When Reel Monsters Fight Real Monsters

One of the great things about being in my 40s is that I came of film age when filmmakers like John Carpenter and George Miller and Joe Dante were emerging to do whatever they wanted. The 80s were such a great time for bat-crap insane movies like Big Trouble in Little China and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (yes, I love that movie) and pretty much everything Dante made in that time.

I wrote that some months ago in a capsule review of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the ultimate Joe Dante movie. It’s the perfect summation of the filmmaker’s anarchic spirit, honed through years in the Roger Corman school of storytelling.

But even in his most “conventional” film, that spirit is as strong as ever.

Released in 1993, Matinee retains the vibe of Dante’s best 80s work. It’s a coming of age story set in Key West in 1962, in that moment when the reel terrors of Corman and William Castle faced the real terrors of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (In this respect, the film works as a companion piece to Peter Bogdanovich’s debut, the tense and poignant Targets.)

But the film (written by Charlie Haas, from a story by Haas and Jerico Stone) keeps the real danger in the background, a phantom image on TV screens. For young Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton), the biggest thing happening in Key West is the arrival of his hero, shockmeister Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman, representing both Corman and Castle), for a sneak preview of his latest epic, MANT! (Technically, it’s just Mant, but I think a title like that deserves all caps, boldface, and an exclamation point at the end.)

As Gene quickly impresses Woolsey with his film savvy, and as the seasoned producer teaches his new protege the dirty tricks of the trade, we’re treated to the kind of high-school relationship drama few coming of age movies can do without. Gene, a military brat, finds himself attracted to Sandra (Lisa Jakub), the progressive loner whose parents taught her to question everything. Meanwhile, his friend Stan (Omri Katz) has fallen for the more traditional Sherry (Kellie Martin). Except that Sherry’s ex just happens to be Harvey Starkweather (James Villemaire), a short-fused hoodlum who thinks he’s a poet, and who’s less than thrilled to see her moving on. You get the idea.

It all comes together at the climactic premiere of Mant (“Half Man… Half Ant… All Terror!”). And since it’s a Joe Dante film, you know that means it all comes apart. The film within a film (like the film itself) is a glorious love letter to the kind of monster flick nobody makes anymore, with nearly every gimmick Castle ever used thrown in, along with a few I’m sure he wishes he’d thought of. And for a brief instant, the fears of the outside world threaten to overcome the safer fears within the theater.

But even then, Matinee never loses its sense of fun. And much of that comes from the cast. The young actors all deliver solid performances. Cathy Moriarty is a delight as Woolsey’s long-suffering but loyal girlfriend and leading lady; with just a look, you know she’s seen it all and loves it anyway. And it wouldn’t be Joe Dante without his wonderful repertory company, including William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Picardo, That Guy Dick Miller, and an inspired cameo from a fellow Corman grad, indie legend John Sayles.

But the film belongs to John Goodman, in one of his finest performances (and this is John Goodman, so that’s saying something). He makes Woolsey more than a huckster, more than a showman. In his hands, the character has as much heart as bluster, and possibly more.

And when I can go this long in talking about a Dante film before mentioning Goldsmith (whose score is perfectly manic and light-hearted), that might be saying something too.

I’m not sure how easy it is to find these days (though if you have an all-region player, there’s a new BluRay just out in the UK), but Matinee does turn up on the Starz networks from time to time. However you track it down, I hope you will. This one is highly recommended.

Thanks as always for following along. Until next time…

Aaaaaand There’s A Knock On The Door

Sometimes life has to hit you a few times to get your attention.

This is especially true when you happen to be me.

Over the last few months I’ve had a few signs, a few knocks on the door, reminding me to pay a little more attention to my health. Growing nausea at the day job that I thought was just stress. A collapse at the park that I thought was just the heat. Dizziness, and more nausea, that I thought was just me walking into a pillar. (That last one cannot surprise anyone who knows me.)

You’ve probably figured out that there was Something More going on. Something that all these signs were trying to point me to. And I finally paid attention.

I’ve been to a primary care physician, which in turn led to a gastroenterologist…

…which in turn led to an oncologist.

Yep, as I’m wont to do, I’ve buried the lede. A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Stage IV, so it’s pretty serious. But I’m fighting it.

I’ve been through two rounds of chemo, and learning to manage the side effects so they don’t manage me. I’ve been doing my best to overcome the nausea and build up my diet again. I’ve been writing, whether it’s on assignment for Nikki or for my own little project (after all, if I have this story, then isn’t it on me to tell it right?). I’ve been working to keep my mind going even as we work to bring my body back.

And most of all, I’ve been overwhelmed by all the love you’ve shown me. Family and friends and fans, online and off, the support you’ve shown means so much to me. And I hope you know that. I hope you know that all the messages and comments and gifts and GoFundMe donations have helped carry me through good and bad days alike.

With all of that said, I’m going to try to reboot this blog again. I have a few reviews I’d like to write, and maybe a few other musings along the way. Maybe, maybe I’ll offer a few posts about my medical experiences, but I really don’t want that to be the focus. I have cancer, but I’m not Lee With Cancer.

I’m still plain old Lee.

And one way or another, I’ll find my way back.

Wonderland’s Got Talent, or: Why We Do What We Do

The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland is nearing the end of its school year, which means that Miss Nikki (as the Creative Arts head) has been working pretty hard on the school’s annual talent showcase.

Now, the thing about these showcases is that they’re not just about performance. They’re not just singing or dancing or magic or stand-up. It’s part of the school’s philosophy that performance skills are life skills. When you’re up there on stage, you’re learning how to present yourself with confidence. You’re learning how to interact with others. You’re learning how to be out there in the world. You’re learning that you have a place there.

And for students with special needs,that’s the most important lesson of all.
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A Day in the Life of Morgan’s Wonderland

Joy the Butterfly and friend.Spring Break was just a couple of weeks ago, and once again, Morgan’s Wonderland was there to help kids of all ages celebrate with a whole week of Music, Mutts, Magic, & More.

I got to visit the park on the last day of the celebration and enjoy some of what had been going on all week. Here’s the day in review:

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All About The Students

Every event is a learning experience, if you can see it.

However big, however small, once it’s done you have to take time to regroup and review. What worked, what might need work, what people said, and always, how to make sure this event reaches and helps the people who need it most.

Now that this year’s Snowball Run has wrapped up, its organizers will be doing all of that and figuring out how to build on the successes of three years.

I think they have a great foundation to build on. Continue reading