This low key mockumentary is so dry in it’s humor that it’s more likely to produce a nostalgic or rueful smile than a belly laugh. Set at a 1980s man vs. computer chess competition, and shot on what looks like a video camera from the time, it certainly succeeds in capturing a time, place and atmosphere.
On the other hand, some of it starts to get a bit repetitive and meandering. Unlike Christopher Guest’s hysterical mockumentaries, this is so close to ‘real’ for much of it’s length that it started to wear down a bit. And then when it switches to a more ‘over-the-top’ tone, as when one of the young leads is hit on by a pair of middle-aged swingers, it suddenly feels like a scene from another film.
None-the-less, this is an impressive accomplishment, using it’s lack of budget as a plus to create the feel of a truly home made documentary of the time. It may not be brilliant, but it’s sweet, inventive, and fun, which puts it well ahead of most of what’s out there.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A fun and quirky movieOct. 13 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
I saw this movie with my girlfriend at the screening in Tallahassee, just around the corner from Florida State University. I'm a lifelong computer nerd and Computer Science student that appreciates quirky movies, dry humor, and whatnot. I also grew up during an era of computers that came just after those depicted in this movie and so that aspect was very nostalgic for me. My girlfriend, on the other hand, isn't a computer nerd at all. So, I think the fact that we both found this movie very enjoyable and almost fell out of our chairs laughing at least once or twice makes for a pretty good vote of confidence. I admit that this one isn't for everyone but I also think that a lot of people could really enjoy the movie. It's very different but I found that quite refreshing and I think that others will as well.
I think that out of everything which I enjoyed about the movie, it was the characters that really took it home for me. They're all so different and each have their own little back story which makes for interesting interactions among the characters. I think that these back stories were developed well enough so that some of the characters really had a good sense of depth. But at the same time, this movie wasn't always about depth. A lot of it was very situational; you get to enjoy watching how the characters interact or get involved in some pretty awkward situations.
So, give it a chance. I think that you could come away very happy that you gave this somewhat "artsy" or "indy" film a chance. I know I did.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Lightweight computer nerd mockumentary, bamboozles critics, desperate for early 80s nostalgiaJan. 19 2014
- Published on Amazon.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1984, I was invited by a friend to a poker game, who happened to have the latest in video equipment at the time and taped all the raunchy conversations between the games' participants, for most of the night. With a little editing, I mind's well submit this old tape to the Sundance Festival. Given the current mindset of most film critics today, with their preening and slavish devotion to anything in the least nostalgic, I might have a good chance of winning some kind of award.
I can find no other explanation as to why the critics were taken in by 'Computer Chess', except for this love of nostalgia. Certainly it's not the Computer Chess plot that is at all engaging; creator Andrew Bujalski saw to that. But what he did do was shot the film on the old Portapak cameras, giving one the impression that this mockumentary, about a computer chess convention, actually took place in the early 1980s. As we gaze up on the screen, we see that Bujalski mimics old video--the dimensions aren't large enough to fill the entire theater screen (just like my old 1984 video appears, when I play it back on my computer today). Bujalski also populates the screen with images of beloved old computers and text from word processors, which none of us have seen in decades.
So it's a sort of hypnotism that's going on here. It doesn't really matter what happens as far as the story is concerned. It's a meandering affair, where we can get the basic idea in the first fifteen minutes. Think 'The Big Bang Theory' meets 'Bobby Fischer'. A group of nerds have developed software programs, which they pit against one another over games of chess. The games take place at a low-rent hotel where there are two other groups in attendance: a new age group led by a guru from Africa and a bunch of swingers.
Bujalski is actually aiming for laughs in this lightweight spoof. His main nerd is a boorish guy who discovers that the hotel never received his reservation, so he's forced to crash in different rooms of his fellow convention attendees, every night. Due to a mix up, the nerds must share their convention room with the new age group and there's also another bit, where a libidinous couple attempts to seduce another one of the nerds, without success.
Computer Chess is strictly for those who have a nostalgic longing for the early 80s. It's a film with a little style but virtually no substance. While Bujalski looks sympathetically at his computer nerds, their machinations are of little consequence. For more sophisticated film-goers, avoid this lightweight debacle, like the plague.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Quirky and interestingOct. 12 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
Computer Chess is one of those movies you leave thinking about for a bit afterwards. There are several parts which, to me at least, are somewhat puzzling in a good way as if there's deeper meanings. Meaning as in whatever you make of it, a style I personally love most of all in a movie experience.
The humor is quite dry and awkward, so it won't appeal to everybody, but "everybody" humor is stale and dumb; although I don't deny their funniness, I think I've had enough Sunny in Philadelphia or Family Guy-type obnoxious comedy. The performances are pretty good in a plain sort of way, as in they are acted realistically to the uber-nerdiness of the characters. Some of them feel like their just playing themselves, and they're all very lovable. Well written dialogue and direction for the actors, who pulled off quite the feat with Computer Chess' home-video feel; the movie gives a very nice documentary realism to me not only in the performances, but also the cinematography.
As an amateur B/W film photographer, I really appreciate the B/W use in Computer Chess; I absolutely adore the old-school video, which is how they shot most of the movie--a major experimental part of the film. Funny, usually experimental is synonymous with being new--avante garde--yet, for Computer Chess it is simply harkening back to long forgotten technology. Even the era of the movie also lends itself to the smart use of B/W and the movie's believability as a documentary. When there isn't B/W, or the footage quality shifts to higher resolution, cues me for a major sign of hidden meaning to theorize and decipher--another cool part of using old digital filming technique. Personally, I love visual hints in the photography of films rather than being written out before me through obvious dialogue. There are also of course other times in the movie where the editing gives a clue about having to pay closer attention and even re-watch to figure out an abstract statement of the overall story.
So, there we are, pretty much all I had to say about a good movie. Thoroughly enjoyed the acting, comedy and visual style from the B/W usage and home-video recording as well as a bit of trippy editing, too.
Oh! By the way...
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
one of 2013's bestOct. 12 2013
Lucas Simon Foster
- Published on Amazon.com
I went to see 'Computer Chess' at a theatre in Los Angeles and noticed that the filmmaker, Andrew Bujalski, was standing in the theatre's lobby, near me. I spoke w/ him briefly to tell him I was a fan of his previous films, and then he put the microphone he was using to speak before the screening to my mouth, telling me I could say whatever I wanted to, which made both of us chuckle. He smiled and shook my hand and told me he was happy I was at the screening, and then I watched the film. It seems hard to review a movie that comes from such an intelligent, brave filmmaker. I think this movie is better than me. I felt entertained and pleasantly challenged by 'Computer Chess' throughout. The dialogue feels at once extremely realistic and 'trippy' in a powerful, totally unique way. Most scenes made me genuinely laugh b/c of the 'awkward' characters, or rendered me silent w/ awe b/c of a moment that I felt was visually stunning-- the b&w and vid camera make for, i feel, consistently stimulating visuals-- or philosophically profound. This movie felt like a masterpiece to me in the way that listening to 'OK Computer' felt like a masterpiece to me when I first heard it towards the end of 5th grade. I hope I have been successful in persuading you to watch this movie.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Back to the future: liberation of the sixty four squared gridMay 7 2014
- Published on Amazon.com
Computer Chess is an interesting attempt to capture the feelings of an other era(the 80s) through a simpler technology(Sony ATC-3260 tube camera).It's a paradox, because computer chess was about developing computer software programmes to take on human beings in games of chess.This film depicts a conference held in a hotel where different programmers meet in an annual tournament to find a winner.At the same time in the hotel there is a bizarre cult of seekers into sexual and spiritual awakening, using group awareness exercises. We are going back to the simpler forms of computer technology,when programmers instilled their intelligence levels up into a computing chess programme.It's the early form of artificial intelligence.The fact that it's in black and white is because of the technical limitation of video but it strangely enhances the beauty of effect,with dull/shallow focus,grey palette and the blooms and smears of light.Necessity the mother of invention.The documentary format the best way into this world,a homage to it.We also get the clunky machinery involved.
These nerd-voyagers are on the frontiers of new mental worlds.Their awkwardness showing their indifference to human reality,as the machines become more human,showing traits of consciousness and moods.Chess is really a Maguffin,since you do not actually see any games carried out in detail.Instead the film shows the point when human intelligence merges with computation,the eccentric frontier and its border guards,geniuses,weirdos,geeks of all persuasions,dope-freaks,conspiracy theorists,mavericks,folkies.There are times in the film that it seems a Magritte painting is coming to life,like where programmers become chess pieces,or hotel corridors look like something out of Last Year in Marienbad,the invasion of fluffy cats,and the strange robot woman in the lobby.
Peter Bishton(Reister) forms the film's central focus,reserved,introverted,awkward,floundering from one situation to the next,unable to express his anxieties,discomforts.His eye the still logical centre of the apocalyptic changes.The attempt of the one female in the tournament to flirt with him is funny.There is a sub-plot of a man, Papageorge,without a hotel room,bedding down wherever he can,ending up sleeping under a table in the conference room,where he is woken by a couples' therapy group and subjected to a rebirthing.There's also a mix-up where the chess players have to share the conference room with the new agers.A couple of swingers attempt to seduce Peter without success.Machine-man who avoids social development clashes with more liberated forms of social behaviour.Minorities like "the African" and "the woman" stick out like sore thumbs.
Drab realism mutates into surrealistic effects,blips.bleeps,jumps,split screens,speeded-up film,coloured loops of repeated footage.Machines fall victim to glitches;TSAR 3.0's propensity for `committing suicide',pointlessly sacrificing Queens or chasing after pawns.Inconsistencies move in like inserted bugs,with technical hiccups, bizarre shot choices,streaking,haloed images, contributing to narrative dysfunction.There is a strain of paranoia,the suspicion of spooks from the Pentagon,lurking about the competition,looking to apply these technologies to the military-industrial-complex. The idea of computer dating is nascent.To the classic mind the grid square is a liberating system with endless possibilities,butto the hippies this shows the limits of a square existence.In their way these oddball independents are struggling to break free of limited mind-sets and bereborn. An image of a camera pointing at the sun,mirrors the Icarus-like hubris of computer geeks overstretching their equipment to soar.Bujalski has made quite a film layered like a seed-bed,germinating thoughts long afterwards.