear that Dante must’ve been in cinematic heaven with these scenes, as all of the footage from Mant was shot to aesthetically approximate how those movies used to get put together. The acting on the part of the teen leads was decent (if a bit stiff at times), but that doesn’t matter, because this film’s heart is so massive, and it’s wildly evident that it needed to be made by these particular creative entities. Dante is one of those filmmakers who never got his true due as a premiere director of smart and funny and always inventive mid-budgeted studio pictures, a friend of Spielberg’s who also subscribed to the Amblin philosophy of subversive family entertainment; his terrific and continually underrated credits include Explorers, Small Soldiers, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, The ‘Burbs, Innerspace, and The Howling. The film also features a fantastic score from Jerry Goldsmith, splendid cinematography by John Hora, and perfectly timed comedic editing by Marshall Harvey. Seek this one out as my guess is that it’s escaped many, many people who would absolutely love it.