Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Two, K?

Computer Chess, in which I copy and paste Brandon and then respond.

"I love your thoughts on COMPUTER CHESS though I didn’t get any of that from the actual film. For me the film’s crux was in the origins of artificial intelligence, and how computers are just extensions of our own flawed intellect."

Sure. What's interesting about the film, though, is that for all of its focus on super-smart nerds, the film explicitly explores relational identity and not specifically intelligence, flawed or otherwise.

"I loved the subplot of the computer that couldn’t play other computers correctly and all of the bizarre and paranoid theories that erupted as a result."

Sure. And I think that you are right that this computer should be seen as an extension of the human mind that built it. For me, one of the funniest lines in the movie is something like "What game is he playing?" when the computer starts making seemingly random moves. Chess is an orderly game, a logical game. Human relationships are rarely orderly or logical.

"These characters are a petty bunch and I wish the that CC would have explored the burgeoning relationship between Peter and Shelley rather than meander around the hotel in search of more idiosyncratic distractions, more food for thought. I thought that about half of these stories were decent while the others were just there to assist the finale. I didn’t much like the storyline involving the other group sharing the conference room and I felt that a lot of scenes were wasted on that, none more annoying than the scenes with Peter and the swinging married couple."

Sure. But, here's where the film is brilliant. Instead of following a single thread and developing it, it hops around its plots as if it's distracted by hyperlinks in a Facebook feed, always returning to the central story but stopping to watch YouTube kitten videos and getting a dose of pseudo-intellectualism by skimming some drug-fueled philosophical essay before returning to see what your other friends are up to.

Initially, I felt the same way that you do about the conference group and the married couple. I spent some time thinking about WHY those elements are there. I don't think that the movie is just randomly slapped together. That group is there to emphasize that this film is "about" relationships, not artificial intelligence. These sleazy swingers are perfectly portrayed as pathetically searching for some next thing to jolt their relationship. They don't know how to relate to one another outside of bringing in new stimuli, whether it's a third partner in bed or some sort of ritualistic simulated bread sex. Contrasted with this are the nerds who carry their computers with them everywhere, staying up late with their computers, sleeping with them. The scenes of these guys (and gal) carrying the giant computers in are funny. They also serve as a cultural commentary because we're all nerds now, carrying our computers in our pockets or in our laptop bags into our hotel rooms to fall asleep to that wonderful blue glow.

"I admire any film---initially--- for administering an “anything can happen” aesthetic but this also brings me to the bland visual construct here. Initially it exists to evoke a time and place, wryly and for the sake of a laugh, but as characters start to lose it why wouldn’t Bujalski stick with the bland visuals. If this thing is truly set free why not switch it up? I know that might sound like a petty complaint but it bothered me. It’s interesting considering Cuaron’s “hackneyed and frustratingly empty” philosophical/theological attempts compared to CC’s visual ineptitude and what I guess I would considered half baked ideas I could go on but in the end I enjoyed it for the most part. I don’t share your enthusiasm obviously but I can see how you would go bonkers for it."

I think that CC is more carefully constructed than you give it credit for. And I don't agree that the film consists entirely of "bland visuals." The look is, of course, intentional and perfectly evokes (as does the acting and set design) the atmosphere of hope and longing that existed in an age coming out of the 70s and heading into the 80s. And I don't think that the ideas are "half baked" either. I do think that each digression circles around and adds to the film's center, the computer chess tournament. The film ends with a startling punchline that might just seem like another wacky thing for the sake of "anything can happen" but I think that it serves to underline the theme of the film, that so many people find it easier to relate to a machine (or other people mediated through a machine) than to other people. Every human contact is frustrated. Finally, we embrace the machine.

I may have been primed to see all of this in CC by having read this article around the same time that I watched CC:
"Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan's giant cities, are "spiralling away from each other". Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms "Pot Noodle love" – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality "girlfriends", anime cartoons. Or else they're opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes."
"Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can't get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers."

I might try to write about Gravity later. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Futures Past

I owe Brando a post. Here it is. Short and not so sweet.

I don't think that I have to write about Star Trek Into Darkness. It is a film with no integrity. There are a few thrills and a little bit of swollen excitement in the service of teen boy fantasies. Admittedly, I might have loved this steaming pile of spaceturd when I was 10 or so. There's enough in it to keep interest and I might have even been generous and given it three stars instead of two, but I can't forgive the blatant misogyny of having a shot of a woman undressing and standing in her underwear, which shot adds NOTHING to the plot of the movie. There is no reason for it except to titillate young boys. Bah humbug.

Computer Chess, I've mentioned repeatedly to Brandon, has captured my imagination. It is an alternative Terminator in which there is no violent Skynet robot uprising because the robots have already won. Computer Chess outlines the seeds of revolution that led to our current science fiction reality of constantly tending to our electronic masters, serving them feasts of electricity and showering them with our loving devotion. In a world in which everyone has forgotten how to look one another in the eye, we program our machines to play our games for us, hoping that the machines will win.

Prisoners is a good thriller. It reminded me of Tell No One and a couple of other recent thrillers like it; solid puzzle pictures that resolve nicely if a little too neatly.

Gravity was much better than I had anticipated but it has also been grating on me more and more. Cuaron's use of symbolism seemed hackneyed and frustratingly empty. Uhlich, on Letterboxd, nailed it: "Cuaron knows the theological symbols, but he can't imbue them with a true sense of spirit. He's almost always posing and you can sense it." Yep.

Madame De is a pretty empty film. A man has an affair. His wife has an affair. There's a pair of earrings involved. There's a lot of dancing and flirting. Sorry, Brandon, I stand by my "silly infidelities" comment. There's just not all that much going on here that's worth revisiting.