(DirecTV/Starz/VOD) Of Joe Dante’s amazing run of movies though the 80s and 90s, MATINEE is often forgotten, which is a shame because — while all Dante films are paeans to cinema — MATINEE is his magnum opus to filmmakers like Bert I. Gordon and William Castle and the theatergoing experience.
A brief synopsis: It’s 1962. Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton) is a Navy teen whose parents just moved to Key West. Due to the constant life interruptions, Gene finds comfort in horror films, and more often than not spends his free time haunting movie theaters with his little brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer). It just so happens that schlocky director Lawrence Woolsey (an utterly delightful John Goodman) is coming to town to show off his latest gimmicky film, MANT!, which is about a man who, due to radiation incurred while having his teeth x-rayed during a dental appointment, turns into a mutated ant. Woolsey’s visit also just happens to coincide with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which has the world on pins-and-needles, especially the Loomis family as their father has been sent out on a Navy submarine mission. MANT! becomes a huge town event, and — as typical of a Dante film — anarchy ensues.
MATINEE was co-written by Charles S. Haas, who also wrote GREMLINS 2, which is unsurprising as it has a lot of the same self-reflexive nods — although few as fourth-wall breaking as GREMLINS 2 — that never detract or take you out of the film.
If there’s one flaw to the film, there isn’t much of a reason why we’re following the Loomis brothers, apart from the fact that their father might be involved with a Cuban Missile Crisis operation, and the fact that Gene loves horror. They aren’t given much to do but, once the MANT! screening unfurls halfway through the film, it doesn’t matter.
Speaking of MANT!, one could argue that it’s -too good- of a horror film, with some overly clever dialogue (which killed when I rewatched it at a recent theater screening) and surprisingly detailed creature design. That said, I realize complaining that the film-within-the-film is too good is a severely stupid nitpick, and please don’t let my dumb quibbles deter you from enjoying both MATINEE and MANT!.
(AMC+/DirecTV/Shudder/VOD) This is the second in a three-part series of recommendations regarding films about Mary Shelley. Unlike MARY SHELLEY, A NIGHTMARE WAKES is far more about Mary writing FRANKENSTEIN, often through surreal vignettes, although first-time feature writer/director Nora Unkel also focuses on Mary’s tragic pregnancies and miscarriages. Unsurprisingly, the act of writing FRANKENSTEIN is rather bluntly portrayed in a way that may feel obvious, but works within the context of the film.
I was lukewarm about this take on Mary Shelley when I first watched it. It seemed rather reductive, and the plotting and visuals — especially the color timing — felt heavy-handed. However, after watching MARY SHELLEY, I saw them as two sides of the same coin. Each film neglects certain facets of her life, while highlighting what each filmmaker wanted to extoll and/or examine. Mary Shelley is a fascinating figure in that you can piece together her life in a myriad of ways; one can practically stitch together any narrative you want from her life. Consequently, it is far more telling about the writer/director than about Mary Shelley herself, and often about using the back-story of a person as a springboard for further social and cultural scrutiny.
I feel the ‘biopic’ label is one that viewers ascribe to films when they know it’s based on someone’s life, regardless of whether the film or work is intended as such; viewers often expect it to hew as close to reality and historic facts as possible. That’s not necessarily the case. I can understand some folks feeling ‘betrayed’ when the persona presented doesn’t align, and there are definitely moral quandaries that come with misrepresenting one’s life to tell your own tale.* However: these auteurs are adapting pre-existing works, except that the pre-existing work is someone’s life story.
I’d love to write more about similar extrapolations regarding recreating people’s lives and events (for another recent example, see: ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… — no one knows exactly what went down when Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown met that night), whether this sort of personal pseudo-non-fiction is fan-fiction, the history of this sort of narrative handling, and how folks react differently to fictional portrayals of real people depending on the medium, but instead I’ll post a link to the A NIGHTMARE WAKES trailer:
“I feel like it’s a story. My story.”
I am not a Mary Shelley scholar — I only know the basics of her life — so I can’t speak as to whether MARY SHELLEY or A NIGHTMARE WAKES betrayed her. I’ll note that I did previously recommend SHIRLEY, which I initially believed to willfully misrepresent Shirley Jackson’s life to tell another’s tale. However, I believe I was guilty of assuming the film would play by traditional biopic rules, and not be its own work, and later on ‘rediscovered’ the film regarding its intent.