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Movie Review: Computer Chess

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Computer Chess Here’s one of the year’s most creative and inventive movies. It comes from Andrew Bujalski, one of the original auteurs of the “mumblecore” genre, and while it shares some of that genre’s DNA, it’s got a conceit that’s so original and wonderful that it transcends a so-so story.

Bujalski’s film is set in 1980, at a convention of computer chess software developers competing to create the best program.And not only that, it’s shot in black-and-white, using vintage cameras, and all the clothes, haircuts and facial hair are in full period detail.

“Computer Chess” not only looks like it’s really from 1980, but it looks like a documentary from 1980. In all, it’s a deep dive into nerd history.

The film follows the cast as they demonstrate chess programs on ancient-looking computers and ponder the direction that technology will go. The film could have gotten way, way too cute on that last point, but thankfully does not, although it does present a fascinating snapshot of the dawn of the computer age.

There are also some amusing running jokes, such as a swingers convention taking place at the hotel at the same time, and one guy who showed up without a hotel room. There aren’t exactly laugh-out-loud moments, but “Computer Chess” has lots of awkward comedy.

The cast largely consists of unknowns, with the exception of Wiley Wiggins (the kid from “Dazed and Confused”) and Boston film critic Gerald Peary.

Bajalski, the man responsible for “Funny Ha Ha,” “Mutual Appreciation” and “Beeswax,” follows the trend of his brethren Joe Swanberg and Mark and Jay Duplass in branching out well beyond the original constraints of the mumblecore genre. “Computer Chess” might be the biggest leap of all.

 

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