Saturday, January 18, 2014

Short Cut Movie Review: Computer Chess

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess is like a strange vintage relic from the indie movement of the early 90s. It’s shot on what looks to be analog video, but may be manipulated digital video. Its flat, low contrast black and white cinematography is reminiscent of low budget films of that era. It has more in common with Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but also sometimes feels like early Jim Jarmusch. However, it has a rougher video finish that doesn’t even look as good as those amateur 16mm productions.

Without any really recognizable actors (Wylie Wiggins has appeared in a couple of Richard Linklater movies), you might mistake this either for amateur home movies from the mid-80s or an early independent film. So-called indies of the modern era still tend to have known actors and a polished finish. That’s why this feels so out of place in 2013.

The screenplay has an improvised feel to it. The story takes place in a hotel during a weekend convention of computer programmers in 1984 presenting their latest chess software to compete with human players. The shot composition, editing style, improvisational nature of the dialogue, and naturalistic delivery suggest a documentary style, although this is a work of fiction.

The film is ostensibly a comedy, producing more chuckles than guffaws. It teases itself as satire, but may be much funnier to anyone who worked in computer programming in those early days. I kept feeling like I was on the outside of some kind of extended and complex inside joke. It all loses steam after about thirty minutes when you realize the jokes are so low-key as to be almost non-existent.

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