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Chaos cinema reigns in modern action movies

Chaos cinema reigns in modern action movies (photo)

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indieWIRE’s Press Play blog has a must-watch 2-part video series this week entitled “Chaos Cinema: The Decline and Fall of Action Filmmaking” by Matthias Stork. In it, Stork uses extensive clips from movies past and present to argue that action films have fallen on hard times as a result of their trend toward what he calls “chaos cinema,” a style recognizable for its hyperquick cutting and hypershaky camerawork. Here’s Stork’s video essay in full.

Chaos Cinema Part 1 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.

Chaos Cinema Part 2 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.

I was particularly struck by this segment of Stork’s narration:

“Most chaos cinema is indeed lazy, inexact and largely devoid of beauty or judgment. It’s an aesthetic configuration that refuses to engage viewers mentally and emotionally, instead aspiring to overwhelm, to overpower, to hypnotize viewers and plunge them into a passive state. The film does not seduce you into suspending disbelief. It bludgeons you until you give up.”

In that one brief paragraph, Stork eloquently and succinctly describes all that is right and wrong with chaos cinema’s worst practitioners, particularly Michael Bay, whose films appear throughout the two videos. Yes, there is a visceral component to Bay’s work, like the undeniable and borderline beautiful feeling of flight and movement in the base jumping sequences from “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” but there’s also a lot of spatial confusion as well. When you can only grasp the broad strokes of a scene’s action, it’s awfully difficult to get caught up in its drama or story. The juxtaposition of films like Bay’s “Bad Boys 2” with the similarly themed and structured (but very differently shot) “Hard Boiled” by John Woo highlights just how much the latter film invests in its characters even as it thrills us with palpably exciting stunt sequences. Woo’s work also showcases action choreography of a kind of intricacy that chaos cinema filmmakers don’t seem interested in (or capable of) replicating.

My only gripe with Stork’s piece is my feeling that he occasionally paints with too broad a brush. Chaos cinema is undeniably a major force in modern action filmmaking, and its impact has largely been a negative one. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few filmmakers who can use the style to their advantage. Stork acknowledges Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” as a positive example of chaos cinema, but there are lots of others and not all of them are war movies. For instance, Stork doesn’t seem particularly enamored with the popular “Bourne” franchise and their “shakycam”-style fight scenes directed by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass. And while I would agree that the fight scenes in “Bourne” are often frenetic to the point of incoherence, I’d argue that there are a few thematic underpinnings motivating that incoherence.

Jason Bourne’s a character who’s lost his identity to amnesia; he can’t remember who he is or how he can do these incredible physical feats. He’s acting on a level of pure instinct, a fact emphasized by Liman and Greengrass’ faster-than-thought technique. From the viewer’s perspective, it all looks like chaos. But that chaos also serves to show us just how superior Bourne is as a physical specimen to us. We normies can’t even watch him fight, let alone fight like him.

That said, the “Bourne” franchise’s popularity inspired a lot of crummy knockoffs. These movies copied “Bourne”‘s form but none of that form’s function. And that’s where chaos cinema reigns, and reigns in a dark and sad way. To me chaos cinema is an idea that has its place. But that’s where it has the most value: as an idea. When it’s stripped of its intellectual underpinnings it just becomes a lot of pointless flash and sizzle.

Do you like chaos cinema? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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