Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Criminally Underrated: Scoop

"We just need to put our heads together."
"If we put our heads together, you'd hear a hollow noise"

There's something charming about Scoop, a breezy little comedic mystery starring Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Woody Allen and Ian McShane. When it was initially released, it was dismissed as a lesser effort from writer/director/star Woody Allen. But I feel it deserves another look. 

Scarlett Johansson stars as Sondra Pransky, a journalism student spending the summer in London with relatives. One day, she goes to a magic show with her cousins, performed by Sid Waterman (played by Woody Allen). She is brought up on stage to assist in a vanishing cabinet trick. While inside the box, the spirit of recently deceased journalist Joe Strombel (played by Ian McShane) appears and tells her that Peter Lyman (played by Hugh Jackman) is the Tarot Card Killer that has been terrorizing London. Perplexed, she returns again the next day to ask Waterman about her experience. During this, Strombel appears again, this time to both of them. And with that, Sondra and Sid are on the case to find out if what Strombel said is true. They pose as father and daughter to get close to Peter. As Sondra gets close to Peter though, she begins to have her doubts about him being the Tarot Card Killer while Strombel and Sid remain convinced. 

Scarlett Johansson has fun with her role, playing a bit geekier of a character than she normally does. She also works well with Allen in their second of three collaborations (sandwiched between Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona). They trade witty one liners while operating as two of the most unlikely sleuths. Hugh Jackman does well as the romantic lead and has some decent chemistry with Johansson. He also does a decent job keeping the audience wondering if he really is the killer or not.

While the film is not Woody Allen's best, I don't feel it deserves the reputation as a dud that it has acquired. It's a charming and witty film that deserves a second chance.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Baggage Claim

I am a sucker for a good romantic comedy. Sadly, Baggage Claim isn't it. It isn't for a lack of trying though, especially  Paula Patton who gives her role as lonesome, love starved flight attendant Montana her all, while demonstrating some strong comic timing. I just wish it was in a better movie.

As the film begins, Montana discovers her younger sister is getting married. Deciding she doesn't want to go stag to another family wedding, she decides she needs to find herself a man with marriage material. Her co-workers Sam (played by Adam Brody) and Gail (played by Jill Scott) suggest they use their connections with the airline to stage some run ins between her and some of her exes, on the premise that a previous Mr. Wrong may have matured into a Mr. Right.

The fatal flaw of the film is it is painfully obvious who she is going to wind up with at the end from the first scene he shows up on screen, robbing the film of any sense of suspense as we wait for her to figure it out. As she continues to fly all around the country, we wonder why she is continuing with this ridiculous mission when the guy she really wants, William (played by Derek Luke) lives across the hall. She even has a dream about him (and we don't know it's dream until she wakes up, another creaky plot device to throw on the pile). Still, she carries on even after she finds out William's current girlfriend is cheating on him (Of course she does!) 

The cast gives it their all to try and make the film work, but the problem is there are exactly zero surprises in the film and further hampered by flawed logic by their characters. Still the film does have a few decent laughs and plenty of male eye candy with Montana's former beaus (including Taye Diggs and Djimon Hounsou). It just would've been better if it had all been in a movie that wasn't so thoroughly mediocre.

In Fear

In Fear is a surprisingly effective little thriller about a young couple who get lost on their way to a music festival and cross paths with a sadistic stranger who terrorizes the couple over the course of a night. 

The young couple are Tom (played by Iain De Caestecker) and Lucy (played by Alice Englert). Tom is driving the two of them to join friends at a music festival. However, the night before he surprises her with reservations at a nice, secluded hotel. Thinking it's a sweet gesture, she agrees. The couple take off to the hotel, but the signs directing them there have them driving in circles. Tensions mount between the couple as they try to find their way out of the maze they have unwittingly driven into.

It becomes increasingly clear someone is messing with them. Their paths cross with Max, played chillingly well by Allen Leech, a stranger who quickly becomes apparent is the guy messing with them. The dynamic between between the three reminded me a lot of Philip Noyce's Dead Calm, trading the ocean for the Irish countryside. In that film, a married couple played by Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman sailing alone must contend with a psychotic stranger who crosses their paths, played by Billy Zane. In both cases, the film largely focuses only on three characters for the duration of the film.

I have to concede this is a tight little thriller. The characters are caught in an admittingly unlikely scenario, but within the constructs of it, the characters made decisions that made sense within the situation and didn't fall prey to "thriller logic" where people do stupid stuff with the strict purpose of advancing the plot. These two are stuck in a pretty dire situation and in desperation, everything they do made at least some sense to me. Thrillers either live or die by this for me. 

Apparently, the film was largely improvised with the two main actors unaware of the fates of their characters, which I must admit is an intriguing way to make a thriller. I think it helped the performances of all three actors, especially Englert and De Caestecker who become increasingly terrified as the film goes on. Allen Leech, who I've been a fan of for awhile now for his roles in lighter fare such as Cowboys & Angels and Downton Abbey makes for a genuinely frightening villain. It took me by surprise since he usually plays decent enough blokes. 

Overall, In Fear is a decent little thriller, with three solid performances to anchor the film. It preyed well on my insecurities about getting lost in the middle of nowhere, which may have helped. It had three strong performances from Alice Englert, Iain De Caestecker, and Allen Leech, which only helped make the film better. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Titanic Films Through the Ages

No other disaster seems to have caught filmmakers' imagination quite like the sinking of the Titanic on April 15th, 1912. In honor of the 102nd anniversary I decided to take a look at the major films that have depicted the disaster, with varying degrees of accuracy. 

To date there have been four theatrical films, a TV movie and two Mini-Series. There have also been countless documentaries, TV specials and a couple individual TV series episodes featuring or impacted by the sinking of the Titanic. Lastly, there were two staggeringly awful animated movies portraying the sinking, because if there's one thing that screams family fun, it's the tragedy of the Titanic. For the purposes of this essay, I'm going to focus on the theatrical films.

Titanic (1943)

This has to be the most curious rendition of the Titanic disaster. It was made as a German propaganda film to illustrate the excesses and greed of the British. The film even includes a fictional German officer who functions to point out the errors made by the British crew members and exemplify the selflessness and bravery of the German people. If you gagged at that last bit, I don't blame you.

The film was the brainchild of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and was funded at the cost of 4 Million Reichmarks (equivalent to roughly 180 million dollars today, just 20 million shy of what James Cameron spent on his 1997 epic). The making of the film has an even more colorful history than the film itself. The film's director, Herbert Selpin, was arrested by the SS after he made unflattering comments about some high ranking officers that he refused to retract. Secondly, the ship used in the film was later loaded up with Jewish prisoners a few days before the end of the war. They managed to trick the Royal Air Force into bombing and sinking the ship, killing roughly 5,000 people.

As one can imagine, the film is wildly inaccurate. It depicts the officials, especially ship owner Bruce Ismay as money obsessed, driving the crew of the ship to throw caution in the wind and endanger the passengers to beat the record crossing the Atlantic, therefore driving up the stock prices of the White Star Line, which owned the Titanic. of course, this is absurd. To begin with, White Star Line was never a publicly traded company. 

The film goes out of it's way to paint the British as wreckless and greedy, while painting the fictional German Officer in a stoic and heroic light. Curiously, some of the scenes of third class passengers trapped below, trying to reach through the chain link gates recall images of the Nazi Concentration Camps.

The entire film is a horribly skewed piece of propaganda. It's filming was a disaster in itself. It's about as historically accurate as Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds and the entire thing reeks of the worst taste. Although, it was made by the Nazis, so I'm not sure what I expected. Still, it's worth viewing at least once by those who are morbidly curious to see the most horribly misguided film about the Titanic, ever. That said, it does need to be seen to be believed and is thankfully readily available on YouTube in decent quality.

Titanic (1953)

20th Century Fox released their rendition of the Titanic disaster in 1953. Starring Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, and Robert Wagner, the film focused on several characters against the backdrop of the sinking of the Titanic, in true Hollywood melodrama style.

The main plot concerns Richard and Julia Sturges, a wealthy American couple whose marriage is on the rocks (played well by Clifton Webb and the always amazing Barbara Stanwyck). Tiring of the European social scene, Julia has decided to return to America with her two kids, Norman and Annette (played by Harper Young and Aubrey Dalton). To contrast the crumbling of the parents' marriage, Annette starts falling for a young man on board, Gifford Rogers (played by a young Robert Wagner).

The film has some glaring factual errors and the set design is way off from the designs of the actual ship. In particular, the dining room ceilings are way too high and in general fail to convince of being a ship at sea. The side of the ship the iceberg is on is mixed up from above and below the sea (above the water shows it on the Starboard side, but is suddenly on  the Port side under water). Also the iceberg is depicted as being much larger than it was in reality. There's also a great deal of inconsistency in the tilt of the ship and some shots where it's obvious only the camera it tilted. There is also the increasingly annoying alarm that is completely fictional and the exploding boilers that never happened either. Also, there is the exceptionally silly "Nearer My God to Thee" sing along at the end before the ship makes it's final plunge. Lastly, some of the model work done depicting the sinking hasn't stood the test of time. Most glaringly, there is obviously no one on deck when the ship makes it's final plunge.

Still, the character's stories, especially the ones played by Webb and Stanwyck are compelling enough to gloss over the more glaring issues. There is enough drama, however overwrought at times, for me to give it a recommendation.

A Night to Remember (1958)

In 1958, the British made their own film of the Titanic, based on Walter Lord's painstakingly researched book of the same name. It remains to this day, aside from certain facts about the sinking discovered after this film was made, the most historically accurate telling of the Titanic story.

The film focuses on Second Officer Lightoller, played by Kenneth More, cited as one of the heroes of the disaster who ultimately survived along with several other passengers on an overturned lifeboat that was swept off the deck before it could be launched.

The film is a huge step forward in terms of production design, far more convincing of a 1912 ship at sea than previous efforts. The film goes to great pains to be as accurate as possible with the means available. Director Roy Ward Baker makes the most of what's available to him to craft a compelling picture. 

The film relies on survivor testimony, trying it's best to be as accurate as possible, as the narrative moves from various events on the Titanic to nearby ships the Californian and the Carpathia. Through this approach, everything seems more palatable and potent. The film forgoes a traditional film score aside from a few key moments which only helps to make everything feel more immediate. 

The performances by the entire cast are fantastic. There is not a weak link among them. Kenneth More takes the forefront as Lightoller, but at the same time every character is given a fair representation. I think this is the only version I have seen where J Bruce Ismay, the owner of the White Star Lines, is portrayed as a fairly competent person and not a total buffoon, coward or outright villain as he is in other films, even Cameron's.

This remains as the best presentation of the Titanic disaster that has yet been made. It focuses on the events that actually happened, presented as accurately as possible with restrained, heartfelt performances from it's cast. It's one that will stick with you. 

Titanic (1997)

We now come to the one everyone knows, James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster. Being a longtime Titanic junkie, this movie was one I was looking forward to as soon as I heard about it. I knew seeing the Titanic recreated with contemporary effects depicting the sinking accurately was going to be amazing. Aside from a few inaccuracies that really bugged me, especially one that was downright disrespectful, it delivered on that promise.

James Cameron does an amazing job giving the Titanic the epic Hollywood treatment it deserves. Until recently, it was the highest grossing movie ever made. Cameron painstakingly recreated the Titanic for his film and presents it for the first time in a theatrical film in glorious technicolor. 

The film casts the Titanic as the backdrop of an epic romance of penniless artist Jack and First Class passenger Rose, played in star making turns by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Rose is engaged to a detestable man, Cal, played by Billy Zane at his despicable best. They are traveling on the ship with her mother, played by Frances Fisher and Cal's valet/stooge, played by David Warner (who curiously starred in the 1979 TV movie, SOS Titanic as well). 

It's a clever approach starting the film in 1997 with old Rose telling the story in flashback to a crew of wreckage explorers led by frequent Cameron collaborator Bill Paxton. This firmly establishes in the audiences mind the fate of the ship and how the sinking went. One would think this would rob the film of any suspense but actually ratchets it up quite a bit, with the audience knowing more than the characters just how much trouble they're in once the sinking is underway. 

There are so many moments that are absolutely accurate, including scenes not included in previous films, such as third class passengers trying to get out the door they boarded through (which was based on witness testimony), only to find it was already at water level. This makes the inaccuracies all the more apparent, especially in their treatment of First Officer William Murdoch. By all accounts, he acted heroically until the end, but in this film he's depicted shooting a passenger (albeit accidentally) and then himself. It's a moment in this otherwise spectacular film that has rubbed me the wrong way and always felt very disrespectful to someone who by all accounts was a decent man.

It's also interesting to see all the little homages to past Titanic films Cameron made. Ones that stuck out to me was Molly Brown (played by the always awesome Kathy Bates) asking why they always insist on announcing dinner like a Calvary charge. This is a verbatim quote from the 1953 Titanic, spoken in that film by Clifton Webb. Another moment, this one taken from A Night to Remember is a character finding ship designer Thomas Andrews(played by Victor Garber) by the first class lounge fireplace, correcting the time on the clock on the mantel and asking if he won't try to save himself. 

All my quibbles aside, this movie is huge and epic. The sinking of the Titanic has never been depicted with such scope and grandeur before or since. By and large I can forgive the inaccuracies since so much of the film is such a painstaking recreation. Because of this, part of me wishes there had been a little more emphasis on historical events and a little less on the fictional romance. I, for one, could have lived without Cal chasing after Jack and Rose, waving around a nickel plated Colt 1911 semi-automatic pistol no less, making it even more ridiculous. But like I said, they are minor complaints in the long run. 

Other Films:

If you can't get enough Titanic, I can also recommend the 2012 miniseries Julian Fellowes did, even though I wish he had done that one in a more straightforward linear fashion, instead of each of the first three parts starting at the beginning of the voyage and leading up to the sinking.

I would say avoid the 1996 mini-series with Peter Gallagher, Catherine Zeta Jones, George C. Scott and Tim Curry. It was poorly researched and done as a quick cash in on the growing hype surrounding the then forthcoming James Cameron film. 

Beyond that, SOS Titanic was actually the first Titanic film I saw as a kid, which led to a lifetime interest/obsession with the disaster. It is unfortunately incredibly hard to find even today. It's a shame as I'd love to see it again. 

Probably the most curious Titanic film outside of the Nazi one is a film called Raise the Titanic. It's based on a Clive Cussler novel about a group of guys that raise the Titanic from the seabed of the Atlantic because in it's cargo contained a rare mineral they needed. It's completely ridiculous and is a notorious flop of a film. It is also terribly dated since at the time the book was written and the film was made in 1980 it was believed the Titanic sank whole. It was only five short years later when the wreck was discovered and those accounts were proven wrong. Whoops. Still, it's worth a peek if nothing more than for a laugh. 

There are also two shockingly bad animated movies about the Titanic disaster. I cannot recommend watching them in their entirety at all, for there is a high risk of emotional and possibly physical damage from the awfulness. In fact, the only safe way to view them is through the Nostalgia Critic reviews of them. They can easily be found on YouTube. It has to be seen to be believed, trust me.

The sinking of the Titanic is a major plot point in the first episode of Julian Fellows' majorly addictive show, Downton Abbey. It also features in the pilot episode of the vintage Sci-Fi show The Time Tunnel, where the time traveling main characters find themselves stranded on the ship and try to warn the crew of what is going to happen with no success and just narrowly miss going down with the ship themselves. Speaking of time travel, there is also a segment of Time Bandits that takes place on the doomed liner as well, although portrayed in an intentionally inaccurate and absurd manner. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Doctor Who episode "Voyage of the Damned" where the time traveling Doctor finds himself aboard a spaceship recreation of the doomed liner, which finds itself in similar trouble except this time the Doctor is there to save the day.

As this article no doubt demonstrates, I am an unabashed Titanic junkie. I had a fun time going through all the different renditions of the Titanic disaster, some more successful than others. I would wholeheartedly recommend both A Night to Remember and James Cameron's Titanic for mandatory viewing. The others are also worth a look for those curious or are obsessively completest, like me.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Way Way Back

My favorite film of last year was a little coming of age film called The Way Way Back. The film has a dynamite cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Anna Sophia Robb, and Liam James.

The film focuses on Duncan (played by Liam James), a shy, introverted kid who is stuck spending the summer at his mother's boyfriend's vacation home. In addition to his mother Pam (played by Toni Collette) and her boyfriend Trent, (played by Steve Carell), there is also Trent's daughter, Steph. Also hanging around is their boozy neighbor, Betty (played by Allison Janney) and her two kids, Peter and Susanna, who is a bit of a love interest for Duncan and played nicely by Anna Sophia Robb.

Much of the source of Duncan's misery is Trent. At the beginning of the film he asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of one to ten. Duncan says he sees himself as a six. Trent counters, telling him he's a three. In Trent's mind, he thinks he's helping the kid, but really he's just a douche, humiliating the kid time and again, including making him wear a life jacket on a boat trip. 

Soon enough, Duncan finds his way to the Water Wizz, a local water park. There he crosses paths with Owen, played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell, channelling a combination of Ferris Bueller and Bill Murray in Meatballs. Owen is the manager of the water park and takes Duncan under his wing and gives him a job at the water park. Slowly, over the course of the summer Duncan gains more confidence and starts coming out of his shell.

The film is a marvelous mixture of both funny and heartfelt. It was written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also appear in small roles as employees at the Water Wizz. The script gives a great spin on a well worn genre, with great characters and memorable performances, especially the ones from Liam James and Sam Rockwell. 

The Way Way Back provided plenty of laughs and also shed a few tears which by my measure makes it a great movie. It's heartfelt, funny and highly, highly recommended.

Why can't I stop watching Pitch Perfect?

"I have the feeling we should kiss. Is that a good feeling or an incorrect feeling?"
"Well, sometimes I feel like I could do Crystal Meth, but then I think nah, better not."
-Bumper and Fat Amy, Pitch Perfect.

Hi, my name is Nate and I can't stop watching the movie Pitch Perfect. There is something about this movie; about competitive collegiate A Capella singing groups, focusing on an all women group the Barton Bellas and their direct competition, an all male group on campus called the Treblemakers, that is irresistible.  Maybe it's the witty humor of the film and the colorful characters, including a star making turn by Rebel Wilson as a girl who goes by the name of Fat Amy. Seriously, she steals every single scene she's in and gives the kind of performance where you really should be keeping one eye on at all times. 

The main character of the film is Becca, played by Anna Kendrick. She's an aspiring DJ who makes remixes in her spare time. She has a cute romance throughout the film with a boy from the Treblemakers, named Jesse, played by Skylar Astin. He's a movie buff and wants to be a film composer. So, basically he was me in college, except I wanted to write and direct movies. This became abundantly clear when Becca says she knew Jesse was home because she could smell the popcorn. (I'm addicted to the stuff. Comes with the cinephile territory.)

Becca is cornered by Chloe (played by Brittany Snow) in the dorm shower after Chloe hears her singing and urges her to audition for the Bellas. After her father encourages her to get out more and make friends, Becca decides to go to the audition. The audition scene itself is pretty funny, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse making an amusing cameo as the stage manager, getting in a nice slam on "Glee" as well. Of course, Becca makes the group and they gather to start rehearsals when the leader of the group, Aubrey (played by Anna Camp), lays down the rule that none of the Bellas can sleep with any of the Treblemakers or they're out of the group. Becca challenges the rule, stating flat out the Bellas need her more than she needs them.

The Treblemakers are led by the obnoxious Bumper Allen, played by Adam Devine, who antagonizes the Bellas at any opportunity, including throwing a burrito at Fat Amy as they drive by in their bus. In spite of this, some sort of romantic flirtation going on because Fat Amy later calls him for help when their bus breaks down on the way to a competition.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the two announcers at every competition played by Elizabeth Banks (who was also a producer on the film) and John Michael Higgins. These two provide some of the biggest laughs in the film with their commentary on the various A Capella groups. 

There is something infectious about this movie, from the great music, the witty sense of humor, and colorful characters that I can't resist. While Rebel Wilson stands out, providing many of the biggest laughs, everyone on the cast is bringing their A game with Anna Kendrick as the straight woman here to keep everything grounded and keep the film from getting too silly.

Pitch Perfect was a surprise hit when it hit theaters in October 2012 and was even a bigger hit on video. And next year I have Pitch Perfect 2 to look forward to. I wonder if I'll be watching it as often as I watch the first one. It would help if it was on HBO constantly, like the first one currently is.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Damn the Man! The Enduring Popularity of Empire Records

"Empire Records, open 'til midnight. This is Mark...Midnight!"

Today, April 8th, is what is known amongst fans of Empire Records as Rex Manning day. It is the day the events of the film takes place on, the day musician Rex Manning is appearing at the titular store to sign copies of his latest album. This date has been celebrated for the last few years when an eagle-eyed viewer was able to determine the date on a poster displayed in the store.

While the film did little business theatrically, it gained a cult status on video with viewers who were not unlike the array of misfit characters that populate the film. Empire Records focuses on an ensemble cast as they deal with both their internal struggles and both the issues associated with having a celebrity visiting the store and finding out their beloved workplace is about to be bought out by a music store chain.

The film is not without it's flaws. A fun game to play during the film is "Who's on Register?" While playing this game, you will notice several times the entire cast is in the clubhouse-esque back room. There are also a few scenes that fail to entirely convince, but if you get int spirit of the film, you hardly notice. 

The film is directed by Allan Moyle, whose previous film was the far more meaningful and potent film, Pump Up the Volume. Still, he manages to balance the various plot threads among the many characters with relative ease. This film is also lighter in tone, with plenty of comedic moments and instantly quotable lines. 

The cast is made up of the usual archetypes for this type of teen based film. The gang includes the sensitive artist  AJ (played by Johnny Whitworth), the overachiever Corey (played by Liv Tyler), the suicidal girl Debra (played by Robin Tunney), the philosophizing screw-up Lucas (played by Rory Cochrane), the apparent slut Gina(played by Renee Zellweger) and the hyperactive Mark (played by Ethan Embry). They are managed by surrogate father figure/friend, Joe (played by Anthony LaPaglia). 

Each cast member works through their own personal dramas on the day the aforementioned Rex Manning, a has been pop star played by Maxwell Caulfield, visits the store to sign copies of his latest album. AJ is trying to figure out the perfect way to confess his love for Corey. Corey is planning to offer herself to Rex Manning. Joe is wrestling whether or not to turn in Lucas for stealing $9000 from the store that he subsequently lost in Atlantic City. The root of the dilemma is Lucas took the money to Atlantic City to try and double or triple it to attempt to buy out the music store chain's claim to the store. 

The entire staff stages a mock funeral for Debra to try and show her life is worth living and is easily the film's most ridiculous scene that is meant to be serious. Gina wants to sing, but confesses she is afraid to. We, of course, know she will be singing by the end of the movie, in a rendition of "Sugar High" that is one of the high points of the film.

The film has a fantastic soundtrack that includes such great 90's bands as The Dire Straights, Gin Blossoms, The Cranberries and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Each song compliments the scene and perhaps may be one of the better aspects of the film.

I think the film has endured for a variety of reasons. The cast works well together and has an infectous chemistry that adds to the film. Each actor breathes life into what would make them an otherwise stereotypical character. The audience members no doubt relate to at least a few of the characters. Lastly, there is a certain level of wish fulfillment here. The Empire Records store would obviously be a very cool place to work, with all the various shenanigans that go on there over the course of a very hectic workday. As someone who worked his share of retail jobs in my high school and college days, I know it was for me. 

I eventually found it, at least to a certain degree during my tenure at the local Blockbuster Video. Not surprising, this movie was on heavy rotation when I worked there, playing during late night audits, mornings before we opened or on slow weekdays when one of my managers was nursing a nasty hangover. 

Empire Records remains a favorite of mine all these years later. I look back on it with a sense of nostalgia. It's a fun film that I've seen many, many times and although age has shown me the inherent flaws, I still enjoy it all the same.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Forgotten Films: April Fool's Day

Coming at the tail end of the early 80's slasher movie craze was a little gem called April Fool's Day. It was at once both another holiday-themed slasher thriller and a clever satire of the well-worn genre. 

The film follows the familiar premise, with a bunch of college friends getting together at the secluded island mansion that belongs to their friend Muffy's family. 

On the ferry over, they accidentally cause the accident of a ferry worker when a prank goes wrong. Shaken, they continue to the house, where Muffy welcomes them. As they settle in, they find the house rigged with various pranks ranging from innocent (a faucet that sprays you in the face, a chair that collapses when you sit in it) to the cruel (reminders of character's dark secrets such as an abortion or deadly accident).

Things escalate when one by one friends start disappearing only to turn up dead later. Who's behind the deaths? The ferryman? Or is it the increasingly unhinged Muffy? The increasingly dwindling numbers gather together to try and stay alive, await the arrival of local law enforcement and try and resist the urge to go wandering off alone. 

At the center of the film is Kit, played by Amy Steel in familiar horror heroine mode, who catches on that something is afoot early on and tries to alert the others to it, but most think it's just another April Fool's prank. Amy Steel has been a favorite of mine since I first saw her in Friday the 13th Part 2. She has this great girl next door presence that I've always really liked and wish she had gotten more acting opportunities either in or outside the horror genre.

The film has a better than average cast, especially for this genre, including Deborah Foreman, Thomas F Wilson (forever to be known as Biff from the Back to the Future trilogy) and the aforementioned Amy Steel. The well chosen cast play their parts well, which helps with these types of films when you have characters you're sad to see go rather than cheering on the killer, a trend I always found disturbing with these films (although there are a few exceptions, where even I have called out, "Okay, you can die now.")  

The film also has the benefit of being rather well written with most of the characters fleshed out at least more than the average slasher film character. The plot weaves around well enough to keep the audience guessing who has taken their love of April Fool's Day pranks way too far. 

This is one of the slicker and better made 80's slasher films with enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience engaged and guessing. It's also a lot of fun, as you'd expect from a film titled "April Fool's Day."