Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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Tropic Cinema is celebrating movies made in Key West with a special showing of “Matinee,” director Joe Dante’s tribute to the Golden Age of B-Movies. Set here in the Southernmost City just 90 miles from Cuba, we follow the adventures of a boy whose dreams inhabit the Strand Theater. And a flamboyant Hollywood producer who comes to town to promote his horror flick in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I love this movie because I won $200 betting on who played the William Castle-style movie producer in “Matinee.” My wife insisted it was John Candy, but I won with John Goodman. And I made her pay up!

Lawrence Woolsey (Goodman) and his leading lady (Cathy Moriarity) roll into Key West in a ’59 Cadillac for a sneak preview of “Mant,” a movie within a movie.

“Half Man! Half Ant! All Terror!” shouts the promotion for Woolsey’s latest schlocky thriller. His b/w potboiler is replete with audience props, buzzers under the theater seats, people wearing rubber suits, and gimmicks like “AtomoVision!” and “Rumble-Rama!”

A parallel story focuses on young Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton), a military brat who is a horror film addict. The local kids are wildly enthusiastic about the upcoming matinée preview. Nonetheless Gene must come to terms with another kind of fear, an absent military father who may never return as missile launchers are being set up on the island’s beaches.

Gene and his pals are facing adolescence. So, while the parents are panicking about nuclear annihilation, the boys talk about girls. Gene is courting Sandra (Lisa Jakub), a cute girl who is involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Gene’s buddy Stan (Omri Katz) is obsessed with flirty Sherry (Kellie Martin). Yes, at its heart this is a coming-of-age story.

Even so, you’ll enjoy it just for the glimpses of Key West streets with their white picket fences and Temple Revival style homes and glimpses of The Strand’s familiar facade.
“Matinee” is making its one-night-only reappearance next Monday night.

If you’re a trivia buff, here’s your chance to win big. Eagle eyes will spot cameos by lots of old-time horror/sci-fi stars – including Kevin McCarthy (“Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”), Dick Miller (“A Bucket Of Blood”), Robert Picardo (“Star Trek Voyager”), William Schallert (“The Incredible Shrinking Man”), John Sayles (director of “Lone Star”), Jesse White (“The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini”), Robert Cornthwaite (“The Thing From Another World”), and David Clennon (John Carpenter’s remake “The Thing”) – all seeming to be having a grand ol’ time.

John Goodman (“The Big Lebowski,” “10 Cloverfield Lane””) is having a good time too, a giant stogie in his mouth, looming larger than life, turning in one of the best performances of his long career.

“Matinée” is meant to be a light-hearted, nostalgic comedy, a send-up of old horror and sci-fi movies, a semi-tribute to William Caste and Roger Corman.

But Joe Dante delivers a double dose of irony with the “atomic mutation” depicted in the hilarious “Mant” … juxtaposed against the real-life nuclear threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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