11-808 & Conversations : Artist-in-Residence, 2014
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw partnered as the UTS Library Artist-in-Residence for 2014. Works from this Residency are now prominently displayed in the UTS Blake Library in Haymarket, Sydney.
Their brief was to provide an artistic interpretation of the UTS Library Retrieval System (LRS). Their resulting major work 11-808 is a live data visualisation that interprets the use of the LRS in real time. The purpose of the entirely underground system needed to be communicated to a wide audience, illustrating how the system was being used and demonstrating its value to the UTS community. The brief was extremely challenging, with a tight budget and deadline, but Elisa and Adam’s work has exceeded expectations.
The result is an elegant and poetic display of data that shows how this system is being used and, via the catalogue of library metadata, the dynamic movement of collections around the Library ecosystem. Through their artists’ perspective, beauty and the interaction of colour, Elisa and Adam have conveyed meaning and understanding to an extent that I think Joseph Albers* would have approved.
They also provided a playful sound installation, Conversations, that explores the random nature of the ways books are stored within the 11,808 steel bins of the LRS, arranged only by spine height. Here they have provided audible “conversations” between the books in selected bins.
Their work is artistically beautiful, superbly designed and technically very clever. Both works are eloquent in conveying meaning as well as exploring and highlighting the nature of this system. In doing so they have provided attractive and engaging works that appeal to the curiosity of Library users and that speak to them in very contemporary language.
* See also https://www.lib.uts.edu.au/news/304412/colour-on-concrete-exhibition
Cold in July – Review
Cold in July was my final film of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival. It is a film full of violence and variously described as pulpy, dark, horror/thriller and funny. I didn’t find it very funny at all. It is a rather odd film that starts with the shooting death of an intruder or “home invader” who appeared to be robbing the owners of valuables as they slept. Then the story becomes much more complex and it touches on subjects like revenge, police corruption, gun violence, snuff-porn and the exploitation of “illegal immigrants”. It was another poor choice on my behalf.
Despite the presence of accomplished actors like Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shephard I could find little to like. There were several plot twists, but I don’t think they were dealt with very well at all. And I may be wrong, but it looked as though the film was shot in a way to show 1989 as a rather colourless time in history through the use of subdued, almost sepia tones in many shots. I visited parts of the US in 1989 and can remember them quite clearly, although maybe Texas is an exception? It certainly wasn’t that colourless or faded to me.
I wasn’t sure whether the film was trying to tell a deeper story about the proliferation of shootings in the US or just relate the story from the original Joe Lansdale novel. It really didn’t do either justice.
Wish I Was Here – Review
And so we come to a film that I was not expecting to like, but I did. This is Zach Braff’s second film as director, as well as being this film’s screen writer and producer, and it was largely crowd funded via Kickstarter. It is really a very gentle comedy and a feel-good movie that deals with family relationships, the reality of life as an actor for most actors, love and the coming loss of a father and grandfather. After so much violence, grief and depression in most of the films I’ve seen this festival, Wish I Was Here came as a very welcome break.
I thought all the lead characters were great, including Mandy Patinkin, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad and of course Zach himself as the father of the two kids played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon. Nobody is annoying or takes themselves too seriously.
The dialogue is cleverly humorous without trying to be too clever and there is also some very funny visual humour. The film is shot beautifully too. And about 10 years after Garden State, Zach Braff again uses some great music in the soundtrack including Bon Iver and Badly Drawn Boy. Zach and Kate even do a (thankfully short) version of James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James in their garage.
Fell – Review
Yet another film that I really wanted to like. It is visually really beautiful and mostly set in old-growth natural forests somewhere in Australia. The sound is also spectacular, particularly the sad cries of giant falling trees. The acting too is good, but it really needs more of a story-line and some well-written dialogue to carry it along.
It none too subtly reminds us of the tragic loss of our old-growth forests to wood-chipping and it is also about grief, loss, self-indulgence, fatherhood and a path towards vengeance. Much of the film is spent along that same path and I liked the first couple of times the director seemed to set up a situation in which vengeance may have been had and then pulls away from it. Eventually though, it became repetitive. We’d already learned enough about both lead characters and something else needed to happen, if only to maintain our interest in the story. That has been more than adequately demonstrated in at least three other films that I’ve seen in this festival. This film, however, just became a bit self-indulgent.
Not enough dialogue or story. 3/5
The Two Faces of January – Review
This film is billed as a thriller and it is set in early 1960s Greece and Crete. I’m not really sure it is that thrilling, but it is an old fashioned drama adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel. It is very Patricia Highsmith: lots of greedy people ripping each other off, people enjoying excess (or at least trying to) and perfectly attired actors all over the place. Maybe that is the key problem with this movie: it tries too hard to be perfect and everyone is always almost clinically dressed in beautiful clothes regardless of whether they’ve slept rough, been fighting or have just fallen over drunk as a jug.
Kirsten Dunst plays Kirsten Dunst as Viggo Mortensen’s partner and whilst Oscar Isaac looks convincing in his role I still cannot forgive him for starring in one of the most boring films of all time (Inside Llewyn Davis).
From fairly early on you realise that Viggo’s reckless character is going to get caught and you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that this will probably happen just before the end of the film. You just keep wondering whether he will get caught before he dies of throat or liver cancer. Poor Viggo must have smoked at least 90 cigarettes and drunk three or four bottles of whisky in just under 100 minutes.
It is nevertheless an entertaining story that does maintain your attention. Towards the end there is also an excellent realistic foot chase scene in which the heavy-smoking and hard-drinking Viggo thankfully does not suddenly become an Olympic gymnast and athlete, as is the case in so many other films.
Black Coal, Thin Ice – Review
Set in a contemporary northern industrial province of China, this award winning film is an entertaining and intriguing detective mystery. Our hero Zhang Zili played by Liao Fan starts the film as a police detective, but he is injured in a clumsy fire fight in which two of his colleagues are killed and is retired from the force on health grounds. Some years later as a recovering(?) alcoholic he sets about solving the mystery and avenging the grisly death of another close police colleague. It all makes for a dark and gritty drama, but there is much more to this film as the director Diao Yinan cites the Coen Brothers as one of his influences. I don’t think I’ve given away the ending and it is well worth the journey.
I loved a lot about this film. There are quite a few scenes that are introduced with an almost abstract image on which the camera dwells for a while before panning away to give it context and two of those scenes involve coal and ice. The key characters are beautifully developed as very real and flawed people, portrayed by skilled actors. And Diao Yinan uses a lot of comedy to add life and reality to the story, especially with the lead character Zhang. He has a number of scenes that border on slapstick, again relating to the constant presence of ice as the film scenes all seem to be set in the winter months. Towards the end, there is a police chase on foot that resembles the Keystone Cops (for me at least).
The film also echoes those gritty black and white detective dramas from the 1950s and 1960s, well before the complexities of crime scene investigators and high-tech surveillance systems, and I liked that too. The final scene is just wonderful.
Well done Diao Yinan! 4.5/5
The Captive – Review
Atom Egoyan’s The Captive is a psychological thriller about pedophilia, kidnappers and voyeurs who are given great advantages today through technology. It is also about how the families of the victims are subjected to terrible stress, and how they too become victims; family units sometimes collapsing under the pressures. Set mostly in white Canadian winters near Niagara Falls, the eight-year story is framed against a beautiful but stark landscape that only serves to highlight the personal stories.
Initially, the film is a little hard to follow as they shuffle back and forth in time setting up the background to the kidnapping and the leading characters. Eventually it all falls into place and we see good performances from Ryan Reynolds (the father), Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman (cops), Peyton Kennedy and Alexia Fast as the young and then older victim, and Kevin Durand as the creepy pedophile/kidnapper. The best of the lot, however, was the wonderful Mireille Enos as the mother. I loved her in the US version of The Killing and she is superb in The Captive. She could give lessons to most award winning “celebrity” actors.
The film has a clear conclusion, something that is almost rare these days and something that I for one appreciate.
Not edge of seat stuff, but a story well told. 4/5
JOE – Review
JOE proves that you don’t need to shoot a dwarf to succeed in a violent drama. Perhaps shooting a dwarf is the new jumping a shark?
It is set in the US South and it is very Southern-gothic. Joe, played perfectly by Nicholas Cage, has a violent past, but he is trying hard to make a straight go of it without losing his honour. He soon meets 15 year old Gary Jones who is looking for work for himself and his drunken old dad – played brilliantly by non-professional actor Gary Poulter. I know it sounds a little odd, but I think Tye Sheridan brings a little of Billy Elliot into Gary’s character and he does it really well.
Poverty and desperation are woven throughout this film. It is disturbing to see people still living like this, even in so-called developed countries like the US, but it is probably pretty close to the truth. It is a pretty dark film, but I liked that not all hope was lost.
I think Joe succeeded where The Rover failed terribly. 4/5
Eastern Boys – Review
The film begins with a gang of Eastern European boys working Gare du Nord train station in Paris. It looks as though they’re hustling and involved in petty theft, maybe even more. One of the boys is cruised by very determined middle aged man who eventually invites him home, a day later. That turns into a really threatening home invasion by the whole gang who steal virtually every possession he has that they think they can sell on. The gang are led by “Boss” who is played superbly by Daniil Vorobyov. His threatening character looms large over almost the entire film even though he only appears at the beginning and end of it.
Daniel is the older man, realistically played by Olivier Rabourdin and after the home invasion he is visited by the sheepish boy he cruised, Marek (whom we later learn is really Rouslan) played by Kirill Emelyanov. Marek feels guilty about the invasion and whilst his first visits with Daniel are all about sex for money, the pair develop a friendship and eventually love grows, but probably not as you would have thought. This obviously causes tension between Marek and the gang and that comes to a head towards the end of the film.
The film deals thoughtfully with both gay male sexuality and the Eastern European immigration issues that seem familiar in many large European cities.
Eastern Boys certainly leaves the usual multiplex material for dead. 4/5
Human Capital – Review
Human Capital is set in a large city in Italy. It tells the story behind the accidental death of a poor cyclist riding home from work one night (with lights). The story telling of the events surrounding the accident is done in four chapters. We see three different perspectives: a father, a mother, and a daughter/girlfriend before the final chapter when all comes together and the truth is revealed.
I liked the use of the different perspectives as it demonstrated how we all jump to conclusions and blame without all the facts. The cast were great in all the main roles too. All were completely believable and the men seemed very Italian.
At the conclusion of the film I think we feel sorry for the person who was at fault in the death of the cyclist. There is probably also some residual sympathy for the families being torn apart as we search for the truth. All that, however, presents me with the main problem that I have with this film. As a cyclist, I think it could have benefited from a chapter giving us the perspective of either the cyclist or his family. They are the real victims in this story, but we see and hear very little of them. I think that would have added much more weight to the story, but maybe I am just biased.
Keep cycling. 3.5/5