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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Film capsules: Computers, anime and music

"Computer Chess" — Over the weekend, I went down to Hudson and caught the new film “Computer Chess.” “Computer Chess” represents something of a departure for its director, Andrew Bujalski, who made a name for himself directing low-budget mumblecore films that depict smart young adults fumbling their way through relationships. “Computer Chess,” in contrast, depicts smart young computer programmers, circa 1982, fumbling their way toward a better understanding of artificial intelligence.

Filmed using a video camera from about 30 years ago (“Computer Chess” could be mistaken for a documentary), the film is set in a hotel hosting a convention for teams of software programmers, who have written chess-playing programs and are trying to beat each other in tournament-style competition. These programmers dream of the day when a computer finally beats a human at chess, and debate complex technological matters when they’re not working. Eventually a protagonist emerges: A socially awkward programmer named Peter (Patrick Riester), who becomes convinced that his computer can detect when it’s playing against a human, rather than a machine, and becomes more engaged as a result. Of course, his adviser tells him that this is nonsense, because machines are not conscious.

“Computer Chess” is an odd little film with a wry sense of humor and genuine affection for its nerd characters. As it progresses, it becomes increasingly unhinged and surreal, but never loses its bearings, plumbing provocative philosophical ideas in a gentle, humorous way. I’m not sure I would recommend this film to just anybody, because it really is peculiar. But if it sounds intriguing to you, you should definitely check it out.

Also worth watching: Bujalski’s other films: “Funny Ha Ha,” “Mutual Appreciation” and “Beeswax”

"Cowboy Bebop: The Movie" — I had a blast watching this 2002 anime, despite having never seen the cult TV series on which it’s based. (I do plan to watch the TV series now.) Set on Mars, the film revolves around a group of intergalactic bounty hunters and their efforts to track down a crazy bioterrorist who wants to destroy all human life. The plot isn’t anything special, but the film’s characters, animation and sharp sense of humor more than make up for it: The visuals are often dazzling, the characters are interesting and fun and director Shinichiro Watanabe has numerous curveballs and witty non sequitors up his sleeve. The soundtrack is also pretty fantasy. This film is a romp, with some surprisingly poignant moments.

Also worth watching: The cult Joss Whedon show “Firefly,” which is what “Cowboy Bebop” reminded me of, at least a little.

"Gadjo Dilo" — I don’t know what possessed me to watch this 1988 film about a young French man who travels to Romania in search of his father’s favorite singer, a Gypsy vocalist, but I’m really glad I did. This is an energetic, fascinating, romantic and thoroughly entertaining film, about an idealistic traveler who ends up living with a group of Gypsies, recording their music and falling in love with a young Gypsy woman. This film would be worth seeing for the musical scenes alone, but it also succeeds as a coming-of-age story and a love story. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed “Gadjo Dilo.”

Also worth watching: The 2000 film “Songcatcher,” about a musicologist who travels to rural Appalachia to visit her sister, and winds up studying the music of the people who live there and falling in love.

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