By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
The Indiewire network has a bevy of critics whose opinion I respect, but occasionally they laud a film that I don’t quite… get.
No, this was AWESOME
Computer Chess is the latest by “mumblecore” (I think I’ve found ya problem there) scion Andrew Bujalski, and just so happens to be one of the favorite films this year by many an Indiewire critic. It’s about a 1980s computer chess tournament back when the computer dorks were relegated to third-rate Holiday Inn conference rooms.
You can’t deny that Bujalski has a… unique vision. He starts out trying to recreate what a film of an actual 1980s computer chess tournament would look like, right down to the vintage computers, painfully awkward non-professional (or at least trying to be) actors sporting giant glasses and unfortunate haircuts, and even original cheap black and white cameras. Then, once you’re getting comfortable and almost starting to buy into this simulated reality, shit gets weird.
It starts with some sort of bread-massaging, middle-aged Omaha swingers group sharing the conference center, then starts going all the way down the rabbit hole of mysterious cats, naked ladies, and a whole bunch of other randomness. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it to some extent.
Pablo Larrain’s No went for this same lo-fi 1980s aesthetic, but pulled it off much better. Here, the polish of modern equipment leaks through, especially the lighting, which gives the film a cheap soap opera look (but in classy black & white!) at times.
Also, some of the actors are better at playing “natural” than others. Those that can’t take you right out of the film.
Look, Ma, I’m actin’!
One reviewer called this film “Altman-esque”, but the only thing I can discern about this film related to that master director is the overlapping dialogue. While it’s supposed to make speech sound more natural, what it really does is render it indecipherable.
The principal problem with Computer Chess, though, is that it is self-important to the point of ridiculousness. Whether it’s the character’s fault or Bujalski’s, the end result is the same… it’s pretty hard to empathize or really feel any connection with anyone in the film. Eventually you stop wondering whether the confusing plot is due your inability to follow a deeper intelligence than your own and realize that nope, it’s just someone desperately trying to convince you that they have a deeper intelligence than your own. Stanley Kubrick this ain’t.
Interestingly made, and occasionally compelling, but overall feels rather empty.
Take a Drink: Hi cat(s)! Best. Hotel Room. Ever.
Take a Drink: every time attention is called to the camera/filming in progress
Take a Drink: for each new round
Do a Shot: whenever Papageorge talks shit