Saturday, May 4, 2013

Day Seven

(No day six because I took a night off on Wednesday)

Frances Ha
I first became a big fan of Noah Baumbach after seeing his The Squid and the Whale, and since then have been disappointed by his cinematic output. Margot at the Wedding was unpleasantness apparently for its own sake, and while I liked Greenberg a good deal more it didn't rise to the level of apparently-effortless naturalism. Not that Squid was realistic, exactly, but it felt true.

This new film, while not even attempting to reach the same levels of emotion, succeeds in feeling right. I fear that my words are not doing a good job of explaining what's so good about Baumbach's best works, but I'll say this: Frances Ha's black-and-white, low budget, 20-somethings-in-New-York aesthetic is enough to carry the weight for a mostly-disconnected set of circumstances the title character finds herself in.

Computer Chess
I had planned on this evening being a double feature of mumblecore, given the filmographies of Gerwig (star and cowriter of the first film) and Bujalski (director of this one). His Mutual Appreciation was my introduction to the "genre". But neither film actually ended up fitting the mold very well. Computer Chess was by far the more divergent.

Set at an A.I. chess tournament in 1984, the first half of the movie seems to be a fond send-up of the culture of computing academia/industry, featuring professors, grad students, engineers, and hangers-on. As the movie develops, however, things start to get weird, and while I found the ride enough fun to stick with it the oddity of the second half (dreams, cats, a group of new age swingers sharing the hotel conference room with the nerds) hard to fit into the framework I'd built for the film. What are these spot-on characterizations of programmers doing in this plot?

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