In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_mv5bmtq1mze4mte3of5bml5banbnxkftztgwotcyndm3nte_._v1__sx1216_sy640_

Amy

Sometimes, it feels as if we are eavesdropping on day-to-day conversations rather than just hearing the usual litany of platitudes and regrets.

Thumb_large_nxcfdsanskih09xq74fjnyhw4g0

Stray Dog

"Stray Dog" largely succeeds because Granik's technique complements her subject. Both he and the film are modest in their goals and cherish the value of…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Computer Chess

Computer Chess Movie Review
  |  

[Editor's note: Roger Ebert filed this review in March, 2013. It was not the last review he ever wrote—that would be his piece on "To the Wonder"—but it's one of them.] 

Here's a movie by nerds, for nerds, and about nerds. Set in the early 1980s, it claims to be a doc about a convention held to pit rival computer chess programs against each other. If you see it, as I did, without any advance knowledge that it's a spoof, the (limited) fun comes in how soon it takes you to realize you're being put on.  It's a variation of the old classroom exercise about Swift's essay on the solution to the problem of hunger in Ireland. He proposed that the Irish eat their babies.

Although there' a $7500 grand prize, the competitors are in it for bragging rights. The writer-director, Andrew Bujalski, has gone to much trouble, and no doubt rummaged garage sales, to assemble early computers, low-tech analog video cams, and contestants who fit a checklist of nerd stereotypes: the oversized horn-rims, the pocket protectors, the shirts hanging out at the belt in back.

The convention is held in a low-rent motel that's hosting two other conventions: Some sort of know-thyself group, and a club of swinging singles. The Know Thyselfs get down on the rug and wrestle with their demons, while the partner of one swinger casually toys with a button on the blouse of the woman he brought with him. His nerd prey looks as if he may not have ever had sex, or if he has, didn't want any more.

These nerds aren't to be distracted by sex or self-knowledge. In a late-night pot-smoking session before the convention begins, they're more absorbed by the larger problems of artificial intelligence—whether the computers are in any sense thinking, or only calculating faster than a human can. We're still on pause at that point.

In its technical specs, "Computer Chess" is flawless. All of the clunky old equipment makes us wonder how the computer pioneers ever got anything accomplished. They must have been very patient. But we know right off the bat this is a put-on. The giveaway: There's footage of the cameraman and his camera. The simple fact of this film is unlikely enough. The probability of a film about it, one that also films the swinging and self-helping , even more so. As an achievement, "Computer Chess" is laudable. As a film, it's missable.

Popular Blog Posts

Why Can't Sad Be Fat?

A rebuttal to Joni Edelman's piece on "Inside Out."

The Unloved, Part 19: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

The July 2015 edition of The Unloved looks at Andrew Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert...

Sex Symbol Without Auteur: The Strange Case of the Gina Lollobrigida Filmography

Three films starring Gina Lollobrigida have been released on Blu-ray; Glenn Kenny looks at them and her entire career.

“Scream” and “Zoo” Seek to Raise the Summer TV Body Count

MTV's Scream and CBS's Zoo premiere tonight. One is worth your time. Which one?

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus