REVIEW: Computer Chess

27 01 2015

Computer ChessWriter and director Andrew Bujalski is largely credited with sparking the mumblecore movement in film.  This style of filmmaking aims to capture life as it is really lived, with all the sputtering and mumbling we do in the process of fumbling to communicate.

Bujalski released his watershed “Funny Ha Ha” in 2002, before digital filmmaking technology became truly and fully democratized.  Now, anyone with a camera – which is basically anyone with a phone – can create a film with the kind of naturalistic style that was previously so rare in the cinema.  The challenge for Bujalski and fellow mumblecore adherents is to remain relevant in the era of YouTube and self-distribution channels.  Far more so than a decade ago, they have to make the case for why their stories matter and deserve 90 minutes of our time more than something else.

That is precisely the stumbling block of “Computer Chess,” which just never really presents a strong rationale for the act of watching it.  To be clear, Bujalski most certainly has a better eye for aesthetics than the average Joe Schmo.  His film, set at a 1980 computer conference, captures the dominant analog videotape look of the time down to the difficulty with keeping images in focus.  It also boasts a few intellectually stimulating conversations about artificial intelligence, demonstrating that some clear thought went into making the film.

But overall, “Computer Chess” just proves a little too obtuse to really connect.  There is not much of a story to follow, and the film lacks any strongly developed characters with whom any rapport can form.  The experience gets boring after about 10 minutes once the general purpose of the cinematic endeavor makes itself clear.  Afterwards, finding any reason to care constitutes a herculean task.  C2stars

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