One of the last shots of Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea is a very bad CGI shot of an arrow flying up through the clouds. It’s emblematic of all that’s wrong with this movie: obvious, flat, thunderingly dull, and just plain fake at heart. It’s no small feat to make a boring movie about Genghis Khan, but lo and behold they’ve gone and done it.
Or maybe I have it backwards. Maybe it is all too easy to make a boring movie, no matter what the scope or the subject: it requires far less effort to reuse the imagery, the beats, the sentiments from the other movies you’ve seen than to come up with something personal. The end result is, literally, nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s all concept and ambition and pretty pictures, realized by people without a shred of real imagination or curiosity about its subject. Read more
I think, therefore I scam.
I think back to when someone was buttonholing Miles Davis about what Bitches Brew was supposed to be (jazz? rock? experimental?) and he replied, simply, “Music.” Chameleon Street is a movie. It isn’t merely a “black movie” or an “independent movie” or a “comedy”, all of which are easy pigeonholes into which you could stick a movie like this. Yes, it was made by and primarily stars black actors; yes, it was independently-financed and -released; yes, it is riotously funny. But there’s another element to it all — the “stinging salt of recklessness”, to use someone else’s words, that makes it a category-breaker.
The “chameleon” of the title is William Douglas Street, based loosely on a real-life conman of the same name whose exploits played like Frank Abnegale, Jr. filtered through Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Street’s a smart guy — entirely too smart for the ennui of his dad’s burglar-alarm business, but also too arrogant to look for a “straight” replacement. Everyone around him, from his bar buddies to his wife, muse about big money and big payoffs, and before long he starts hatching a couple of ways to fleece the unsuspecting. What he doesn’t expect to discover is how unsuspecting most everyone is, as a rule. Man wishes to be deceived; therefore, deceive him, and laugh all the way to the bank.Read more