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5 movies to check out in this month of love:
1. “Love Actually”
2. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
3. “When Harry Met Sally”
4. “Say Anything”
5. “An Affair to Remember”
"When a Stranger Calls" is in theaters Feb. 3.
5 other movies involving babysitters:
1. "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead"
2. "The Babysitter"
3. "Adventures in Babysitting"
4. "Halloween"
5. "Look Who's Talking"

Mathematical murder mystery

"5 'til 12" at UCI adds up as an intriguing interactive journey into human behavior.


"5 ’til 12"

Where: Beall Center for Art and Technology at UCI, 712 Arts Plaza, Irvine.

When: Continues through March 15. Gallery open Tuesday-Wednesday, noon-5 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Closed Monday and Sunday.

Parking: In the Pereira structure on W. Peltason Drive, off Campus Drive.

Cost: Free gallery admission. Parking $2 an hour.

Info: 949-824-4339 or beallcenter.uci.edu

Brian is dead.But who's to blame? His girlfriend, Sue? Her catty ex-boyfriend, Nathan?

Beall Center for Art and Technology's new exhibit "5 'til 12" initially looks like a murder mystery. Visitors are told that by listening to video testimonials from three witnesses and the dead man himself, they can figure out what happened.

This is anything but simple. First, the actors give inconsistent accounts of what happened. And when you listen to them for the second time, you notice they don't even stick to their own stories.

The point is to think about what constitutes truth, a la Akira Kurosawa's multi-perspective movie "Rashomon." Exhibit creators Sue Huang and Brian House (who also perform as the eponymous characters), further push the concept by injecting game theory - a mathematical study of how people make strategic choices - into the script.

Each actor's script is made up of 25 to 40 sentences, and most sentences have three to six variations. A computer algorithm decides which story you hear based partly on what previous witnesses have said about each other.

For example, if Brian says he loves Sue, Sue is more likely to say something nice about Brian. If Brian says Sue's pearls are ugly, Sue's going to be a little surly. Your record is logged in a transponder tag you carry with you in the exhibit.

All this sounds like a giant nerdy exercise suited for the pages of Wiredmagazine. But when you're at the exhibit, the concept doesn't seem awkward. We've all been socially conditioned to respond to what others say. We know how to tone down our conversations, or snidely criticize competitors, to make ourselves look better to others.

"5 'til 12"'s creators have merely dissected a social process, expressed it in a math equation, and delivered their ideas through the form of a love-and-murder story. Got that?

"We're not trying to be obscure," insists Huang. "We're trying to work with something that's humanistic. I think it's understandable when you're experiencing it."

The creators' literary talent is evident. (They claim inspiration from Raymond Queneau's "Hundred Thousand Billion Poems.") The script, written with help from Amy Finkel, Nathan Phillips and Joe Schiappa, is unexpectedly funny, particularly the haughty and immature Nathan character, who says: "I don't hand out advice. I'm quality control."

For Beall, a high-tech gallery in UCI created for the purpose of promoting interactive and video art, "5 'til 12" qualifies as art because it makes visitors think about how they interact with technology. The mechanics of the piece resemble artificial intelligence, said Eleanore Stewart, Beall director.

"It's a different kind of interactivity in that you are triggering the piece to create itself, but that's not clear to you. It's really the author of the piece," Stewart said. "It adds to the conversation about what interactivity means."

For the record, even if you spend hours listening to the ever-changing testimonials, you still can't figure out who definitively killed Brian. The story just wasn't written that way.

Still, "5 'til 12" is a satisfying exploration into the twisted, self-interested ways in which humans respond to each other and make up stories to explain their own actions.


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