Phantom of the Opera

Watching Phantom in New York at Broadway 2 years back was an exhilarating experience, especially after having had Rose wine and a 3-course dinner Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen down the street. The mild intoxication and the glorious music and theatrics made it truly a night to remember. The ticket cost me 127 USD, which was quite a pinch for a then university kid.

Phantom is currently the longest-running Broadway theater performance for the record and it has spawned various renditions since its Broadway debut. I caught Phantasia, performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich and Principal Cellist Ng Pei-Sian, together with the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) led by Maestro Chan Tze Law.

The concert was a classical medley of pieces, a symphony strung together from the pieces in Phantom (without the voices and theatrics) by the orchestra, with solo acts by the violin and cello. All I can say is the music was so emotionally-rich that I felt like falling in love all over again.

I can’t exactly review a classical performance in terms of technicality as I consider myself less than an amateur. I am amazed at the star power of Ng Pei-Sian, who amassed a contingent of fangirls who camped at the waiting lounge after the concert for a photo with him.

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The Revenant

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony is in two weeks time, and The Revenant roars ahead of the pack with 12 Oscar nominations.

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Leonardo DiCaprio’s moment has finally come, after a slew of best actor nominations and close misses for the grand prize of Best Actor. His performance was nothing short of stunning, and I have since gained a new found respect for his finesse and dedication as a thespian. Braving the sub-zero temperatures while filming in the secluded woods of Calgary, eating raw bison liver (Still throbbing with a pulse when he sank his teeth into it) – not forgetting he is vegan, braving a grizzly bear attack (CGI but nonetheless convincing), getting buried alive and being swept along in the icy rapids, and forgoing trips to the barber for 18 months to attain that disheveled countenance.

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Glass (left) and Fitzgerald (right)

He plays Hugo Glass, a fur hunter on a mission to hunt for pelts together with his contemporaries under command of Captain Andrew Henry. Along the way, Glass encounters a grizzly bear attack and is badly mauled and nearly dies. His party discovers him and decides to carry him on a makeshift stretcher while they tend to his wounds. Along the way, Fitzgerald sees Glass as a burden to their already arduous journey through the bitter cold and suggests killing him. However the rest protest as Glass is key in helping them find their way back to Fort Kiowa as he knows the way. More drama ensues when Fitzgerald kills Hawk, the son of Glass, when the former attempted to finish Glass off. Glass witnesses his son’s murder helplessly, and eventually gets abandoned by all his party, leaving him, still badly injured and immobile, to fend for himself. His hovering-at-the-verge-of death trip back to Fort Kiowa is an amazing testimony to the strength and the survival instinct of the human spirit. The unsettled score of vengeance for the death of his son drives him through the toughest times of inhumane conditions, but he eventually concedes that ‘vengeance belongs to the Creator’.  When Glass had the opportunity to plunge the blade into Fitzgerald during an arm-to-arm combat, he relented and let Fitzgerald off to the Native Indians for them to slaughter.

Amazing cinematography – The Revenant has a nomination in this Oscar category as well. Shot wholly with natural lighting, the crew and cast had to brave the perishing cold in completely secluded locations in Canada at odd timings to catch the correct light. Snow frosted on pine trees, mountains, and the actors’ beards alike. Many of the shots/takes had beautiful compositions – every frame was a work of art.  Breathtaking winter scenery of the Canadian Rockies, with a lone tiny figure (Glass) trudging away, set against the backdrop of a vast blanket of snow illuminated in twilight, underscores the majesty of nature and the enormity of the impossibility to find his way back.

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Lone figure on a cold day

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Glass out on a hunt to capture Fitzgerald who escaped from the outpost

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Glass and his campfire

In particular, the depravity of human nature stood out in the plot, as depicted by the instinct to shed people who no longer served their purpose in the group (like how Fitzgerald wanted Glass dead as he was dragging the team down with his injuries). The clashes between the Native Americans and Glass’ camp at the first 10 minutes of the film reminded me of the wars and bloodshed that had speckled the history of civilization. While laws have been set in place for order, human-to-human clashes have evolved from physical means to sticky corporate jungle politics.

The Revenant instills steel into the human will to thrive, not just survive, in the fight of life. This ‘silver-spoon’ generation is relatively shielded from the storms their ancestors had endured, like abject famine and war. A film like this serves to put that message across. A life journey can be likened to maze, as along the way there would be battles to be fought and giants to be felled. The conscience is appeased when one can confidently say that he had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith till the end. Just like how our dear Leo did – on- and off-screen. The epic portrayal of Glass’ story and the eventual Oscar victory (I hope my predictions are right).

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How can he not win after going through all this?