Hirokin: The First Rebellion Movie Review
Written and directed by Alejo Mo-sun
2011, 105 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on November 6th, 2012
Wes Bentley as Hirokin
Julian Sands as Viceroy Griffin
Mercedes Manning as Terra
Rodney Charles as Honsu
Laura Ramsey as Maren
Angus McFayden as Moss
Oh, did I want to love this movie. I really, really did. Along with the screening DVD, the distributors sent a Huffington Post article detailing the struggles Mr. Mo-sun underwent making his first big feature film. The usual disasters ensued: financiers pulled out during filming, production had to shut down halfway through, extras were hard to come by. But Mr. Mo-sun believed in this picture, and he mortgaged everything he owned and triumphed: Hirokin accomplished.
I always root for the underdog. I only wish he had great storytelling skills to go along with this great movie.
The plot itself has great bones: Futuristic humans have discovered the planet Aradium in the far reaches of space. Aradium produces a miraculous ore that can be used to make featherweight weapons: easy to transport and utilize in battle. And just like today's humans, we're total assholes and mine the planet into the ground, polluting the environment and rendering most of the native Arid women infertile. Go team!
Pretty soon the planet is a desolate wasteland of Dune proportions, and humans for the most part take off to rape and pillage elsewhere, like we so often do. Except for the few who think a devastated culture like the Arid's still has some rape and pillaging potential; like Viceroy Griffin (played deliciously by Julian Sands). He sticks around, builds flying backyard decks a la Jabba the Hut, and sends guys in Boba Fett helmets around looking for Arid people to round up so he can question/murder them. Why? Because there is rumored to be an Arid rebellion coming, led by a mysterious man named Moss who knows the ancient ways (cough Yoda) and can bring the tribes together (cough Frodo Baggins).
Okay, so Mr. Mo-sun loves Star Wars, Avatar, Firefly, Lord of the Rings, and Gladiator. Lots of us do. And plenty of movies have been inspired by Star Wars, so let's not do too much judging, shall we? Because really, it's a beautiful movie. Here are the things that really worked:
- The original music by John Paesano is haunting and appropriate, with knife-edge accuracy in matching the action. I'm not ready to give him a John Williams crown just yet, but I will give him a Danny Elfman scepter.
- Huffington Post elaborates that Mr. Mo-sun built a little helicopter to fly the RED camera over the landscapes to get those sweeping landscape shots, and I have to give my compliments. The cinematography of Cameron Duncan is just breathtaking. The credits imply this was shot entirely in California, so I'm even more impressed since I was sure those were pickup shots from a Nevada desert.
- Jessica Wenger's costumes are a tad Jedi/Hobbit-y for my taste, but I do think it works for the setting and the color palette loyalty is impeccable. I'm not sure why Laura Ramsey's Maren had to have the only open-knit cowl neck sweater, but I was glad to plainly see Victoria's Secret will still be available in future millennia.
- Merry and Pippin. I mean, Sevren and Airborne. Esteban Powell and Newton Kanershiro have a lot of fun as the comic-relief smugglers and even though they were a tad pointless, they were adorable.
- Wes Bentley. He's so surprising as a leading man. He doesn't barrel through the role; his personal gravity on screen bends it around him. He really worked as Hirokin when other leading actors might have made him a vengeful bully or an irritating victim. He pulled along weaker actors — a.k.a. the vast majority of the cast — and gave this film some heft.
Things that didn't work:
- The plot bones are solid, but underutilized. There's a "cure" floating around for the infertility; it's traded for the leftover aradium that can be found here and there on the land. Whether it's working or not, it's hard to say. The Arid camps still have plenty of children, so I'm having trouble believing barrenness is actually a problem.
- Wes has some great fight moves; plus I didn't see a stunt double credited. But there are only two fight scenes before he's labeled an incredible samurai. Umm...I saw he was good, but let's see a little awe from the supporting cast to back up that he's good enough to be your salvation.
- Why do the humans need to keep the Arid subservient? They're gatherers, who live in the desert and hunt for water. They're not much of a threat. And with Moss making a grand total of zero guerrilla attacks during the first two-thirds of the movie, I have no idea why the Viceroy is hunting him so rabidly.
- Jessica Szohr was lovely in her simplistic role, but she needed a dialect coach. She tried, but since plenty of actors were using their native speaking voice, her faltering attempt at a vague British accent was unnecessary and uncomfortable. And Angus McFayden is the Robert the goddamn Bruce. Give him some more rallying fight monologues. Maybe with blue face paint.
- Laura Ramsey was bland. Her private rebellion against her pseudo-boyfriend is baffling and her swift love for Hirokin is rather tasteless considering he's a fresh widower.
You've probably noticed I've given this movie four out of five stars, despite giving you an equal amount of pros and cons. Here's why: The HuffPost article says that Alejo Mo-sun took an exceptionally huge loss deciding to shoot the film using union guidelines.
The odds are that you, dear reader, have not worked on a film set that is not following specific guidelines on how you treat your actors. As an actor working in New York, I can tell you it has the potential to be the worst job of your year. Without SAG guidelines, break times aren't set or guaranteed, they can pay background actors as little as they want, and they don't have to feed you, even if you're trapped in a warehouse shooting a club scene for 12 hours. The fact that Mr. Mo-sun made the choice to treat every actor, including background, with the dignity and consideration that SAG requires raises him immensely in my estimation. Even if he did that to guarantee he would get star names (union actors cannot work on non-union projects), I don't care. He did an awesome thing and I appreciate his devotion to work ethic.
Overall, I'll say the movie is a stunning spectacle floating on a superficial story. I liked watching it and I honestly get the sense that with the time and money he needed, Mr. Mo-sun could have made a truly great movie. The last line of the Huffington Post article quotes Mr. Mo-sun as saying "I was able to prove to myself that I'm at least a filmmaker. Next I'd like to prove that I'm a good writer and director."
I absolutely believe he will.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.
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