5 Highlights From The Han Solo ‘Star Wars’ Movie Trailers


Han Solo_Chewbacca_Solo_Star Wars_Story

Alden Ehrenreich is Han Solo and Joonas Suotamo is Chewbacca in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ [Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm]

Truth be told, I wasn’t exactly excited when I heard that the second Star Wars Anthology film will be about a young Han Solo. After Rogue One, I wanted the next standalone movie to be either about Obi-wan Kenobi or Boba Fett.

Now that the first trailers for Solo: A Star Wars Story are out however, I’ve to admit that the film doesn’t look half bad. In fact, it actually looked quite good. Admittedly though, it did take a while to get used to the square-jawed Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) as the young Han Solo, especially when one has long embraced Harrison Ford as the Star Wars galaxy’s most famous rogue smuggler for over 40 years. 

Still, there are many things to get excited about the latest Star Wars offering due out this May. Here are five highlights from the Solo: A Star Wars Story trailers.

1. A Squeaky Clean Millennium Falcon


The Millennium Falcon in its heyday in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ [Credit: Disney/Lucasfiilm]

You could hear a collective gasp across planet Earth when the Super Bowl teaser trailer shows a pan shot of the Millennium Falcon with super clean interiors. What happened to the iconic ship that would be described by naysayers as “that piece of junk” and “garbage” in its later years starting from 1977’s A New Hope, but which we still love to bits anyway? Here’s hoping that Solo will let us know, after we get to see how Han wins the Falcon from Lando Calrissian of course.

2. Lando Suave

Solo Star Wars Story Donald Glover as Lando

Donald Glover is Lando Calrissian in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ [Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm]

Speaking of whom: To say that Donald Glover is perfectly cast as the suave, smooth-talking Lando Calrissian – the role made famous by Billy Dee Williams in the original trilogy – is an understatement. Just the cool, smug image of him above in the Super Bowl teaser clip was enough to have Twittersphere declaring him as the best thing / reason to watch Solo. We won’t go that far, but do agree that the Han Solo movie looks cooler with the Atlanta star in it.

3. Emilia Clarke as the mysterious Qi’ra


Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ [Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm]

As a fan of both Star Wars and Game of Thrones, it is great to see Emilia “Daenerys Targaryen” Clarke stepping from the world’s biggest TV show into the planet’s biggest movie franchise. And from what we saw of her character in the trailers – most often than not, in Han Solo’s company – Qi’ra is intriguing to say the least. Is she Han’s childhood buddy who became a bane in his life considering the mildly veiled threat she threw at him that she “might be the only person who knows… what you really are”? For more information about Emilia Clarke’s enigmatic character, check out my story on Qi’ra here.

4. Cool New Main Villain


Sand-dwelling villains in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ [Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm]

Many believed this new character is a villain ‘cos he has a mask on. He also has a very cool armour outfit that would not be out of place in a space samurai flick. Early word from some fans is that he is either a bounty hunter named Molock who’s out for Han Solo, or possibly a Knight of Ren as the character’s visor helmet is similar to that of Kylo Ren a.k.a Ben Solo, Han’s future son with Princess Leia. Whoever he may be, Han is going to have a High Noon showdown with the staff-toting warrior and his entourage on a very sandy location (and possibly atop a speeding bullet train as well).

5. Glimpses Of The Han Solo We Know And Love


The grin has it: Alden Ehrenreich’s Solo tries to pull one over Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra [Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm]

Have to confess that hearing Alden Ehrenreich narrating as Han Solo in the main trailer threw me off at first. Then I have to remember that he is not supposed to be a Harrison Ford clone. Truthfully, the 28-year-old didn’t turn out too badly. He may be underplayed in the Super Bowl trailer but in the main teaser, we get to see from the actor glimpses of the cocky yet adorable nerf herder that we know and love. One is in the funny scene where Han is steering the Millennium Falcon through a treacherous route with a terrified Lando and company in tow. Another is during the private chat he has with Qi’ra where he tries to act tough but lets a touch of vulnerability slips through. Here’s hoping Ehrenreich will be able to carry the entire film from start to finish.

Read also:
* Solo: A Star Wars Story – 5 Things We Want To See Play Out Fully In The Actual Film
Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra – What We Know of the Enigmatic Character in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story hyper-speeds into theaters worldwide on May 25, 2018 – the 41st anniversary of the day when George Lucas first sent us to a galaxy far, far away with Star WarsA New Hope (1977).


6 Fantasy Films ‘Mary & The Witch’s Flower’ Will Lovingly Remind You Of


‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

(Warning: The following post contains spoilers for Mary and The Witch’s Flower.)

When Hayao Miyazaki announced that he was retiring in 2013, animation fans everywhere feared the end of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation powerhouse he co-founded and responsible for timeless classics such as My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.

The fears were somewhat unfounded as the studio has been busy with other projects. These include Michaël Dudok de Wit’s Oscar-nominated The Red Turtle; the TV animated series, Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter, directed by Goro Miyazaki (Hayao’s son) for Amazon; and the much-anticipated Studio Ghibli’s Totoro-inspired theme park due for completion in 2020. Also, Miyazaki has since come out of retirement (for the third time) to work on Boro The Caterpillar, a short film designed for the  Museum due out in 2019.


‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

Of course, Ghibli fans still yearn for the day when they can enjoy a proper full-length feature from the studio, which brings us to Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The film is an enchanting  feature that has all the trademark characteristics of a Ghibli film – from lovable cherubic characters to the coming-of-age narrative, magical transformations to a stirring musical score.

That another Japanese  studio could produce a film so Ghibli-like was hardly surprising once you find out who the creative people behind it are. Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the debut film of Studio Ponoc, founded by former Ghibli animator and producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, When Marnie Was There) and directed by another ex-Ghibli animator and director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There fame.


‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

Based on Mary Stewart’s 1971 children fantasy novel, The Little BroomstickMary and the Witch’s Flower tells the story of young red-haired Mary Smith who lives with her great-aunt Charlotte in the quaint British town of Redmanor. One day, she came across a mysterious flower known as Fly-by-night, or the Witch’s Flower, that blooms only once every seven years. Mary soon finds herself embarking on a wild adventure as eccentric characters try to seize the one-night-only witching powers that she received from the magical flower. Even as she cherishes the opportunity to escape from her mundane lifestyle, Mary also learns that with power comes the responsibility to save and protect those you love.

Ghibli fans will love Mary and the Witch’s Flower as it has all the qualities of a lush, magical Ghibli film. In fact, the film pays much homage to past Studio Ghibli classics as well as other popular fantasy films that fans of the genre would recognize in an instant. Here is a list of the major shout-outs:

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

With the mysterious flower enabling her to have the powers of a witch for one night, Mary’s broom-riding escapades, complete with a black cat as companion, is reminiscent of 1989’s Kiki’s Delivery Service which tells the story of a teenage witch.

Castle in the Sky (1986)

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‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

Her magical adventure sees Mary’s magic broomstick flying her into the clouds where the wizardry institution, Endor College, stands majestically aloft in the sky, reminding one of the titular castle in Studio Ghibli’s first feature film, 1986’s Castle in the Sky.

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)


‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

Endor College, the magical institution in the sky that Mary finds herself at, is basically a Hogwarts-like school that trains young witches and wizards, from potions making to levitation. The haughty headmistress, Madame Mumblechook, believes that Mary is a prodigy and that red-headed witches especially have the most power.

Spirited Away (2001)


‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

The Studio Ghibli film that Mary and the Witch’s Flower paid the most homage to is the Oscar-winning Spirited Away. From Mary’s scary climb up a steep stairway by a cliff; to Doctor Dee, the headmistress’ sidekick who instantly brings to mind Kamaji, the many-armed, bespectacled boiler wizard; to the ferocious water-based monster (pictured above) that Madame Mumblechook transformed into which is not unlike the voracious No-Face.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)


‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

Mary’s friend from the village, Peter, who finds himself getting involved in her fantastical adventure is very much in the mold of Howl’s apprentice Markl in 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle, while a dancing, talking flame recalls the bug-eyed flame Calcifer from the same film.

The Island of Dr Moreau (1996)

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‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

Warning: this section contains spoilers for the film.

Close to the end of the film, Mary and Peter discover that Endor College was conducting sinister experiments on animals of all kinds transforming them into monstrous creatures. The hair-raising scene in the hidden lab is like an animated version of those seen in the 1996 fantasy horror film, The Island of Dr Moreau, based on the novel by H.G. Wells.


‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ [Credit: Studio Ponoc/GKIDS]

Ghibli fans will have no problem falling in love with Studio Ponoc’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower. From its elements of fantasy and wonder, to the familiar arc of self-discovery. Besides the style of animation, by adapting The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, Studio Ponoc also seem to have adopted Ghibli’s use of fantasy novels written by women authors. These include Eiko Kadono’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (made as Tales from Earthsea), Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (as Arrietty) and Joan G. Robinson’s When Marnie Was There.

In terms of originality, this film doesn’t exactly bowl you over with ground-breaking artistry as seen in the likes of Spirited Away or The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. However, for every animation fan who feared that the 30-year-old artistry of Studio Ghibli will soon come to an end, it’s great to know that there is another Japanese animation studio out there which can replicate Studio Ghibli’s trademark look and feels.

Catch Mary and the Witch’s Flower at an arthouse theatre. It will be available in the U.S. this January.

(Source: TheVerge.com)

Artistic Wonders: Animated Prequels That Provide Insightful Back Stories To Shows Such As ‘Blade Runner 2049’ And ‘Train to Busan’


‘Blade Runner Black Out 2022’ [Credit: Warner Bros]

Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford may not have been the box office hit that its producers and diehard fans hoped for, but it is still a remarkable film in more ways than one. For instance, it is a rare recent film that has not one but three short prequels commissioned to provide back stories to events that happened between Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic, which took place in 2019, and Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, set 30 years later.

Directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley), the first two prequels 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run provide background stories on the characters Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), both of whom featured in Blade Runner 2049. But it’s the third prequel, the animated short titled Blade Runner Black Out 2022, that created the most buzz.

An Animated Prequel: ‘Blade Runner Black Out 2022’

Set in Los Angeles three years after the original Blade Runner, the action-packed short tells of how after mobs of angry humans start killing replicants with natural life-spans. Two Nexus 8 replicants – military combat model Iggy and pleasure model Trixie – decide to fight back by creating a massive power outage that became known as the Great Blackout of 2022, “a darkness the humans have never seen.”

Brilliantly animated, the 15-minute prequel is written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop fame. The clip also offers a few callbacks to the original Blade Runner, such as Trixie’s acrobatic skills – which is reminiscent of Daryl Hannah’s Pris – while LAPD blade runner Gaff is voiced by the original actor, Edward James Olmos.

However, Blade Runner 2049 is not the first cinematic production to have an animated prequel specifically made to provide a backstory for viewers. If you loved the concept. here are a few other fantastic animated prequels that may be of interest.

1. Snowpiercer (2013) Animated Prequel

Futuristic sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer, directed by The Host’s Bong Joon Ho and starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, focuses on the last remnants of humanity seeking refuge as an apocalyptic earth experiences a new ice age.

Its 4-minute animated prequel was produced to explain how the world turned icy cold after a disastrous attempt to end global warming triggers an ice age instead. Violence arose among the human race as they fight each other to get on board the train that runs on a special engine. The feature film picks up years later when a class system has arisen on the Snowpiercer and a revolution is about to erupt between the lower and upper classes.

The stunning short uses 3D animation albeit with static human characters, yet fear and violence is effectively portrayed through the use of light, sound and special effects. Yona (Ko Asung) narrates the short in Korean, but thankfully there are English subtitles. Effective and well-animated, the prequel helps viewers understand the chaotic scenario featured at the start of Snowpiercer.

2. 47 Ronin (2013) – ‘The Way of the Warrior’

If you can accept Keanu Reeves as a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian samurai, 47 Ronin is actually quite straightforward. Still, the producers felt a prequel was necessary to explain the film’s mythical premise. Set in 18th Century feudal Japan, the 4-minute short relates the tale of 47 great samurai whose lives turned topsy turvy when their master was killed by an evil lord. Forced to become wandering ronin (masterless samurai), the band set out to restore their master’s honor by seeking out his killers, while tackling human and mythical dangers along the way.

Employing 2D animation with splashes of bold colors, The Way of the Warrior is like watching Japanese ink paintings come to life. The short film is worth watching for the chief samurai’s fight with a fire-breathing dragon alone.

3. Train to Busan (2016) – ‘Seoul Station’


‘Seoul Station’ [Credit: Finecut]

Train to Busan, 2016’s zombies-on-a-train hit from South Korea, was one of Asia’s biggest success stories in 2016. This even allowed director Yeon Sang-ho, who’s known for his animated works such as The King of Pigs and The Fake, to commercially release another zombie-related film titled Seoul Station.

Unlike other animated prequels mentioned in this article, Seoul Station is a full-length feature. And though it is regarded as a prequel to Train to Busanits plotline is actually quite different from its live-action counterpart, the only similarity being that the zombie uprising starts at the Seoul’s central railway terminus. However, it does give a more concise idea of how the undead pandemic started.

Whether you’ve seen Train to Busan or not (and you should if you haven’t), Seoul Station is worth watching on its own accord. It is a social commentary in the guise of a horror flick, using the premise of a zombie pandemic to highlight contemporary social issues such as misogyny, homelessness and ruthless manhandling tactics by authorities.

4. Game of Thrones: Conquest & Rebellion – An Animated History of the Seven Kingdoms (2017)


‘Games of Thrones: Conquest & Rebellion’ [Credit: HBO]

With Season 7 done and dusted and Season 8 still far on the horizon, HBO is doing all they can to keep Game of Thrones fans occupied in the meantime. Game of Thrones: Conquest & Rebellion is a storybook-style animated history special that tells of turbulent events that took place in and outside Westeros thousands of years before the TV series started.

Part one of the 45-minute special is “Valyria’s Last Scion: House Targaryen”. It tells of the Doom of Valyria, which sees Aegon Targaryen (not Jon Snow, but his ancestor Aegon the Conqueror) sailing across to Westeros with his two sister-wives and conquering all the lands that their three dragons could breathe fire on.

Richly animated and accompanied with the familiar score from TV series, the first chapter is narrated by Harry Lloyd, who played Daenerys Targaryen’s irksome brother Viserys on the show.

The rest of the chapters, which will likely cover events all the way to Robert’s Rebellion, will only be available on exclusive Game of Thrones: The Complete Seventh Season DVD & Blu-ray™ sets (that carry the bonus disc) due out on December 12, 2017.

5. The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) – ‘The Animatrix’


‘The Animatrix’ – “Final Flight of the Osiris” [Credit: Warner Home Video]

One of the earlier film franchises to produce animated prequels was the Wachowski’s ground-breaking Matrix trilogy. They weren’t the first to do so but they were certainly among the most ambitious. The Animatrix, conceived and overseen by the talented siblings, is a compilation of nine animated short films based on the Keanu Reeves-led sci-fi franchise.

The idea for the intensive animated project came about when the brothers were promoting The Matrix film in Japan and met up with anime creators who had influenced their work. The first of these shorts is the 10-minute “Final Flight of the Osiris,” a direct prequel to The Matrix Reloaded. Other shorts, such as “The Second Renaissance Part I and II,” tell of the rise of the machines and their ultimate war with man that led to the creation of the computer-generated virtual reality. Comprising different forms and styles of animation, each short film is a cinematic animated achievement in its own right.

Throughout the years, these animated prequels have served a great purpose for fans, as we eagerly seek out more information on our favorite fandoms.

From Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) – the Animatrix of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy – to Star Wars‘s Forces of Destiny series (2017) and the Transformers franchise’s upcoming animated features, these creative prequels are definitely here to stay.

Which animated prequel do you know of that should be added to the above list? Drop me a note below.

2 Treats in 2017 for ‘Frozen’ Fans

frozen-cast                                               Till Frozen 2 comes along… (Credit: Disney)

Since its launch in 2013, Disney’s Frozen has become the highest-grossing animated feature of all-time, grossing more than $1.27 billion in box office sales worldwide. Yet, its much-anticipated sequel is seemingly still on ice (pun intended).

But a #Frozen2 there will be, as #Disney has officially confirmed it in early 2015, just that we are unlikely to see it before *gulp* 2019, as it was not included in the House of Mouse’s theatrical schedules for 2017 and 2018.

Of course, there was the 2015 short film, Frozen Fever, but let’s face it: That was just an appetizer (plus we were rather distracted by Queen Elsa’s bad cold and her mischievous snots, cute as they may be.)

frozen-2-elsa-snots                                                 Elsa’s snots in ‘Frozen Fever’ (Credit: Disney)

There was also the LEGO Frozen Northern Lights series of shorts on the Disney Channel, which featured building block versions of key characters Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven on a quest to restore the Northern Lights before they disappear from the kingdom of Arendelle’s sight. It’s a cute (and extremely corny) series, meant for very young kids, but it’s not quite like the real thing.

frozen_northern-lights                                               LEGO Frozen Northern Lights (Credit: Disney)

Till the eagerly-awaited sequel comes along, here are two things Frozen fans can look forward to in 2017:


frozen-olaf                           Olaf the adorable snowman gets his own special (Credit: Disney)

This Christmas, a Frozen TV special, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, is set to air on the ABC network in the US of A. Focus will be on the lovable snowman, with Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Sven also set to return, including the original voice cast of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and Josh Gad. New songs can be expected too, woo-hoo!

2. ‘Frozen’ Goes to Broadway

frozen-broadway-musical-logo                                                                    (Credit: Disney)

There’s already Disney on Ice Presents Frozen, now meet Frozen — The Broadway Musical. The stage musical adaptation of the hit movie will take its bow at the St. James Theater in New York in Spring 2018. Prior to that, a two-month test run will take place at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in August 2017.

Much is expected from the musical, as it is written by the same Oscar-winning team behind the 2013 film — book by Jennifer Lee, screenwriter and director (with Chris Buck), and music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, responsible for the film’s brilliant songs including the stirring “Let It Go.”

The cast has yet to be confirmed, but just for the fun of it, which current pop star do you think is best to play either Elsa or Anna? For instance, Dove Cameron, who was impressive playing Amber in Hairspray Live!, could make a nice Elsa. Let me know in a comment below!

For what we can expect to see in Frozen 2, check out my original article, “7 Things Frozen Fans can look forward to in 2017 and Beyond” at this link: https://creators.co/@margueritatan/4180312

For my other pop culture features on movies (eg King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) and TV shows (eg, The Young Pope), click this link:

Obi-Wan Kenobi returns in ‘Star Wars Rebels’ Mid-Season Trailer

Fans of #StarWarsRebels were already elated when no less than 4 Easter Eggs that made references to the #Disney animated series appeared in the blockbuster, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

And now, with the release of Season 3’s mid-season trailer, more joy is in store as it is officially certain that Master Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi will be (re)appearing in the series to take on his adversary from Star Wars Episode 1: the Phantom Menace (1999), Darth Maul (or just Maul, as the ex-Sith is known on Rebels).

Watch the trailer here:

Cool, aint it? Complete with Obi-wan’s trademark opening strike stance at that (pictured below). Till now, Anakin Skywalker’s mentor was mainly seen as a hologram on a holocron, sounding a warning to any member of the Rebellion who would listen.

Obi-wan Kenobi is ready for Maul (Credit: Disney)

Other than the fact that it is arguably the most exciting trailer for an animated series to come along for some time, here are 5 other exciting tidbits – just to name a few – of what we can expect from the rest of Season 3:

1. Loads of #RogueOne connections such as Death Troopers 
Grand Admiral Thrawn flanked by Death Troopers (Credit: Disney)

2. Rebellion leader Mon Mothma’s first appearance on Rebels – and could that be Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna in Rogue One) sitting behind on her right?

3. Sabine meeting her Mandalorian warrior mother with the darksaber (previously owned by one Darth Maul) in hand
Sabine with the darksaber (Credit: Disney)

4. Grand Admiral Thrawn exhibiting some serious kung-fu moves. Not as stoic and rigid as we thought he was…

5. Freedom fighter Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker in Rogue One) making his much-anticipated appearance. The character previously appeared in The Clone Wars.
Saw Gerrera will be voiced by Forest Whitaker in ‘Star Wars Rebels’  (Credit: Disney)

For every Rebels fan, these are great stuff to look forward to. Especially it is a clear indication that Rebels will soon be leading into Rogue One territory, tying up loose ends hopefully, which would only make the Star Wars Extended Universe that much more enjoyable.

See also my other Star Wars-related articles below:
* Princess Leia’s 10 Most Iconic Quotes from Star Wars
* 4 Star Wars Rebels Easter Eggs in Rogue One
* 7 Great and Not-So-Great Surprises from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
* Star Wars Rebels 3: Bring On The Empire

Star Wars Rebels Season 3 returns on Disney  X D on January 7.

Top 5 Comic-Con Movie Trailers

One of the highlights of the annual  San Diego Comic-Com International is the debut of the trailers of possibly every expected blockbuster movie premiering in the next 15 months. Here’s my Top 5 favourites…

1. Wonder Woman (Summer 2017)

The best thing in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is going to rule the superhero universe comes 2017 and we can’t wait. Having Chris Pine as eye candy doesn’t hurt either…

2. Suicide Squad (August 2016)

Actually there has been a lot of trailers already for this much-anticipated film about a group of super villainous misfits being rounded up for a do-or-die secret mission, but this one has “previously unseen footage” and a rather good haunting rendition The Bee Gees’ “I Started A Joke”.

3. The LEGO Batman Movie (February 2017)

Truth be told, I’m looking forward more to this angsty Batman than the one in Justice League! :p The scene-stealer in The Lego Movie gets his own movie and is still funny and wonderfully voiced by Will Arnett. Life doesn’t give you seat-belts, so hold on tight!

4. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (April 2017)

The Lord of the Rings meets The Real RockNRolla and from what we saw in the trailer, the long-awaited Guy Ritchie helmer looks mighty good. Jude Law especially looks dastardly handsome as the dastardly king who will do all he can to prevent Charlie Hunnam’s streetwise Arthur from taking back his birthright to the throne. In case you are wondering, the song you hear is The Wild Wild Berry, a British traditional as sung by English folk singer Sam Lee.

5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (November 2016)

The magical world of J K Rowling continues in this Harry Potter-less movie version of her book about a magizoologist (played by the ever lovable Eddie Redmayne) who has to track down a number of magical creatures in 1926 New York City. Trailer looks fun and Redmayne can’t seem to be do anything wrong these days.

Special mention:
Kong: Skull Island (March 2017)

Seriously, I’m tired of seeing Samuel L Jackson in every blockbuster movie there is but then again, Kong appears to give a new take to the age old giant gorilla story and also it has Tom Hiddleston in it. Can’t be all bad…


The Executioner’s Apprentice

Apprentice--FINAL (553x800)

The entertainment and production quality of Singapore films have been improving by leaps and bounds in recent times. Last year’s SG50 film, 7 Letters,  was a delightful and thought-provoking piece that highlighted works from seven of our best homegrown directors. This year, one of the seven – Boo Junfeng of 2010’s Sandcastle fame, arguably just delivered the best local film of the year (thus far) with Apprentice, a fascinating, heartfelt and well-directed dramatisation of the uniformed personnel who work behind the walls – and gallows – of a fictitious prison in Singapore.

Here’s my  newspaper article, “Hangman’s Tales”, which features the Apprentice director and cast’s thoughts on the bright side of working on a dark film:

SINGAPORE — In Singapore, if a person murders another person, he or she could face the death penalty. Within the prison system, however, there is a person whose duty is to take a life. And it was this desire to understand the psyche of a prison executioner that drove Boo Junfeng to make his latest film Apprentice.

“In many societies where the death penalty is practised, we often forget that there is a person, a human being, who is empowered to kill,” the writer-director explained. “I was curious to see how he sees himself in the moral and ethical equation. To me, that is what was interesting — the human story behind the job, more than the (death penalty) issue itself.”

The 32-year-old took four years to research his sophomore film, including interviewing former executioners and people who have had family members executed. “The conversations I have had with these people can be made into a lot of other films. But I had to distil all of them out to make the film I wanted.”

What resulted was Apprentice, which focuses on soft-spoken correctional officer Aiman, who finds himself taken under the wing of the prison’s charismatic chief executioner Rahim, and the man who pulled the lever on Aiman’s father, who was on death row.

Masterfully played by Malaysian actor Wan Hanafi Su, Rahim is a person who takes no delight in his job, but who handles it as professionally as he can. Aiman, played by Singapore actor Fir Rahman, wears his uniform with equal pride, but being a casualty of the death penalty, he is constantly grappling with authority and morality.

Filmed primarily in Singapore and partly in Australia, the film is an earnest dramatisation that offers a chilling and fascinating look at the human stories of the people working behind the walls, and especially in the gallows, of a fictitious local prison.

Mild-mannered Boo is to be credited for coaxing fine performances out of his leads, who have nothing but praise for the director.

“He may be soft-spoken and sentimental, but he was very firm on set,” said Wan. Apprentice is the first overseas film the Malaysian veteran has starred in.

Singapore actress Mastura Ahmad, who plays Aiman’s older sister, concurred. “The film has many layers for each character yet Junfeng will make time to come to you, telling you exactly what he wants. He gets things done not by yelling or shouting, but with much patience,” she said.

Fir recalled what it was like filming the prison yard scene in a defunct prison near Sydney, Australia, during winter. “Junfeng was telling us to ‘imagine you are in Singapore …’ to which we cried, ‘But Singapore isn’t this cold what!’” the actor-cum-physical trainer said with a laugh, confessing they had to pile on heavy blankets the moment filming stopped. “I also have to make sure I have the right haircut and that I don’t put on weight. I have to look the same as I did, like, two weeks ago!”

In May, Apprentice held its world premiere at the 69th Cannes Film Festival. It was one of two Singaporean films at the prestigious event this year, the other being K Rajagopal’s A Yellow Bird, which premiered at International Critics’ Week. Fir felt “very honoured” to hit the festival in his first lead role and first feature film, while Mastura was overwhelmed by “the amazing response from the public and media”. And Wan not only held the distinction of being the first Malaysian actor to grace the red carpet at Cannes, he was also widely recognisable because of his signature long white hair and was “treated like a superstar”.

Apprentice did not win its Un Certain Regard category, but Boo is not losing any sleep over it. “If we start defining how good a film is purely by awards, I think we will miss a lot of good films. If you understand how competitions work, it is quite often decided by a jury and is entirely subjective,” he reasoned.

What was most important to him is having the right platform to show his film.

“The reviews have been very positive and very encouraging,” he said. “In the four years making Apprentice, I learnt a lot personally — not only as a film-maker but also as a person. I’ve grown to understand things that I never understood, seen facets of humanity that I haven’t seen before.”

Apprentice opens in Singapore cinemas on June 30.
(Other cities worldwide – UK, Poland, France, Turkey, Hong Kong, etc – please check your local arthouse listings.)

This article was originally published in TODAY newspaper on June 28, 2016.