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 Post subject: Joe Dante
PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 9:13 pm 
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Not sure if this belongs in this section, feel free to move it accordingly if not.

So I'm curious... what do people on this forum think of Joe Dante?

Personally, I think he may be one of the more under-appreciated modern auteurs, a director who manages to sustain a nice juggling act of indulging in pop-culture archetypes and subverting them within the same scope. There's a true love of genre and old Hollywood that runs through the entirety of his work (Scorsese and De Palma do as well, and also share with Dante an encyclopedic knowledge of film and culture, American and beyond), but I think sometimes people find his work too sentimental (I'm thinking primarily of the first Gremlins, Explorers, and Innerspace, films I hold really dear). I think he's often mistaken for a Spielberg lackey a la Zemeckis. Personally, I think he's a far more consistent and inventive director than Spielberg, whose films (at least lately) carry such a strong whiff of 'importance' that it can be suffocating.

There's always a moment, and its often very easy to spot, when his movies just go completely off-the-wall and enter the realm of something, for lack of a better word, magical. That's something only certain directors can do consistently, very few even manage to do it once.

Of course, that's a personal reaction. I wouldn't be surprised if some on here detested his films, or at least ignored them.

Don't wanna write all my thoughts in a single post, hopefully we can get some kinda dialogue going.

Long post, I know. Thanks.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 9:24 pm 
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Rosenbaum gives him some strong praise in one of his books (and singles out Small Soldiers in particular, which shocked me). I haven't seen any of his movies since I was a kid though, so it's hard for me to gauge how good they are now, but I remember loving the 'Burbs, Matinee and the Gremlins movies of course . I'd love to revisit Matinee but I don't think it's even out on DVD?


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 9:37 pm 
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Matinee is wonderful, his most lyrical film (although she was retired when it came out, I read Pauline Kael said it was 'a masterpiece') and Image put out a barebones dvd a while ago (I got it cheap in a used video store in a shitty part of Brooklyn, and never saw it in a legitimate store) but I think its out of print. Well worth seeking out, IMO. Evocative and loving of the time period (1962) without foregoing the essential darkness that came with it.

I'm going to go on record and risk embarassing myself and say that Gremlins 2: The New Batch is in my top ten of all-time.

The first Gremlins was my childhood film, scared the bejeezus out of me while cracking me up. I probably watched it on my burnt out vcr every weekend until I was six. Of course, life goes on, and I went on without looking back, and when i began to explore film in middle school, I found myself inexplicably drawn to find out what the else the director of my childhood film did. I was pleasantly surprised.

With the possible exception of Small Soldiers, a film so compromised by hollywood profit-making and corporate tie-ins that I sometimes forget Dante directed it, all of his films are gentle, wonderful surprises.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:08 pm 

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Gremlins 2: The New Batch I always thought was a better film than the first one was. The level of satire and it working as a live action cartoon is great. Always thought that Dante did one of the better first season episodes for Masters of Horror called Homecoming. I never did get to see The Screwfly Solution so I don't know how good that episode is. Looks as if he's working on a Trailers from Hell documentary which could be interesting.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:12 pm 
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I love Dante. Homecoming is still the best thing made about Iraq. His website Trailers from hell, is one of the most fun film sits on the web.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:30 pm 
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King Prendergast wrote:
I love Dante. Homecoming is still the best thing made about Iraq. His website Trailers from hell, is one of the most fun film sits on the web.

Isn't it though? Some of the commentaries are pretty lackluster (watch out for John Landis and Mark Pellington, yeesh...), but its nice to see a somewhat neglected aspect of film history (movie ads) get their due. For those who don't know, Dante started out as trailer editor.

And I think Gremlins 2 works as more than an attempt to do a live-action cartoon (I think it succeeds completely in that department); it's such an incisive commentary on everything Hollywood expects out of a blockbuster sequel. It is probably one of the most experimental and subjective mainstream films made by a major studio. Its no wonder it failed at the box-office (and made it hard for Dante to get solid work).

I mean, what other film features a cameo by Hulk Hogan and an off-hand reference to the work of Susan Sontag?

And I agree about Homecoming: great piece of agitprop (the left needs some angrier filmmakers, unafraid to name names and such). Screwfly Solution is much gritter than Dante's other work, to the point where it feels a little impersonal and cold, and it has a weak ending, but his direction of the actors, particularly Elliot Gould, is strong.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:36 pm 
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I have fond memories of my mom taking me, my friend, and my friend's little sister to see Gremlins 2. My mom left with the little girl after the Gremlin in the paper shredder scene, and paced around the lobby til the movie was over. She was obviously out there a while ha


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 11:01 pm 
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The love I had for Gremlins 2 as a child has rarely been matched for a film since. It was probably my stock answer for best film of all time until I was at least 16.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 6:42 am 
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I remember the scary kid episode he did for Twilight Zone: the Movie, with Kevin McCarthy pulling the demon rabbit out of the hat, the little girl with no mouth, and the sister who gets put into the cartoon and killed... It wasn't as good as Gremlins, but it had a similar sense of humour, and was a bit scarier I thought. Also, like Gremlins 2, you could see it as being a comment on all sorts of stuff (I'm feeling lazy).

My favourite bit in Gremlins, which always cracks me up: the old woman looks out of the window and sees the gremlins lined up in woolly hats, holding little songbooks, and chanting the 'Gremlins' theme tune. I think she gets killed by her own stairlift after that.

Oh, and Spike holding his nose as he jumps in the swimming pool.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 9:50 am 
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His episode of The Twilight Zone Movie is probably the best of the four, although I have a fondness for John Landis' intro. It was such a clever take on the story, both by him and Richard Matheson: funnel the nightmare through the prism of television, cartoons and junk food (and to a lesser extent at the time, video games), the things most all-american kids worship.

Everything that kid summons from thin air is something he has seen on the tube or played in an arcade, because frankly, that's the only thing ever offered to him. The adults in his life give nothing but forced adulation and gifts, reassuring him. His imagination, ironically, is not so imaginative. Some people have criticized the positive ending of the segment; I love it, simply for the fact that Kathleen Quinlan's character doesn't feel the need to repress this kid's mind, but to point in the right direction. I like it much better than the episode its based on.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 10:13 am 
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Matinee is absolutely wonderful. In fact, I remember the reaction at the UK press show - there was more or less unanimous agreement that it would get sensational reviews (well, duh) and that hardly anyone would go to see it, since it was so clearly aimed at 1950s film nostalgists rather than the teenage audience the producers presumably expected. It's hard to think of another early 1990s American film that gave me so much sheer pleasure - though Gremlins 2 comes close.

One of the many things I love about it is that Dante, rather like Tim Burton a year or so later with the not dissimilar Ed Wood, absolutely respects his sources - he said in an interview that he was most insistent that the special effects in Mant ("Half Man! Half Ant! All Terror!") be pretty good by early 1960s standards, as he felt that the John Goodman character would have poured most of his budget into making them state of the (then) art. It's all too easy to poke fun at the alleged naivete of our forefathers, but Dante never once makes that mistake, and his film is all the richer for it.

I was a massive Dante fan from the moment I sneaked into The Howling underage, and spent the 1980s catching up on earlier work like Hollywood Boulevard and Piranha while watching everything that came out. That said, I've rather lost touch with him since seeing the massively underrated Small Soldiers on its original release - what have I missed?


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 10:26 am 
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Well... you haven't missed much.

I am an apologist for Looney Tunes: Back in Action, if only for what it intends to be (a film with a streamlined narrative STARRING Bugs Bunny and the whole crew, not a promotion for Air Jordans like Space Jam, which the film openly mocks). That being said, it only succeeds intermittently, and only when the Looney Tunes are pushed to the fore. There is a scene set in the Louvre which rivals the best of Jones and Clampett in their heyday (how did they not think of doing that?), and there are some cute swipes at Hollywood ("Lethal Weapon Babies"), but Larry Doyle's script places far too much emphasis on Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman, the latter I cannot stand. Steve Martin is also painfully over-the-top. Unfortunately, it utterly tanked at the B.O. Dante's films, with the exception of the first Gremlins, never find a mainstream audience, which is just as well, thank you very much.

His Masters of Horror episodes are well done, and clearly they have their fans on this board.

Just curious, could you elaborate on Small Soldiers? I think its his weakest film, but as always, there are wonderful moments (I'm thinking specifically of the scene where the little brother picks up one the soldiers and starts to explain how he'll die)


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 1:33 pm 
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Love Joe Dante as well and would agree with MichaelB about the way his films seem to be respecting their material rather than looking down on it - Matinee is a great example as Goodman's movie producer unwittingly goes too far in adding nuclear bomb material into his film (premiered in Florida, no less!) at the height of the Cuban missile crisis! The sequence of the film within the film melting, turning to colour and showing the mushroom cloud supposedly behind the screen, takes the William Castle style of experiential terror to new heights while still retaining some connection to his real gimmicks. The great thing is that scene also ties in with the lead character's nuclear nightmare from near to the beginning of the film and shows how films can have the power of pulling our semi-conscious fears out of our heads and putting them on screen in a safe context for audiences to try and deal with. Exploitation cinema in the best sense. So it is not just to pay homage to a film director's shock tactics but actually has an important part to play in the story as well. I could imagine a kid having nuclear nightmares could become a lifelong film fan at seeing the power a film could have in representing a possible nightmare scenario - to know that he is not the only person feeling nervous about what could occur.

It seems that catharsis is a major theme of all Dante's films yet always leavened, not undercut, by black humour. I remember being traumatised by the dark haired camp counsellor being the only person to die in the piranha attack on the school summer camp (why couldn't it have been the blonde one? Or the completely unsympathetic male counsellor, insistent on forcing the kids into the water? I remember finding that whole scene more shocking than any in Jaws and even looking back I still think the whole set up of making one of the counsellors extremely sympathetic only to have her be the one killed off was a simple trick masterfully done), but then there's also the fate of both the spunky female characters in The Howling; Phoebe Cate's comic/tragic Santa story in Gremlins; Tom Hanks making himself a pariah until the very last moment in The Burbs; the discussions of death, loss of innocence, war and racism in (I agree, very underrated) Small Soldiers.

And nothing could be more cathartic than seeing a complacent, superior and mocking Dick Cheyney substitute misjudging a situation and having his head smashed to a pulp against a table by one of the soldiers he sent off to die in Homecoming!

But then there's the comic touches: "Go out there and distract the guard" "What if he's gay?" "Then I'll distract him!"; the cutest, most loveable werewolf I've ever seen; everything about the Gremlins films, even the deaths (love the malfunctioning stair lift!); the way that Homecoming is told from a Republican spin-doctor perspective, so as things spiral out of control the absurdity of the character's take on events becomes comically ludicrous; and so on.

I also remember enjoying Eerie, Indiana - the episode involving the woman who had a scarily intense fixation on the preservative powers of tupperware (to the extent of sealing her children in the plastic boxes at night to keep them 'fresh'!) was particularly memorable, with all her efforts at pushing the little plastic tubs to the neighbourhood housewifes in front room gatherings observed by the frightened kids coming across as part Invasion of the Body Snatchers and partly like a coven from Rosemary's Baby!

I think he is great at making children's films without cloying sentimentality, showing the strangeness and sometimes horror of the strange rituals of the adult world through characters in transition from childhood and still able to see the magic, strangeness and absurdity of everyday life.

I've not seen the TV movie The Second Civil War yet but keep hearing good things about that too. I wouldn't class the Looney Tunes film (except for the Louvre sequence already mentioned) or even Homecoming as classic Joe Dante but I hope he gets the chance to return to feature film making some time soon.


Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Jul 23, 2008 7:02 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 2:28 pm 
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Oh wow, I forgot he was involved with Eerie, Indiana, so many childhood memories are tied up in that wonderfully weird show. Hard to forget the fat kid from the McDonalds commercials being eaten alive by dogs!


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 2:40 pm 
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And here I was always afraid someone would find out I owned Gremlins 2 AND Small Soldiers.


Last edited by cdnchris on Wed Jul 23, 2008 5:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 4:26 pm 
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I had no idea how good Matinee was and the comparisons to Burton's Ed Wood have me intrigued. I'll definitely have to try and track this down, even if only to watch a crappy used VHS copy.

I really liked what he did with The Howling and was amazed to see that he directed a couple episode of the Police Squad TV show. Nice! I also thought Amazon Women on the Moon was a lot of fun -- definitely in the Kentucky Fried Movie-style only a lot cleaner.

I really like Small Soldiers, which I think, is my fave film of Dante's. I think it is actually quite subversive in a lot of ways, attacking the notion of action figure toy lines and commercialism vs. the merits of old school toys.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 4:29 pm 
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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
I had no idea how good Matinee was and the comparisons to Burton's Ed Wood have me intrigued.

Essentially, it's to William Castle as Ed Wood is to Ed Wood - just about the most affectionate, sympathetic and knowledgeable treatment imaginable. You have to tune out a pretty tedious teen subplot that was presumably a condition of funding (so in the final analysis it's not quite as good as Burton's film), but otherwise it's an utter delight.

(OK, John Goodman isn't actually playing William Castle, but there's no doubt whatsoever who Lawrence Woolsey is based on!)


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 5:29 pm 

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I had semi-fond memories of Gremlins 2 until I saw a year and a half ago with my brother on TV and we almost died laughing. And Piranha is the best thing in the world - if I was ever called upon to make a Sight & Sound top ten, that and The Magnificent Ambersons would be my only dead certs for inclusion.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 5:36 pm 
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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
I had no idea how good Matinee was and the comparisons to Burton's Ed Wood have me intrigued. I'll definitely have to try and track this down, even if only to watch a crappy used VHS copy.

There is an Image DVD I unfortunately skipped on, but if your only chance to see it is on VHS definitely go for it. It is a good film (though I have to agree with MichaelB on the teen subplot being a bit tedious.)


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 6:28 pm 
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Michael, you touched on the main reason why I love this man and his work: sincerity.

I fully recognize the flaws in his films, usually when it comes to certain aspects of the scripts and compromises with his producers (although i respectfully disagree that the teen subplot in Matinee is tedious. I think it adds a great deal to the film). I admire Dante because of his personal modesty and geniality, and it comes through completely in the way he approaches his films. There is a great sensitivity towards characters and their emotions.

Slight spoilers ahead...

For example, the aforementioned scene in Homecoming where the undead soldier kills Robert Picardo's character (I think he's more Rove then Cheney... maybe an amalgam?). Unlike a lot of his peers who did episodes with Masters of Horror, Dante milked the horror of the scene through restraint: there is virtually no blood or gore. We see the action unfold, a la Curtiz, by way an opaque shadow on the wall. It's as if Dante recognizes the personal conflict at hand and shies away from exploiting it. It is a powerful moment, and Dante recognizes that beating the viewer over the head with graphic nonsense is less effective than the implication. He takes his cues from his heroes (James Whale, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Tourneur) seriously.

End of Spoilers...

I'd also like to mention his career-long collaboration with Jerry Goldsmith: i think Dante brought out the best in Goldsmith, a very underrated and versatile composer. His score for Innerspace is terrific and ethereal. Actually, if anyone knows where I can find a copy, PM me!


Last edited by HypnoHelioStaticStasis on Wed Jul 23, 2008 6:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 6:36 pm 
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This thread is a perfect example of how new posters should behave on the forum. Registered in February and this thread yesterday was only his/her second post, the OP had something to say about a subject we'd neglected on the board and has been able to bring something interesting to the table in discussion. Please take note, Freshman Posters, this is how the board works best. =D>


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 6:42 pm 
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Thanks for the compliments, much appreciated. I'm a bit apathetic towards writing on the forum online, too lazy, but now that this thread has gotten some great activity (so nice to share childhood memories with everyone!), I'm a little addicted :twisted:

And yet another thing I love about Dante: his dvd commentaries. They're very production oriented, but he talks incessantly and in a very entertaining way. He also works well with other people in the booth, giving them a lot of time to shine. His commentaries on the Gremlins films are classic.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 7:00 pm 
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HypnoHelioStaticStasis wrote:
(I think he's more Rove then Cheney... maybe an amalgam?)

You're right - it's been a while since I saw it and got my Cheney and Rove mixed up!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sat Jul 26, 2008 7:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 7:59 pm 
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Like many on here, I have some wonderful memories of watching Joe Dante films as a little kid (even The Howling and Piranha, both of which I first saw when I was eight or so). I loved the It's a Good Life segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie - every solitary Dante trademark is on display, and it's all working quite seamlessly, never feeling excessive or winking. It's a fantasy about a boy with great powers who seduces people into his surreal cartoon-themed home and makes them part of his "family" punishing them if they say anything negative about his ways. The sets and lighting are terrific (in a way, almost as if Argento or Greenaway filmed a live action cartoon), Jerry Goldsmith's score is very moving (it was their first collaboration) and the ending actually quite warm. The final shot is also one of the all-time greatest utilizations of matte painting.

I watched Matinee several times when it first came out on video, but I haven't seen it in years. I never saw his Looney Toons movie, nor have I seen his Masters of Horror episodes. I saw his Eerie Indiana episodes when they first aired (the one about the skater kid who gets killed and his girlfriend subsequently taking up all of his personality traits still sticks with me).

Has anybody seen the compliation film he made while he worked under Roger Corman, The Movie Orgy?


Last edited by Dylan on Sun Aug 18, 2013 2:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 8:06 pm 
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Kevin McCarthy eating peanut butter burgers is still more terrifying than anything else in the Twilight Zone movie-- Dante's is unquestionably the best segment in the that film. This thread's inspired some serious Netflixing.


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