starring Patrick Riester, Myles Page, James Curry, Robin Schwartz
written and directed by Andrew Bujalski
by Walter Chaw Sneakily, the best science-fiction film of the summer is Andrew "Godfather of Mumblecore" Bujalski's decidedly lo-fi Computer Chess, shot with a late-'60s, made-for-home-video Sony AVC-3260 analog tube video camera that approximates the very look and feel of something you'd find in a box in someone's garage. It endeavours to tell the story of a weekend tech convention where proto-hackers engage in mortal combat over who will be the first to create a computer chess program that can defeat a human master (Gerald Peary (!)) and, incidentally, collect a $75k booty. The money, though, is incidental to the glory of scientific discovery, of being the first to push the limits of artificial intelligence to the point of...what? Aggression? Sentience, perhaps? It's telling that Bujalski, at the forefront of a specific DIY subgenre of independent cinema reliant on largely-improvised performances with no budget nor, theoretically, affectation (it's like the American version of the Dogme95 movement), has produced the most affectless, genuine artifact of the dogme philosophy through his greatest feat of affectation: he's created a time capsule of an era in a film about the eternity of the human instinct to create simulacra first and deal with issues of functional equivalence later. In its way, Computer Chess works like a sprung, found-footage diary of the birth of Skynet. It's Mary Shelley, and Blade Runner, and it gets to being about what it's about without being an asshole about it.