Tag Archives: Out of the Furnace

Dear Johnny Depp,

Back when I was ranking the movies you’d done with Tim Burton, I spent a lot of time staring at your filmography.  In addition to your early pairings with Burton, there are some really fantastic films there:  Benny & Joon, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donnie BrascoFear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Blow, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Finding Neverland.

Then something happened.

For the last five years, it seems you’ve been floundering, content to coast on the goodwill garnered by your penchant of playing “weirdos”. In your defense, Rango was fantastic and your cameo in 21 Jump Street was great, but the rest of your recent films? Eh … You weren’t the best part of Into the Woods, but I’d be hard-pressed to pick a best part of that overindulgent musical. Transcendence had a good idea behind it, but was poorly executed (I’ll lay part of that blame on first-time director Wally Pfister). Public Enemies couldn’t decide on which plot to give attention to. Alice in Wonderland was a bland mess. The Tourist was equally bland, but I don’t think it deserves the hate it gets. Same with The Lone Ranger; that film was just a generic action western. In fact, if any of these films had starred anyone else, they’d probably not even be worth mentioning, but when I see your name emblazoned above a title, I expect something good.

Don’t get me wrong, Johnny (can I call you Johnny?), I’m a huge fan. My go-to Halloween costume is Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing. In college, a friend had to record dialogue and sound effects over a muted movie clip for an audio class. He picked a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and asked me to provide an approximation of your voice to which I happily agreed. According to him, when he presented it, everyone in class—including the professor—was blown away by my impression. I’ve even dressed up as Captain Jack for Halloween.

Ladies loved this costume. I did very well that year.

Ladies loved this costume. I did very well that year.

So I’m not bashing you. You’ve got more talent than probably anyone reading this. Certainly more talent than me–a bowl of Alpha-Bits can create better sentences than me. It’s just that for too long you’ve been relegated to playing guys covered in weird makeup doing odd voices. You reached the apex of Deppy ridiculosity in Mordecai, hamming it up more than all the delis in New York. Jeff Goldblum couldn’t even save that movie, although now Paul Bettany is one film closer to dethroning Helena Bonham Carter as your most frequent costar. When I saw Mordecai, I couldn’t believe that you’d chosen to do it instead of allegedly doing Grand Budapest Hotel.

Then I saw the trailer for Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, opening September 18.

Faithful readers already know how much I enjoyed Cooper’s last project, Out of the Furnace, and while biopics aren’t really my thing, you look straight-up terrifying here. I realize that I just complained about your appearance in your last few films and in Black Mass you look like Powder’s creepy eczema-addled uncle doing a disturbed Christopher Walken impression, but there’s an intensity behind those blue contact lensed-eyes that I’ve not seen in over a decade.

It looks like you’re trying again.

I want to say that I think you’ve learned from your past misfires and that this film will be your comeback (a re-Depp-ployment? ReJohnnyVation? Deppvival?), but then I look at what you’ve got coming out and see a sequel to Alice in Wonderland and a fifth entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I’m hopeful for the latter because the directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, also did the gorgeous Kon-Tiki and because I love the character of Captain Jack (see above). That love for a character turns into respect for you when stuff like this happens:

Seriously, that four-minute video is the most heartwarming thing I’ve seen you in since Finding Neverland. So bring on more Captain Jack!

Look, Johnny, if I’m not there on opening day for Black Mass, it’s probably just because I haven’t gotten my Whitey Bulger costume yet. Don’t take my disinterest in the material as a disinterest in you. I was with you in the theater filled with swooning pre-teens when you did Secret Window. I stayed up late one night in 2004 to catch Private Resort on Comedy Central. I repeatedly watched a lo-res trailer for The Libertine on a dial-up modem and hunted high and low for a copy of the DVD. I’ll definitely see Black Mass, but don’t hate me if it’s at a matinée.

Anyway, don’t worry about me or any of your critics—you get to go home to Amber Heard, you lucky scamp. As for me, all this talk of your past works has put me in the mood to have a marathon of your films.

Always your fan,

–Ross

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Hollywood of the East: A Top Ten List of Pittsburgh-filmed Movies

With Josh Boone’s adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars opening in theaters across the country today, the long history that Pittsburgh has with film continues to grow. In case you didn’t know, the movie was filmed around here last year in places like Oakmont, Bellevue and a soundstage in the Strip, just to name a few spots. Sadly, this isn’t a review of that film. I guess I’m not a prolific enough reviewer yet for theaters around here to give me advanced screening tickets and whatnot.

Anyway, I’ve previously mentioned Pittsburgh’s history with film and how much I love seeing our city on film. It seems like every week a new project is green lit for Pittsburgh and I couldn’t be more excited about all of it. The city is becoming so well known for its films that bus tours of filming locations throughout the city started on May 31.

And with good reason. Seriously, our city is beautiful.

 

All the talk of tours, Foxcatcher gaining early Oscar buzz and great reviews at Cannes and Aaron Paul and Amanda Seyfried chilling at Jack’s on the South Side got me thinking about all the Pittsburgh-filmed movies I’ve seen. So if you didn’t get any advanced screening tickets like me or can’t get out to the theater this weekend to see the latest addition to Pittsburgh’s filmography, maybe you can check out one of the following.

This is my list of the top ten films filmed in and around the Pittsburgh region.

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‘Burgh on Film: Out of the Furnace

Please welcome Ross to the Eleventh Stack blogger rotation! His quips, tips, and opinions will appear here regularly once a month from now on.

Pittsburgh has a long history with film, and Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, now available on DVD, is a welcome, breathtaking addition to the tradition.

Photo taken from The Nerdist - all rights reserved to same - click through to read an interview with Scott Cooper

Photo taken from The Nerdist – all rights reserved to same – click through to read an interview with Scott Cooper

The movie, which has no relation to Thomas Bell’s Out of This Furnace, opens at a drive-in movie theater. The image projected on the screen is that of a well-dressed businessman, ascending an escalator. As he rises, the camera pans down into the field of parked cars. This particular scene didn’t stick out for me the first time I saw it, but–re-watching it recently–I found it striking. Drive-in movie theaters have all but disappeared–time capsules from a bygone era. The camera’s descent into this relic, juxtaposed with the ascent of a sharp-dressed businessman exemplifies, to me, one of the many themes of the movie: the times are changing, out with the old and in with the new. I find it interesting that it’s at this intersection that we’re introduced to Harlan DeGroat, the movie’s meth-head villain, menacingly played by Woody Harrelson. An angry, frothing evil practically bleeds out of his eyes. He’s not a villain you love to hate; he’s a villain you hate with a passion and hope he gets his comeuppance.

Beyond the theme of change, the central theme is that of choice. The movie’s tagline, “Sometimes your battles choose you” is characterized through the struggles of mill worker Russell Baze, phenomenally played by Christian Bale. A good, decent man by all accounts, we struggle along with him throughout the entire movie as he is constantly put into trying situations. How far will he go to help his brother, Rodney, fresh from his fourth tour in Iraq and played with subtlety by Casey Affleck, get out of debt? How will he be able to care for his ailing father? How is he going to live if the mill he works at does, in fact, close? Bale’s character even says it’s cheaper to get steel from China, as if admitting that is tantamount to him succumbing to the forces he so desperately tries to control.

There’s really nothing new about the narrative here, but the actors infuse such realism into their scenes that, even if Cooper doesn’t use them to their full potential, you have to take notice of what’s unfolding before you, despite the slow-moving pace of the film.

And that’s one of the reasons why I love this film.

These characters seem natural, organic, born from the blast furnaces that forged our city. There isn’t a false note in anyone’s performance. Even relative newcomer Zoë Saldana holds her own against a heavyweight like Bale.

And speaking of Bale, he might as well be giving a masters class on acting in this film. It baffles me that he got his Oscar nomination for American Hustle instead of this. He has a scene on a bridge with Saldana, barely four minutes long, that is better acted than most of American Hustle’s entire runtime. The scene is so real, bubbling over with palpable emotion, you almost feel like a voyeur watching them.

Bale looks so much like a genuine Pittsburgh mill worker, hardworking and worn, that I’ll forgive him for not having a typical yinzer accent. Despite that, he embodies Pittsburgh, complete with Braddock’s zip code tattooed on his neck. He even goes hunting with his uncle, played by Sam Shepard. He wouldn’t look at all out of place at a bar like Jack’s or Dee’s on the Southside.

And speaking of Pittsburgh landmarks, the second reason I love this movie is because there’s so much about it that makes it genuinely feel like Pittsburgh.

I love seeing Pittsburgh on film. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m seeing the places I’ve been and the streets I’ve walked projected onto a twenty-two-foot screen in a darkened theatre. It makes the city seem monumental, almost mythical. Maybe every New Yorker feels this exhilaration upon exiting the theatre. Maybe that’s why they call it movie magic.

It’s not just the scenery—beautifully shot on Kodak film as opposed to captured digitally—that makes the film feel authentically Pittsburgh. Honestly, Braddock has never looked better and during the film’s climax, the Carrie Blast Furnace almost outperforms Bale and Harrelson with its grandness.

It’s not just the music, which features songs by Eddie Vedder. I don’t even care for Vedder’s music and I must admit that putting it on top of scenes of Braddock works splendidly.

It’s something else.

There’s something so honest about seeing the cracked streets, boarded up houses and laboring smokestacks of Braddock on-screen, alongside a movie that is so much about perseverance despite obstacles. Pittsburgh is no longer “hell with the lid taken off.” Even the fish have returned to our rivers (I still wouldn’t swim in them, though). Pittsburgh has pulled itself up out of the furnace and taken matters into its own hands, just like Bale ultimately does in the end. It’s almost as if Cooper captured the driven character of Pittsburgh.

Also starring Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker, Out of the Furnace is a slow-burning revenge film that has stayed with me since I first saw it in the fall of 2013. I’d liken its tone to another one of my favorite films of that year— Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners . I get the urge to watch Prisoners every time it rains, which—as a result of living in Pittsburgh—is roughly three hundred times a year (I realize this probably says more about me than any psychiatric test could, but I digress). I feel like I could always watch Out of the Furnace, though. Despite its somber tone and deliberate pace, there’s an underlying steadfast hopefulness about the whole thing. When we lose everything, we fear nothing and that spurs us on to take action.

If you love seeing Pittsburgh on film and enjoy character-driven movies, then rent, borrow or buy Out of the Furnace.

–Ross

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