Weekly Web Series Review: China Illinois

It is time once again to return to the twisted, hilarious and wildly original world of Brad Neely‘s “China Illinois,” home of the Professor Brothers and Baby Cakes. This time, let’s take a look at the four-part miniseries named after the fictional town, which brings the characters from those other two series together for one continuous storyline, a first for Neely which in turn spawned a full-length, actually animated series on Adult Swim.

“China Illinois” begins with gentle giant Mark “Baby” Cakes in his usual mode, telling stories to his diary in his customarily idiosyncratic way. “Dear diary,” he says, “today me and Dad tried to clean our insides out, with plant hairs, tree ejaculates, and leafy-weafs.” “Tree ejaculates” are, of course, Baby Cakes’ unique way of saying “fruit,” just one of many phrases this character has coined that should obviously become part of the standard English lexicon immediately, for the sake of a more interesting future. When the unsatisfying meal is done, Baby Cakes comes upon “a lonely little pursey, with a pink diary hanging out,” completely failing to notice the bloody car accident adjacent to the lost purse.

The plot thickens when it is revealed that the owner of the purse was a professor at the local community college Baby Cakes attends, and that she was in an unhappy relationship with the self-absorbed Professor Frank, who romantically proclaimed to her, “You’ll never want to be anything more than the thing I am in.” Like his forbidden romance with his Dad’s girlfriend in “Baby Cakes Diary #4,” Baby Cakes becomes furious with Frank’s poor treatment of his newfound beloved, only to ultimately reconcile his feelings in a typically strange way by the end of the series.

Both Baby Cakes and Professor Frank are prone to expressing themselves through song, which, along with Baby Cakes’ poetic wordplay, brings an odd poignancy to an otherwise silly and very funny series. It’s surprising that an animatic cartoon that refers to Helen Keller as “history’s most famous little caca-faced animal kid” can strike deeper chords about the meaning of life, but that is a special ability Neely shares with fellow crude animation genius Don Hertzfeldt, and it is what makes “China Illinois” such an enduring creation.

  

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App of the Week: Super Monsters Ate My Condo

Developer:
PikPok

Compatible with:
iPhone (3GS Minimum)

iPod Touch (3rd Gen. Minimum)

iPad

Requires:
iOS 4.3 or later

Price:
$0.99

Available here

Wild man, just wild.

It’s about the only way to describe the original “Monsters Ate My Condo” released by Adult Swim and PikPok. It was a fury of colors, crazy designs, and lightning quick reaction times that was impossible to not get swept up in, and more than worth its $1.00 asking price. Now it’s back in the form of an appropriately titled sequel, “Super Monsters Ate My Condo”.

The basic idea behind the game is that you have to build a towering condo made up of multi-colored pieces, and keep it from toppling. To do so, you have to match three of the same colored leveled pieces to create a stronger bronze level. Three combined bronzes make a silver, three silvers a gold, and three golds a diamond.

Of course, to match level colors, you’ll have to discard those in the way. This is where the monsters come in. The monsters are intent on destroying your already shaking condo, and the only way to appease them is to swipe levels that match the monsters color their way for their consumption, and to get them out of your way. If you swipe too many levels of the wrong color, or neglect to feed one of a levels two monsters for too long, they get to smashing. Also when you match three of a same color, the monster on the level that shares that color goes away and is replaced by another.

That’s the general idea of the gameplay, but it only gets nuts from there. Because there’s also things like special blocks that can aid a player if used correctly, or cause some real damage if they aren’t disposed of quickly. The monsters also carry different super powers which aid the player and are activated by feeding the monsters special combo floors (the stronger the floor, the more effective the power). The trade off is you lose a strong level, but the payoff yields attributes like more time on the clock or preventing harmful blocks from falling while in use, so it’s almost always worth it.

New to the sequel is the game’s increased (and addictive) focus on objectives. You’re given three goals on the outset of every level, and completing all three unlocks a new set of objectives and also new elements within the game (such as special level blocks). You also unlock booster abilities and coins as you go along. The boosters provide a wide range of in game aids, while draining coins upon each use. In a nice little nod to ‘Team Fortress 2,” the coins can also be used to purchase a variety of hats for the monsters, which create permanent ability boosters, but cost way more. Also worth noting is the absence of the original game’s endless play mode, and instead the only game option is a timed two minute run.

To play “Super Monsters Ate My Condo” is to love it. You’ve played this basic type of game a million times before, and “Super Monsters” knows it. That’s why it goes out of its way to make sure that every intangible element of the game that isn’t just matching similar colored blocks is exceedingly well done. Level and character drawings, sound design, and the enticing mission based system all make “Super Monsters” already addictive gameplay become irresistible.

It’s not easy to play this game for just two minutes at a time, as you constantly challenge yourself to meet your own personal objectives, or those of the game. The core concept would be addictive enough on its own, but the way you are constantly rewarded for  diving into it deeper makes it impossible to put down. You’ll start to measure your life in two minute intervals, and catch yourself with the game’s images of dancing monsters in lederhosen and endless streams of blocks clouding your thoughts when you try to step away from it.

I not only don’t mind that “Super Monsters” continue to eat my condos, but gladly let them eat my dollar as well. This is the “One More Game” effect at its best, and makes for a clear app of the week.

  

The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Chris Elliott (“Eagleheart”)

Chris Elliott has comedy in his genes, courtesy of his father, Bob Elliott (of the legendary comedy team Bob & Ray), and he’s passed his abilities on to the next generation, as his daughter Abby Elliott proves week after week on “Saturday Night Live,” but, geez, enough about his dad and kid already. Surely it’s time to shine the spotlight solely on Chris Elliott himself, who first won our hearts with his decidedly unique characters on “Late Night with David Letterman,” completely blew the minds of a generation of moviegoers with his film “Cabin Boy,” and has since gone on to appear in everything from “Manhunter” to “Everybody Loves Raymond.” On April 12, his current endeavor – Adult Swim’s “Eagleheart” – returns for its second season, just over a week after the DVD release of Season One, which hit stores on Tuesday. Bullz-Eye chatted with him…okay, fine, we geeked out…about the more eccentric side of his comedy, including his seminal TV series “Get A Life,” which, as you may have read elsewhere first (although it came from this interview), is coming to DVD in a complete-series set at long last.

Bullz-Eye: First off, let me just tell you what a pleasure it is to talk to you. I’ve been a fan for many years.

Chris Elliott: Oh, well, thank you. I just don’t hear that enough. [Laughs.]

BE: In my case, it’s no exaggeration: when I was in high school, I sent off for tickets for “Late Night with David Letterman.” Granted, I had graduated by the time I actually got them, but, hey, at least I got them.

CE: Oh, my gosh. That’s pretty funny. So did you actually wait four years for tickets?

BE: No, but it was more than a year: I sent them off during my senior year, and it was well after graduation when they finally arrived.

CE: Wow, that’s pretty amazing. But it proves that you were a hardcore fan. Do you remember who was on the show when you went?

BE: Absolutely: it was Jane Pauley and Bruno Kirby. I also remember that they did Shoe Removal Races that night, with a podiatrist squaring off against a shoe salesman.

CE: Ah, yes, that was an excellent episode. [Laughs.]

BE: You were actually just on Letterman’s show a few nights ago. It sounded like you may have taken a bit of flour into your lungs.

CE: [Laughs.] I started to smell like cookies after I was under the lights for a little while. But I thought it came off all right. It’s always fun to go back there, and I hate coming back on there as myself in any form. This interview is okay because I can’t see you. [Laughs.] But I don’t like coming on and just talking as myself, so I always come on with something.

BE: The “Downton Abbey” thing was great, too.

CE: Yeah, I thought that came out great.

BE: So let’s talk “Eagleheart.” One of the most surprising things about the series, at least to me, is that you don’t actually get a writing credit on the show. Not that you don’t have some input, given that you’re a consulting producer, but…

CE: I’d say these guys have my voice down. I knew that when I met with them. They were huge fans of mine, and, honestly, I didn’t want the extra work. [Laughs.] And at the same time, y’know, they changed the pilot quite a bit to suit me, and what I do – and Adam Resnick does this, also – is sort of take a pass at the scripts when they’re done with them and change a couple of jokes here and there, and if something’s not quite in my voice, I just kind of paraphrase what I would be saying, and that sort of thing. I’m sort of at the point in my career where writers that are working in the business sort of grew up knowing about me. At least the ones that are fans of mine, anyway. And they’re really capable of writing for me. It wasn’t always that case. Early on in my career, it was pretty much Adam and me just trying to establish this voice.

BE: Of course, it makes me wonder if people sometimes come to you with something utterly off the wall, saying, “Well, ‘Cabin Boy’ was so nuts that I figured you’d be into this.’

CE: Yeah, I think I get that a lot. It’s interesting: some people put anything weird in the “weird” category and think, “Oh, Chris’ll do that because it’s so weird.” But you’re right. Certain people, like yourself, get why certain things are funny-weird as opposed to just being strange. That’s a different breed. I think I do get lumped in a lot with “he’s just off the wall, he’s crazy.”

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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