In the past I’ve really enjoyed films like Black Death (1992), Outbreak (1995) and Contagion (2011). I still kind of do, but I have to admit that after the last two years, I haven’t seen a film in that category, and I wonder whether or not I’ll still enjoy them the same way I did before.
Last night I was convinced to go and see a film the whole concept of which I wasn’t feeling from the start. Denzel Washington, who can do very little wrong in my book, reprises role as Robert McCall from The Equalizer (2014), a film that kind of came out of nowhere at the time and I thoroughly enjoyed. The acting by Washington and Pedro Pascal was fine, the direction from Antoine Fuqua, who is very hit or miss, was not amazing, but I think what stood out the most was the bad writing.
The twist was a very chewed-up cliché which I saw coming from a mile away, but I could have overlooked that if the main character had been in some danger at any point. The only thing I liked was his relationship to a young neighbour with a creative talent who was threatening to go down the dark path of gangs and violence. When watching Denzel Washington act, or during interviews, he radiates a natural sense of calm and confidence that makes him the right template for the “second father” archetype.
Anyway, the first thing I said when the credits rolled was “Oh wow, I didn’t know Denzel Washington starred in bad films.”
Recently I’ve noticed that I’ve been less interested in going to the cinema. Most films don’t seem to interest me at the moment. I think it came from a string of bullshit films that just left me disappointed. There’s a whole series of superhero films that I don’t even entertain. With the exception of Deadpool and Logan, two films I watched despite them being superhero films, I haven’t watched any superhero film since X-Men 2. They are just so bad.
I suspect it’s because I’ve been having a hard time suspending my disbelief. Usually that went hand in hand with immersion, but lately my demands of immersion have increased, probably due to a few really solid video games which have soaked me up, like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
I’m writing this post to act as a marker, so I can look back upon it a little later down the line to see if my understanding what is at play here has increased.
“I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we’re going to hurt some people.”
“…Whose car are we gonna take?”
This video helped me understand a few things that I’ve come to notice over time.
I recollect very clearly how Eva and I once went to see the Takeshi Kitano vehicle Brother in the cinema once. There was a scene in the film that was a shot of two men in the back of a limousine, one looking out the window at the city passing him by, the other stoically staring at nothing in front of him, only stirring to brush a noticed bit of fluff from his leg. A group of people behind us just didn’t get the pacing, the stillness, the pointlessness of the scene, while I loved it.
One of my favourite scenes in Ghost in the Shell, is a scene that adds nothing to the story, except to add some mood to the film by showing some disconnected shots of the city. I love everything about that sequence, but I was never able to put my finger on why it was so special and why it was so different.
Now I do. It’s aspect-to-aspect, rather than action-to-action.
Action-to-action is the transition from one shot to another that drives the story forward, from one goal-driven action to another goal-driven action. This is something that’s most often used in Western visual storytelling media, like cinema and comic books, while Eastern (specifically Japanese) storytelling often uses aspect-to-aspect transitions, where the story isn’t driven forward, just the perception, which helps to explore the space the scene plays out in.