Computer Chess
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Brief sensuality.
Theater: Lagoon.

Remember the early 1980s, when computers were bulky, balky and human chess masters could outmaneuver their best efforts? Mumblecore master Andrew Bujalski (“Funny Ha Ha”) carries us to those days of yesteryear, shooting with clunky period video equipment for just the right banal visual presentation. Schools such as MIT and Cal Tech dispatch their top nerds to a weekend tournament in a bland hotel, and the result is a shambling, Altmanesque ensemble comedy. Bujalski pits machine vs. man, man vs. woman, hotel guest vs. clerk, would-be swingers vs. automaton-like grad students, and hints of a SKYNET-like machine intelligence vs. spotty, dotty human consciousness.

While everyone in this agreeable but slug-slow trifle is a peripheral character, there are hints of a chesslike pecking order among the players, with a visiting grad school adviser and his impatient wife making a passive-aggressive king and queen. The period satire is painfully accurate, and several of the actors (Myles Paige as a prickly, overdressed popinjay programmer, Boston critic/filmmaker Gerald Peary as the pompous master of ceremonies) are droll delights. We know that computers got better at communicating over the past 30 years. As for humans, well, judge for yourself.

Prince Avalanche
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for some sexual content.
Theater: Landmark Lagoon.


Insecure, sententious Alvin (Paul Rudd) and his girlfriend’s horny younger brother Lance (Emile Hirsch) take jobs painting traffic lines on a rural Texas highway in an area that’s been wasted by a wildfire. It’s a far cry from writer/director David Gordon Green’s last few films, like “Your Highness” and “Pineapple Express.” The cinematography is beautiful, and the score by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo heightens the juxtaposition of peace and restlessness. Rudd and Hirsch can’t carry the spare, directionless plot, though. Lance’s stories of his sexual escapades are a hoot, and scenes including a salty truck driver (Lance Le Gault) provide a much-needed diversion. But this is ultimately an acting showcase gone awry, and you wind up feeling as agitated and bored as the main characters.