Writer and director Andrew Bujalski's insanely strange Computer Chess feels beamed down from an alien race that recently discovered analog video cameras. Shot using lo-fi filmmaking equipment and littered with synch sound issues and blurred compositions, the film is purposefully amateurish, a kind of love letter to 1980s nerd culture and the dawn of modern computers.
Set during an annual computer-chess competition at a nondescript hotel in 1982, Bujalski's black-and-white oddity is a mosaic of obsessive compulsives. The best and brightest from the academic (MIT, Cal Tech) and corporate sectors compete in chess matches using programmed computer codes. The ultimate prize, more important than any cash award, is the chance to face off against a human chess champion.
As rigorous and specific as this scenario sounds, Bujalski never makes the film feel exclusive. Casual conversations between key players are initially impenetrable, like lines of incongruent programming code spurted out at random. But, eventually, their sporadic conversations about artificial intelligence, the military-industrial complex and new-age theology become familiar ways of masking other themes like loneliness, control and failure.
One could imagine variations of Computer Chess ' rambling narrative occurring throughout the hotels of downtown San Diego during Comic-Con. Passionate shut-ins find each other randomly and discuss the minutia of minutia until the wee morning hours. Yet the film is often too awkward for its own good, a little too impressed with its Beckett-like randomness. Unfortunately, the more absurd instances are treated like punch lines even though they contain a melancholic sadness that is far more interesting.
Still, the fact that Computer Chess —opening Friday, Aug. 2, at the Ken Cinema—exists in the first place is kind of amazing. It views intelligence not as a malady or quirky virtue, but a genuinely valued human trait easily warped by obsession.
2 Guns : Plenty of bullets will be spent in this action comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington as dueling law-enforcement officers trying to clear their names.
Blue Jasmine : Woody Allen's latest comedy showcases the amazing Cate Blanchett as an entitled 1-percenter who experiences a harrowing fall from grace.
Computer Chess : Man takes on machine in this singular independent film from director Andrew Buljaski about a chess tournament set in the 1980s.
Drift : Sam Worthington ( Avatar ) stars in this surfing drama about two brothers who challenge the boundaries of the ocean and society in the 1970s.
Global Film Festival: This series of feature films from Mexico, Iraq, China, India and South Africa were selected for their authentic voice, engaging aesthetics and striking cultural perspectives. It runs Aug. 2 through 8 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park. Get details at digitalgym.org.
More than Honey : This documentary by Markus Imhoof investigates why large numbers of honey bees have been dying off around the world. Screens for one week at the Ken Cinema.
Mysteries of Egypt : Glorious imagery of the Nile River Valley provides the backdrop to this engaging journey through the Land of the Pharaohs. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
One Time Only
The Lorax : Dr. Seuss' classic about a grumpy creature who helps a young boy find courage gets the big-screen treatment. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido.
The Graduate : Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson? Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Sunshine Daydream : Experience The Grateful Dead in their prime with this concert documentary originally shot at the Oregon County Fair in 1972. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, at various theaters. Check fathomevents.com for details.
The Avengers : Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and the rest of the crew assemble to fend off Loki and his hordes of invaders in Joss Whedon's mega-superhero film. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1 at the U.S.S. Midway.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off : Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, at Arclight La Jolla.
Pretty in Pink : Duckie (Jon Cryer) tries to win the heart of Andie (Molly Ringwald) despite the presence of stud Blane (Andrew McCarthy) in this classic 1980s romantic comedy. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 1 and 2, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Grabbers : Blood-sucking aliens invade Ireland, and the only way to survive is by staying glaringly inebriated with alcohol. Presented by The Film Geeks, it screens at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 2 and 3, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
America's Finest Film Festival: The beauty and diversity of San Diego gets highlighted in 18 short films presented by local videographers and producers. Begins at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at USD's Warren Auditorium.
The Big Sleep : Howard Hawks brings Raymond Chandler's classic potboiler to the screen with Humphrey Bogart as sharp-tongued detective Phillip Marlowe. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 3 and 4, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Dirty Dancing : Nobody puts Baby in a corner. Except The Swayze! Screens at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4, at Arclight La Jolla.
With My Two Wheels and Single Track High : North Park beer bar TigerTiger! presents two films on the subject of bike riding and how it can change the world. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 5.
Beat Street : Relive the 1980s hip-hop boom with this drama about an aspiring DJ and a promoter who attempt to make it big in New York City. Screens at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 5, at Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Forks Over Knives : If you love red meat, this documentary about animal-based and processed foods might scare you into vegetarianism. Screens at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, at Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Labyrinth : Goblin King David Bowie stalks young innocent Jennifer Connelly in this wacky 1980s fantasy film that only gets weirder with age. Screens at 10 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 6 and 7, at Reading Grossmont and Town Square Cinemas.
Hunger Games : The cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 skewers Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her quest to survive the ultimate battle royale. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido.
Jaws : There's no other fitting way to bid adieu to the summer than with Steven Spielberg's PSA against swimming. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Adventures in Wild California : The splendors of California get the IMAX treatment in this breathtaking documentary featuring a plethora of natural and human wonders. Ends Aug. 1 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Attack : An Israeli Palestinian surgeon finds his life destroyed after his wife is accused of conducting a suicide bombing that leaves countless dead. It's directed by Ziad Doueiri ( West Beirut ).
Blackfish : SeaWorld and its potentially corrupt business practices take a shellacking in this documentary about the killer whale responsible for three deaths during its time in captivity.
Broche de Oro : Three senior citizens escape their strict retirement home for a road trip to the sea in this comedy from Puerto Rico. Ends Aug. 1 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Crystal Fairy : Northern Chile's Atacama Desert provides the backdrop to this road film about 20-somethings (Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffman) seeking the ultimate psychedelic drug trip. Ends Aug. 1 at the Ken Cinema.
Smurfs 2 : Another Smurfs movie, because why not? Opens Wednesday, July 31.
Storm Surfers 3D : Surfing legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones travel the globe seeking the ultimate wave, in 3-D.
The To-Do List : Aubrey Plaza ( Parks and Recreation ) finally gets a leading role in this comedy about a high-school senior hoping to gain some life experience before heading off to college.
The Wolverine : Hugh Jackman reprises his iconic role as the immortal clawed X-Man battling a brutal band of Yakuza in modern Japan.
The Conjuring : Ghosts and demons haunt a large suburban family who just moved into a rickety Rhode Island home with a dark past. It's directed by horror maestro James Wan ( Insidious , Saw ).
Girl Most Likely : Kristin Wiig brings her patented self-deprecating humor to this story about a failed New York playwright forced to spend time with her overbearing mother (Annette Benning) and start anew. Ends Aug. 1 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Drew: The Man Behind the Poster : Documentary about the iconic movie-poster artist Drew Struzan, whose work on the Star Wars films, among others, has become legendary.
Only God Forgives : Seeped in neon reds and yellows, this psychedelic nightmare from director Nicolas Winding Refn ( Drive ) follows an American expat (Ryan Gosling) as he attempts to avenge his brother's murder in Thailand.
Reds 2 : Bruce Willis and his aged assassins once again try to defend their lawn chairs from shadowy government forces and international terrorists.
R.I.P.D .: Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds play undead police officers protecting Earth from ghouls and goblins attempting to take over the world. Hilarity ensues.
Still Mine : Local authorities stymie an elderly couple's dream of building their final home, resulting in a David and Goliath story set in rural New Brunswick.
Turbo : A normal garden snail finds that a freak accident has given him some unexpected powers in the speed department, allowing him to compete in the Indy 500.
A Hijacking : This thrilling drama depicts negotiations surrounding the seizure of a Danish vessel by Somali pirates and the survival of the sailors onboard. Ends Aug. 1 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Grown Ups 2 : Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Kevin James return for another round of juvenile debauchery in this sequel to the 2010 comedy.
Pacific Rim : From the mind of Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro: The world is under attack by reptilian monsters, so mankind resorts to building gigantic robots as the last line of defense.
The Way, Way Back : A 14-year-old boy finds self-worth during a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her combative new boyfriend (Steve Carell).
20 Feet From Stardom : Backup singers for today's superstars finally take center stage in this music documentary featuring a range of inspirational stories about artistic endurance and passion.
Despicable Me 2 : Gru (Steve Carell) and his army of minions attempt to transcend their roles as villains and save the world in this sequel to the popular 2010 animated film.
Hannah Arendt : A biopic about the philosopher who wrote a controversial series of articles about the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker .
I'm So Excited! : Pedro Almodóvar returns to more playful terrain in this racy comedy about a malfunctioning airplane packed with hysterical characters on the verge of nervous breakdowns. Ends Aug. 1 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain : Filmed at a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden during a 2012 concert tour, this documentary showcases the comedian's brash style and formidable presence.
The Lone Ranger : The masterminds behind Pirates of the Caribbean hope to find similar success with this mega-budget adaptation of the classic Western hero (Armie Hammer) and his mystical sidekick (Johnny Depp).
The Heat : Yet another riff on the classic buddy comedy, this time starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as polar-opposite cops tasked with capturing a brutal drug lord. From Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.
Unfinished Song : A bitter curmudgeon (Terrence Stamp) is encouraged by his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) to join a local seniors choir and find his inner song in this charming comedic drama from director Paul Andrew Williams.
White House Down : Yippy-ki-yay, Magic Mike! Channing Tatum does his best John McClane impersonation when terrorists storm the White House and take the president (Jamie Foxx) hostage. Helmed by disaster-movie-director extraordinaire Roland Emmerich ( Independence Day ).
Monsters University : Professional frighteners and quibbling buddies Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) are back for Pixar's first-ever prequel set during their wild college days.
Much Ado About Nothing : The Avengers director Joss Whedon steps out of his comfort zone and updates the Bard's classically romantic skirmish of wits with this jazzy black-and-white ensemble piece.
World War Z : The zombie apocalypse is in full swing as Brad Pitt attempts to save the world from certain demise. It's based on the popular graphic novel by Max Brooks.
Man of Steel : Director Zach Snyder ( 300 , Watchmen ) attempts yet another reboot of the Superman origin story with Henry Cavill sporting the famous tights and Amy Adams cracking wise as Lois Lane.
This is the End : It's the end of the world as we know it, and the Judd Apatow reunion tour feels just fine. Directed by Seth Rogen, this comedy apocalypse is sure to include multiple plumes of ganja smoke.
The Internship : Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson try to re-train themselves in the digital age with a Google internship. Prepare yourself for Lewinsky jokes.
Before Midnight : Almost two decades after Richard Linklater teamed up with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on the romantic fantasy Before Sunrise , the trio comes together for the final film of the trilogy. Jessie and Celine aren't as young as they used to be, and that makes it the best of all of them. Ends Aug. 1 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Now You See Me : Four illusionists—Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco—pull off amazing heists against the 1 percent and give the money to the rest of us.
Star Trek: Into Darkness : The sequel to J.J. Abrams' rollicking reboot feels more like a summer blockbuster than a vital part of the Trek universe. Still, it's always good to see Benedict Cumberbatch on the big screen.
The Great Gatsby : Baz Luhrmann, who made Moulin Rouge , takes on the American literary classic. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jay Gatsby in this tale of class warfare.
Rocky Mountain Express: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was recently overhauled. This latest entry takes viewers through the Canadian Rockies without leaving San Diego.
Cosmic Collisions : So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
To the Arctic 3-D : Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.