A.J. Hakari's sporadically-updated musings on the wide world of movies

Month: March, 2013

“Searching for Sugar Man” (2012)

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Welcome to the first installment of His & Hers Reviews! In this series, my friend/fellow critic Marcey Papandrea and I will team up to deliver mini-critiques of completely random movies on one another’s sites. We may agree, and we may not, but what we can guarantee is a one-two punch of discussion and analysis. And now, to kick things off, our inaugural title…

"Searching for Sugar Man" poster



Searching for Sugar Man is the “Behind the Music” story most people would probably rather hear. Most musicians who don’t consistently work and keep themselves in the public eye usually sink fast into obscurity, ending up either as “Family Guy” references or something tragically worse. But Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about the mystique of a near-unknown ’70s singer named Rodriguez, gives hope to those who’ve wished that their favorite one-hit wonders didn’t all meet highball-addled fates.

The film gives us the basics behind Rodriguez’ brief career (a couple albums, low sales, dropped off the map), but the real meat comes when focus shifts to the hunt for what happened to him. Though I won’t spoil what happens, I will say that Rodriguez redefines the term “cult hit,” generating a following and representing a cultural revolution, both to which he was completely oblivious. I’ve heard some criticize Searching for Sugar Man for needlessly deifying one guy whose music (which, by the way, is *that* damn good) people barely heard of, but I think the love is displayed and justified quite well. Not all feel-good movies are soulless and manipulative, and the affectionately-crafted Searching for Sugar Man is a prime example.


Searching for Sugar Man is an extraordinary and emotional ride, one I had no idea I would be in for, and I am so thankful I took it. It isn’t too often where I am moved to tears by a documentary, and this one certainly did the trick. This story is an incredible one, so many ups and downs and an intriguing mystery mixed in there. The film recently took home the Oscar for Best Documentary, and in my opinion, it is deserving of all of its accolades. Stories like this don’t come along very often, and with the passion and great talent of director Malik Bendjelloul, this film succeeds on every level.

The story here is about a musician from the early ’70s simply known as Rodriguez. He was hailed as the next Bob Dylan, and despite his albums getting great reviews, no one really bought them. However, bootleg copies made their way to South Africa, and he became the voice of the voiceless there. Rodriguez disappeared, and rumors of what happened to him circulated, and his fans in South Africa vowed to find out the truth about him and what happened.

This is such an engaging film; I was wrapped up in the Rodriguez mystery right away. I knew nothing about him, and listening to his music through the film helped me form a real connection like I am sure the people of South Africa did. Hearing the stories about the enigma of Rodriguez is really something special, and the third act is an amazing ride that filled me with immense joy. This really is an incredible film; I listen to the soundtrack every day, and Rodriguez, with his music, has helped me emotionally. GO SEE THIS FILM!

“Deathtrap” (1982)

"Deathtrap" poster


Resisting the urge to decipher a murder mystery before you even see it is virtually unheard of. It’s natural to hit up our memory banks and think of potential clues, double-crosses, plot twists, and all that. Admittedly, keeping such eagle-eyed tabs over a show’s every step can get in the way of actually enjoying the damn thing, which is what makes Deathtrap such good fun. A film well-versed in the ways of audience members itching to stay one step ahead, Deathtrap presents itself such a wickedly wry manner, seeing both its satire and the pieces of its own deadly puzzle come together are equal treats.

No one makes plays like Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) anymore. The trouble is that neither does he; once the writer of Broadway’s longest-running comedy/thriller, the man just hit his fourth flop in a row. However, when it seems like success and financial independence from his ditzy wife (Dyan Cannon) are a distant dream, into Sidney’s lap falls the ultimate meal ticket. Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), a budding wordsmith who attended one of Sidney’s seminars, has created the perfect stage mystery…one over which Sidney has no qualms about killing. But this being a picture with murder in mind, nothing is as it appears, for when Sidney invites the unsuspecting Clifford to his country home, it’s just the first act of a diabolical plot waiting to unhatch itself.

Deathtrap isn’t a comedy in the way Clue or Murder by Death are. It’s not a direct spoof of the mystery genre’s most recognizable figures or weariest tropes. Instead, its humor comes from its wit — the need to generate its own attention-grabbing material rather than reference others’ — which made the Broadway hit it’s based upon into its own runaway smash. Deathtrap is quite funny, thanks chiefly to Sidney’s bitter ranting about the theatre business and later attempts to pull one over on those pulling one over on him. But it can also be a startling and effective thriller itself, in ways I dare not reveal but which do the story a great service. This is a film that can back up the game it talks, observing how weary certain cliches have become in addition to offering some surprising twists of its own.

Deathtrap also benefits from a cast that, more often than not, is up to the task of selling some tricky material. Caine is great as the acerbic Sidney, his tone moist with sarcasm and condescending to perfection. That he fills this role’s shoes with ease is a no-brainer, but Reeve’s role is doubly impressive. Cast at a time when he sought to be seen as more than Superman, Reeve’s performance walks a thin line between naive and dangerous, convincingly switching from affable to unstable in an instant. Both he and Caine are in tune with the plot’s balancing act, which unfortunately can’t be said for the other additions to this humble ensemble. Cannon overacts a touch much (though she has her moments), but Irene Worth’s Dutch psychic is straight from “Looney Tunes.” A take-off on the omniscient detective character, Worth tries too hard to be quirky and endearing, resulting in the dreadful possibility that she might very well make it to the credits alive.

Newly-arrived on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection, Deathtrap held up just fine for my second go-around. Some of that initial discovery and excitement is lost, but the clever script and top-notch leading performances are still plenty crisp. If you dig your comedic thrillers with a bit of bite, then Deathtrap is just the brew to down.