TribLIVE

| AandE

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

'Computer Chess' puts the byte on old-school nerd territory

Kino Lorber
'Computer Chess,' shot in black and white, looks deceptively like an documentary from decades past.

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

‘Computer Chess'

★★★1⁄2 (out of 4)

Not rated

Limited release

Pittsburgher movie quiz for yunz

Is 'Birdman' star Michael Keaton the best actor with western Pennsylvania ties? Click here to play the Trib's tongue-in-cheek attempt to find out.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Barbara Vandenburgh
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 7:51 p.m.
 

For taking up so little physical and sociological space, narrow subcultures prove to be rich territory for mockumentary-style musings. And “Computer Chess,” a clever and supremely self-satisfied “found-footage” film set in (and filmed in the style of) the early 1980s, lampoons and celebrates the narrowest of possible subcultures: chess-software programmers.

The action unfolds in the conference room of a drab hotel during an annual tournament for men (and this year, one woman) hell-bent on creating a chess-playing program that finally can defeat a human chess master.

There's an endearing innocence to the era, nobody quite understanding the magnitude of the looming Information Age, though they know they're on the cusp of something profound (except for the one guy who sagely predicts, “You want to know the real future of computers? Dating.”).

The insular, obsessive programmers are Cold War-weary, resigned to the inevitability of World War III, wary of the militaristic applications of chess-playing computers. But, unable to stop the march of terrible progress, they plow ahead, inching closer and closer to developing a computer brain that mimics a human one. Let others worry about the practical applications.

It's also an era of clunky technology: large computers as weighty as wheelbarrows, whirring overhead projectors, plastic-framed eyeglasses it's hard to believe anyone ever thought looked good. It's complementarily filmed in the shaky monochrome of an old Sony camera.

It's clever. It's also occasionally a chore to watch, true to the boredom you'd expect to feel listening to computer programmers hash out chess logistics. It approaches its subjects not with the gleeful, madcap hilarity of a Christopher Guest mockumentary (“Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind”), but with the calculated precision of lines of code. It's the driest of wits — the psychic equivalent of chewing a mouthful of saltine crackers and not having a glass of milk with which to wash it down. You can admire a clever code, but you sure as heck can't love it.

Barbara Vandenburgh is a staff writer for the Arizona Republic.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Movies

  1. DVD reviews: ‘The Water Diviner,’ ‘Home’ and ‘White God’
  2. Kennywood’s 4-D Theater adds senses of touch, smell to moviegoing experience
  3. DVD reviews: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ and ‘Tangerines’
  4. Review: A pugilist parable of transformation in ‘Southpaw’
  5. Fuqua, Gyllenhaal trained side-by-side for Pittsburgh-shot ‘Southpaw’