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Roger Ebert Reviews ‘Computer Chess’ From the Great Beyond

Roger Ebert's 'Computer Chess' Review

It’s more been than three months since Roger Ebert passed away, but he’s still filing copy from the great beyond. Ebert’s site leads this morning with a previously unpublished review of Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess, and the site’s new editor, Matt Zoller Seitz, tells Criticwire there are more to come.

Unlike many critics, Ebert is lukewarm on Bujalski’s surreal mock-doc, but it’s an unexpected pleasure to find his voice still adding to the conversation. Here’s a sampling:

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….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.

More reviews:

Mike D’Angelo, A.V. Club:

In every way that matters, Computer Chess defies easy categorization. It’s the year’s most singular and adventurous movie to date, to the point where it feels not so much original — a word that conveys a strong sense of craft — as it does “isolated,” as in a mutant strain of a virus. What’s more, it’s fun, generating pleasure not from canned jokes or cliched plot twists but simply from a sense of unhindered freedom. 

Jesse Cataldo, Slant Magazine

Full of introverted professionals striving for mechanistic impassivity, while in turn trying to impart machines with the ability to approximate active human thought, it’s a unique, intriguing work, one that fittingly obliterates any residual “mumblecore” associations while detailing the depth of the director’s singular oddball vision. 

Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit:

Computer Chess carefully balances high-minded philosophy with comedy and pathos. All the while, Bujalski achieves an ultimate level of realism by enlisting a cast of computer savvy actors and non-actors who at least seem like they know what they’re rambling on about. The production design is the real show-stopper though; this is a masterfully stylized film that is saturated with authenticity.

A.O. Scott, New York Times:

Artificial intelligence remains an intoxicating theory and a heady possibility, about which I am hardly qualified to speak. But I do know real filmmaking intelligence when I see it.

Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

The film is also a great, thrilling leap into new and wholly original territory for Bujalski, a deeply strange, deeply funny comedy about analog techies in the mid-1980s that detours into hard science fiction, surrealism, and middle-aged hippie-cult sensualists.

Richard Brody, New Yorker

The result is a sort of electronic Western, with its outpost of digital duellists laying the hands-on groundwork for the vast modern virtual realm and exposing, at the outset, its unresolved peculiarities.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire:

Computer Chess excels at conveying the frustrations of feeling trapped by forces beyond one’s control, the complexities of humanity irresolvable by any neat code. 

Anthony Kaufman, Screen Daily

The film is likely to confound viewers, but it’s also a bizarre and fascinating retrograde portrait of an eccentric people and a faraway time.

Jordan Hoffman, Screencrush

I love movies that refuse to get stuck in a box, so a dreamy, daffy tale about humongous computers playing chess against one another is going to speak to me. If straight-ahead narratives and conventional story arcs are your bag, this one is not for you.

Andrew Pulver, Guardian:

Bujalski really has pulled off something extraordinary here: it won’t be to everyone’s taste, for sure — this is no War Games-style pop comedy. But as an act of cultural archaeology I can think of few better.

Adam Cook, Mubi:

For all its silliness, the philosophical questions at the film’s core, mockingly presented though they may be, carry a real weight.

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