Reel Critics: 'Furnace' a searing vision

Bleak, depressing but powerful, "Out of the Furnace" throws you into the smoldering fire of hard people in hard times. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are outstanding as blue-collar brothers Russell and Rodney Baze. They live a depressing existence in the dying Rust Belt of western Pennsylvania.

Rodney (Affleck) is a troubled veteran of four tours in Iraq. In debt to loan sharks and drug dealers, he's riding a nonstop downward spiral. Older brother Russell (Bale) works in the town's last steel mill and tries to rescue Rodney from disaster.

Woody Harrelson plays a vile backwoods psychopath who is the local meth kingpin and operator of a brutal bare-knuckle fight club. He takes control of Rodney's damaged life with dire consequences. First-rate actors Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard and Willem Dafoe add gravitas to the disturbing story.

This film is a sharp, focused look at a bleak and barren landscape. The losing players in America's dying industrial game grasp for hope in an unforgiving world that has passed them by.

—John Depko


"The Great Beauty," a new film from director Paolo Sorrentino, is truly a work of art, a Fellini-esque vision of Rome that fascinates the eye and mind.

Jep Gambardella (wonderful Toni Servillo) is a dapper, sophisticated writer. Or at least he wrote one well-received novel years ago and is still cashing in on his celebrity within a wide circle of party-loving, artistic friends. At 65, Jep's goal was to not only attend these fabulous parties but "to have the power to make them fail."

It's all glorious, glamorous superficiality until Jep gets some news about his first love that turns him more introspective about his life — could he find something of value and purpose again? Jep is savvy enough to see through the affectations of others, and has no qualms in telling them so. Yet just when he seems to be on the brink of self-discovery, he pulls back as if bored with the concept.

The film features some extraordinary scenes and faces, among them a beautiful stripper (Sabrina Ferilli) whose cynicism matches Jep's and a frail, Mother Teresa-type nun (Giusi Merli) who is an admirer of Jep's writing.

Rome has never looked so magical, from brightly hued rooftops at night to a balcony of flamingos at dawn. "The Great Beauty" is not for everyone. The story is more impressionistic than linear. All it requires is for the viewer to just let go and fall under its gorgeous spell.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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