We Are the Strange — movie review
Posted on June 5, 2007 by Kris Nelson
This review is so long overdue that a serendipitous run-in with the writer/director prompted a strict reminder. M Dot Strange (aka: Michael Belmont) is so completely casual and San Jose-centric that he frequents a local boba tea place, even today as he types out an article for Wired Magazine (August issue — be sure to get it!), sketches upcoming plans for a national mobile movie multiple moviemaker tour, and ruminates over two future screenplays (one is a crazy comedy highlighting hyphy, one a samurai satire). M Dot emphatically gushes over samurai films of yore, some consequently in the Dreamlogic queue. That’s cool. He informs us of his recent feature on PBS’ Spark. Even cooler. He has recently declined six-figure offers in order to retain creative freedom and is now publishing YouTube tutorials and blogging storyline tips for potential filmmakers. Cooler still. This is the reason why I am so enthused by his work; there is a handcrafted homogenous blend of homage and humor, complete deconstructivisualist individualism (see, I have to invent a new term in order to describe it) and devoid of ego.
Like his outfit today, a light green glen plaid short-sleeved button-up that could have possibly been purchased by millions more at the (*gasp*) Gap, garnished with a few original logo homemade stamp buttons, the kicker being surprise Skittles-colored high-socks and lime Crocs, M Dot Strange is a welcome unpredictable enigma. His masterpiece We Are the Strange is just as unpredictable, appearing to be a dark compulsion drive through a sociofugal psychosis of abandonment, misogyny, naïveté, despair, brutal murder, and greed. It’s lasciviously lashed in a mishmash macrame of animation techniques: stop animation, backdrop dreamscapes, green screen, 3D modeling and environs. With that in mind, if I told you that I mostly remember the cute quirky moments, the beauty and comedy, you might not believe me. Heck, I didn’t believe it myself.
In a brief introductory preview to his work at Anno Domini, I was intrigued but a little worried by the seemingly sloppy sawed-off dolls’ heads and assorted melted and mangled metallic props. I didn’t quite realize it at first (mostly because previous photos of M Dot he had his mug obscured), but there was the avant garde artiste at the show trying to teach some kids claymation. “Nuh-uh,” one insolent youth expressed, ignoring his tutor’s patient reminder to follow the pattern — move the clay, take a picture, move the clay. The youngin just wanted to smash some Play-Doh. Such a moral sentiment enforcing We Are the Strange ain’t child’s play.
Crafted in his bedroom/makeshift studio, M Dot slaved and toiled. Don’t take this statement lightly; he spent many a sleep-deprived night struggling through a caffeine-fueled subconscious. Maybe this is why We Are the Strange plays out like a nightmare with a plot, as if we’re trapped in his head during those long late nights. The disjointed visitations of other lofty concepts swirl in; unconventional windows. “Str8nime” is what he dubs this culmination of “Strange”, “8-bit”, and “Anime”. It is absolutely fitting that M Dot has selected a unique name for his created genre, as this is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
And what will you see, exactly? A bald-headed steroid-adled beefcake berates and boots an employee named Blue (pictured above right) in a sort of twisted Kechak (Balinese shadow puppet play) arena. He is disgusted by her skin; any time she speaks or smiles, it turns into a scaly pixelated wireframe-y grid. Overly concerned with peer acceptance, she retreats. Such an unspoken truth. Blue runs off into the creepy forest (the “Forest of Still Life”, no less) and into one of the most enchanting scenes (swirling cumulus and diaphanous lanterns adrift), where she meets a Gameboy-addicted little kewpie boy eMMM (oddly resembling Gary Oldman, well to me anyway) whose simultaneous main goal and fright in life is to board a train into Stopmo City to get some ice cream (based on a true story, M Dot admitted at Cinequest). The pair eventually head into town to find death and destruction caused by misshapen monsters and rancid robots and evil dust devils. Rain, a skeletal ninja harlequin who looks like a Tootsie Pop ghost (pictured up up above right in red) , a murderous fiend who’s either a vigilante or just really insane, has hacked his way through all the ghouls in town, unstoppable. In a midst of supposed scribblings, raggedy cut-outs, almost unfinished cartoonish hash (purposely pixelated 8-bit images created in Mario Paint), electronic squeals and squealing electronica, the juxtaposition between violence and innocence unfurl to reveal the main big baddie: the aforementioned CG Pimp with delusions of grandeur, except now he’s helming a giant robot. Oh my god. Blue must find her courage and her voice in order to defeat her oppressor, but not before kewpie cutie-pie eMMM engages in a Godzilla-proportioned battle.
A feel-good psuedo comedy ripe with genius choreographed suspense sequences and oft disturbing yet enticingly gorgeous moody visuals?! Hells yes. Watch the trailer and see for yourself.
NOTE: Now I glossed over the soundtrack, but it should be noted as a character of its own. Experimental electronica fusing industrial screeches and playful video game bleeps called “chip tune music” was skillfully created on Gameboys and Nintendo entertainment systems by Noise, Inc. Incredible. The DVD includes six different soundtracks for you to toggle through if that’s not your dig. Recently, fans from all across the globe have helped M dot translate We Are the Strange in 17 languages, including 1337! Here it is subtitled in English with a handy dandy playlist for more languages in the side scrolly nav.
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