Benny Hill: The Next Generation

10-Aug-09 2:15 PM by
Filed under Films, Humor, Star Trek; Comments Off on Benny Hill: The Next Generation

There are all sorts of ways to remix existing media: you can turn movie trailers into TV shows, or change a film's genre, or simply add a humorous audio commentary. All these require work and creativity. But what do you do if you have neither?

Why, you use the Benny Hillifier, of course!

Younger theatergoers may not know the name Benny Hill, but they'll recognize the tune and style of the show that ran on the BBC for twenty years. The Benny Hillifier applies that same theme to any YouTube video: just submit the URL, click "Go", and watch as it replaces the audio track of your chosen video with "Yakety Sax". The video can optionally be sped up to double-time, though the site states that "Speeding up is broken for now".

Fortunately, back when the site was fully functional, I slaved to find the best videos to Benny Hillify. Half the fun is seeing familiar media in a new context, so of course I turned to the vast library of Star Trek material. First, the new movie's trailer:

Notice the crashing car is a recurring theme between this video and the actual Benny Hill credits. Who knew the BBC had such a subtle but indeniable influence on Gene Roddenberry's universe?

What about Data? If any Star Trek character is inclined to unintentional humor, it's our white and nerdy android. Let's Benny Hillify a familiar clip:

This trick is applicable to other franchises, of course. The plot of The Matrix may be laughable, but the excellently choreographed fight scenes are not. So let's bring them down to a more consistent level:

What are your favorite clips to Benny Hillify? Or do you prefer the site's similar instant drama, instant tragedy, or all-purpose dubbing tools? Share your efforts here!

Hat tip to Bill Corbett!

Ten Years on the Thirteenth Floor

14-Apr-09 3:43 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

The Matrix turned ten years old on March 31st. It's been often imitated but rarely surpassed, including by its own sequels. But what many people don't realize is that it was one of many science fiction films released nearly simultaneously that explored the nature of reality. The Matrix's popularity overshadowed several other entries in that category, including Dark City (Feb 27, 1998), ExistenZ (Apr 23, 1999), and The Thirteenth Floor (May 28, 1999).

Having seen the other films in that trifecta, I recently watched The Thirteenth Floor. In this movie, the main character heads a software company that has spent the last six years developing a virtual world and interface. When the company's founder is murdered, the only clues to his attacker's identity are to be found in their own product.

The method of insertion into this cyberscape can be described as a cross between TRON and Quantum Leap. The Thirteenth Floor's Matrix is a persistent world whose inhabitants go about their business, unaware of their unreal nature. Each of this world's programmers has a virtual avatar into whom they can insert their personas, temporarily supplanting its virtual host. While there, the programmers experience a world as real as their own, but though they still look like themselves, their behavior may attract attention from those who find their friend's, co-worker's, or spouse's personality suddenly replaced.

The lead in this film is played by Craig Bierko, who looks like a cross between Brendan Fraser and Jake Gyllenhaal. He hasn't done many significant roles since then, which is almost too bad, as his rugged features and piercing eyes lend his roles a memorable intensity. His cohort is played by Vincent D'Onofrio, who starred in the time travel film Happy Accidents. D'Onofrio has perhaps the most demanding role in the show, as we see more of his avatar than anyone else's. The actor's ability to create two characters of different appearance and mannerisms in the same film and switch between them is impressive.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning Gretchen Mol, who later went on to play The Notorious Bettie Page. Though her role here as the mysterious love interest is minor compared to the lead, she nonetheless keeps the plot moving with her machinations.

Though The Thirteenth Floor's movie lacks punch, getting there is most of the fun. Unlike in ExistenZ, The Thirteenth Floor's plot actually makes sense. Viewers will never be lost by the plot: it has enough clues that one can figure out what's happening, but some clever touches along the way keep it from being too predictable. I found it somewhat unbelievable that their first use of the virtual world proved flawless — if only every beta test could be so bug-free! There also appears to be no hardware interface between man and machine, which raises all sorts of technological questions. But only a programmer would let himself be bothered by such cinematic license. The Thirteenth Floor will likely be neither celebrated nor remembered upon its tenth anniversary next month, but it doesn't have to be — even without The Matrix's impact, it's still a fun way to spend ninety minutes of any year.

The Best of the Best

24-Jun-07 12:18 PM by
Filed under Films; 2 comments.

Just as they did ten years ago, the American Film Institute has announced their list of "The Top 100 Movies of All Time". CNN.com reports:

The top-100 were chosen from ballots sent to 1,500 filmmakers, actors, writers, critics and others in Hollywood from a list of 400 nominated movies, 43 of which came from the decade since the first list was compiled.

Of those newer films, only four made the top-100: 2001's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (No. 50), 1998's Saving Private Ryan (No. 71), 1997's Titanic (No. 83) and 1999's The Sixth Sense (No. 89).

Older films that did not make the cut on the 1998 list broke into the top-100 this time, led by Buster Keaton's 1927 silent comedy The General at No. 18. Others included 1916's Intolerance (No. 49), 1975's Nashville (No. 59), 1960's Spartacus (No. 81), 1989's Do the Right Thing (No. 96) and 1995's Toy Story (No. 99).

Films that dropped out of the top-100 this time included 1965's Doctor Zhivago, which had been No. 39 on the 1998 list; 1984's Amadeus, which had been No. 53; 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which had been No. 64; 1990's Dances With Wolves, which had been No. 75; and 1927's The Jazz Singer, which had been No. 90.

I agree with many of the changes — Saving Private Ryan is an important film about the reality of war, while Close Encounters has not aged well, resulting in a boring morass. But there are so many such "best of" lists that to consider any one, even the AFI's, as definitive would be foolhardy. In this instance, where are films such as Days of Wine and Roses, Fail-Safe, The Empire Strikes Back, The Matrix, Lost in Translation, and Groundhog Day? The absence of these stark, gritty, comical, and/or memorable films from the AFI's list is noticeable. Of course, any list limited to only a hundred films will not be comprehensive, which is why the AFI has so many other lists: Groundhog Day was #34 on their Top 100 Laughs list, and The Matrix was #66 of the Top 100 Thrills list.

Regardless of the Top 100's subjective accuracy, it is still a useful barometer of Hollywood's milestones and their impact on American culture. To that end, it is intriguing to measure your own cultural literacy against what the AFI deems noteworthy. I've seen half of the top ten films, and nearly a third of the total list. (Trivia: The average year of release of the 100 films is 1963; the average year of release of the 30 films I've seen is 1972. Both years precede my own personal release.) Considering the vast number of films I've seen and researched, such a low number may be a surprise. I compensate by priding myself not only with the knowledge of more esoteric films (everyone's seen #3, Casablanca — what about that experience would make me unique? — but I have seen #80, The Apartment), but also in knowing that many people have seen fewer than thirty of the top hundred films. (One Showbits contributor shocked me with his familiarity of only a tenth of the list!) Still, there is much work to be done.

What films do you think should be on the list and aren't? How many of the AFI's choices have you seen? Which ones haven't you seen that you want to?