Thursday, November 08, 2012

My review of FLIGHT

Paramount Pictures is making a big Oscar push for FLIGHT. It did very well at the boxoffice on its opening weekend and Paramount is crowing that at industry screenings the crowds are just going wild.

Really? What movie are they watching?

I saw FLIGHT at a DGA screening. The theater was packed because director Robert Zemeckis was supposed to be there for a Q & A after (he cancelled). This crowd was hardly enthusiastic after it was over. There was some polite applause and then everyone ran for their cars.

I know the film has received some good reviews, but I have to tell you – I hated it. And as I walked through the lobby en route to the parking garage I asked other people. They didn’t care for it either.

It’s described as an “action-packed mystery thriller.” Huh??? Is there a second movie named FLIGHT that just came out because the one I saw was none of those things.  The one I saw was THE EMPEROR'S NEW LIFE VEST. 

Here’s the movie (no SPOILER ALERT if you saw the trailer or read any review) – and understand I love Denzel Washington – a rollicking first half hour (although it's utterly absurd that a plane would go up in that weather) as Denzel lands the damaged aircraft. Then five minutes of fun as John Goodman arrives on the scene.  After that is two hours of the most boring, clich├ęd alcoholism story in film history. Not a single scene you haven’t seen already in five other lead-wrestles-with-alcoholism movies. I’m not diminishing the problem or saying we shouldn’t have empathy for those afflicted with this addiction, but Jesus – tell us something we don’t know. Instead...

He tells people he doesn’t have a problem.

He insists he can quit whenever he wants.

He goes into a store and buys out the liquor department (Nic Cage scene in LEAVING LAS VEGAS but without the shopping cart).

He tries to quit but can’t.

He goes to AA but leaves.

He passes out on the floor.

His girlfriend leaves him.

His best friend runs out of patience.

His kid loses respect for him.

He has booze hidden everywhere.

Sound familiar?  Sound overly familiar? 

FLIGHT was really LOST meets LOST WEEKEND. Plane crash and then the great Billy Wilder movie starring Ray Milland. After the plane lands there’s no action whatsoever. And there never was a mystery. For those who say they could watch Denzel Washington just read the phonebook for two hours – this movie is your test.

He himself is fine. He always is. He’s an amazing actor and pulls the scenes off fine. And maybe if we hadn’t seem the identical scenes in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, LEAVING LAS VEGAS, UNDER THE VOLCANO, FACTOTUM, THE VERDICT, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, BARFLY, THE UPSIDE OF ANGER, LOST WEEKEND, BAD SANTA, and the TV movie THE MORNING AFTER with Dick Van Dyke, which was the best of all of them – they’d resonate more. (Plus, I know I’m leaving out probably eight Lifetime movies and RIO BRAVO with Dean Martin deserves honorable mention.)

If it weren’t Denzel Washington playing this role I probably would have walked out long before last call. And my perseverance was not rewarded by the ending, a climax more suited for the Hallmark Channel.

Like I said, the movie did great business the first weekend. And Paramount thinks this is a big Oscar contender. And for all I know, all of you just adored the picture. But I was completely under whelmed. Robert Zemeckis is a great director. BACK TO THE FUTURE alone puts him in the hall of fame. He couldn’t see that this movie was dragging and going nowhere?

Or I’m just completely out of step. That is always possible. Remember, I’m the one guy on the planet who doesn’t like “Hey Jude.”

I’ll be interested to see how it fares at the boxoffice week two. It’ll be up against stiff competition -- SKYFALL (which might have been a better title for FLIGHT) and we’ll see how good the word-of-mouth is. I’m also curious to hear your reaction. Is it really good? Oscar worthy even?

Of course, it might only be fitting that in a year when Seth MacFarlane hosts the Academy Awards that FLIGHT wins as Best Picture.


Rory W. said...

Wait, you don't like "Hey Jude?"

Mac said...

He's landed a plane in a shitstorm... now he's got to fight the biggest shitstorm of them all... the one inside his big drunk head...

And that's why I never got a job writing loglines. I'm going to give that film a miss, it sounds like you'd have to be steaming drunk to get through it.

Matthew E said...

Hang in there; "Hey Jude" is among my least favourite Beatles songs. It might be okay if it was about a third its actual length. But it's not.

Anonymous said...

Wait, you don't like Seth MacFarlane?

KJ Halverson said...

I agree. I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me about the film until you pointed out that I'd already seen it seven times before. I liked the tension filled plane sequences, and Goodman stole every scene he was in (all three of them), but in the end it felt a little overly manufactured. Oh, and let's not forget about the monologuing.

John Leader Alfenito said...

You're not the *only* one who doesn't like "Hey Jude."

JT Anthony said...

Haven't seen Flight, and probably won't after your review.

Friday question: would you mind taking a stab at comparing Hollywood spin on a movie and the spin political parties put on its candidates, especially this year?And especially when the reality is much different--weaker--than the perception they are trying to shape for the audience.

Shelia said...

There seems to be an entire group of us who doesn't like "Hey Jude." Glad someone finally came out first so the rest of us would start to feel normal.

gottacook said...

That Dick van Dyke TV movie was terrific, I remember him literally in the gutter - and I haven't seen it since the 1970s.

Another memorable TV movie about an addict: Dennis Weaver in Cocaine: One Man's Seduction.

Unknown said...

I'm the only person who didn't like Argo. And I WANTED to like Argo.

I made the mistake about reading about the story first. I was hoping for that story. Instead, there's just these long sequences of Ben Affleck and his beard staring at the camera, both deep in thought.

One of my customers and I were talking about it. The customer was hispanic. He said he liked it, but was disappointed that when they showed stills of the movie matching real life photos of the places and the people involved, Affleck looked nothing like the guy he was playing.

HERE'S AN IDEA: a story about the WRITER of the script for Argo, who finds out that her script has been optioned and is in development, only to find out that it's been a ruse and will never see the light of day!

MacGilroy said...

And Goodman stole every scene he was in

Wait, are we talking about Argo?

Charlie O'Brien said...

I held off seeing Flight for "Cloud Atlas" before it sank into the sunset. I loved it - didn't give me a migrane like Flight would have.
Good review - going to pass on it and maybe download the Cloud Atlas e-book instead by David Mitchell for this weekend.
Oh, and Skyfall starts Friday - my wife's birthday. I knew I'd better not forget that - er, both those things.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DouglasG said...

You are right on the money! when the credits started I was shocked at the good reviews.

Max Clarke said...

No plans to see "Flight." It isn't an airplane movie, it's a booze movie. If Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star in the first half-hour of "Star Wars," but they found booze in his blood and Corellian ale bottles in his locker…you get the idea.

A movie like this is Oscar bait. The early drinking movies weren't. Maybe with "The Days of Wine and Roses," they should have retired the Oscar for Best Alcoholic Performance. No more awards for actors who play drunks.

Johnny Ringo Come Lately said...

Fight or Flight? I'll drink to that.

Not only do I not like Hey Jude, I was never a fan of the Beatles. I don't dislike them, I'm just not a fan. Hey Jude is just one of the reasons.

dgwphotography said...

After seeing the reviews, and then seeing this movie, I feel like Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

EricWGray said...

Denzel Washington has a knack for being cast in films that lack originality and, in many cases, plausibility. 'Crimson Tide' comes to mind... a film written so poorly, I tossed my copy.

RIP Tony Scott

Johnny Walker said...

I saw "Trouble With The Curve" at a packed screening at the DGA and most people clapped and cheered at the end... At least your audience had some taste!

Mark said...

Wow. I've been hearing such great stuff...and the previews were at least intriguing...Bummer. I'll most likely move this to the VOD cue for next year.

Larry said...

I thought the movie was okay if not that origiual. What I liked least about it was the cliched ending. I won't spoil it, but it would have been nice if, somehow, they'd gone in a different direction. What direction? I don't know. That's why the pay screenwriters so much.

Unknown said...

Minor spoiler:

I think the message of the film was "If you're going to drink, for God's sake be sure to do some cocaine"

Nat Gertler (Sitcom Room alum) said...

I thought the film was well-made in some ways, particularly performances, and not in others. But it certainly was not the film we expected to see, from the trailer; ultimately it was not a film that we wanted to have seen that night, having seen it.

John Goodman does make everything he appears in better (and that's certainly been true of the three films I've seen him in in the theater over the past three months - the guy works!), but even he cannot save every film he is in.

benson said...

Okay, here goes. (deep breath...exhale) I hated "Star Wars". First half, boring as hell. Second half, meh, okay. And while I'm at it, didn't like (nor understand) Harry Potter and the Anabolic Steroid Scandal or any of the sequels.

And, sorry Ken, but Arthur is one of the worst movies ever made. Maybe if John Goodman had played Arthur.

Ron said...

I think we should watch 1958 series "Flight" from California National Productions an NBC TV in house production company. It was great series about WW ll.

bill said...

Personally I liked the movie. I know it was the same old alcoholic movie we've seen in the past but it had some interesting twists. The main one being: in all those other films we see the drunk at his worst. They have lost the ability to function in the world.

Not only has is the Denzil character functional, he pulls off a move that only he could accomplish and saved the people on the plane. How do you deal with a character who needs reforming when he just did a heroic act. That was the interesting twist I thought.

I understand Diane Sawyer will be doing the sequel.

Katie said...

I've heard this about Flight from a few people. Haven't seen it yet.
This is how I felt about The Master. When it was over, it felt like the whole theater went, "huh."

Barbara C. said...

Totally Unrelated Friday Question:

I don't watch "Big Bang Theory" (mother of five, limited television time). However, it seems like every other week they are bringing in some sci-fi icon. I think most of the living cast of every Star Trek has been on there at some point.

Do you think the show is being gimmicky by constantly bringing in sci-fi icons to cover for deficiencies and plot development? And how do you think constantly bringing in guest stars will effect the show long term?

Tv Food and Drink said...

I love this site. It never disappoints!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Barbara C: in fact BIG BANG has not had that many episodes with Star Trek folks - Leonard Nimoy did a voice over (he was represented by a Spock action doll) in season 5, and there's been I think three other ST actors from more recent times in five years and a bit. They did have Stephen Hawking (in person last year, in a phoned-in bit this year). They've had Mike Massimino, a genuine NASA astronaut, in some scenes with Howard in space.

I'd say the guest stars were actually doled out pretty sparingly, and they're all relevant to the storylines. It doesn't feel like stunt casting to me.


James said...

Cliff Robertson was a great alcoholic pilit in THE PILOT. If you still have a VHS or Beta machine, it's worth watching.

Greg Ehrbar said...

"Hey Jude" was a lot like "Aquarius." It starts out great then the record just seems to skip again and again.

Greg Ehrbar said...

There was also a pretty good TV movie on the subject called "A Sensitive, Passionate Man" with David Janssen and Angie Dickinson. As I recall she was particularly proud of the film and she was rather good in it, and of course Janssen was superb.

Cap'n Bob said...

All right, I'll wave the flag for "Hey, Jude." I like it. There are a lot of Beatles songs I like more, but I still like "Hey, Jude."

As for Flight, I have no intention of seeing it. I would like to hear your reaction to Lincoln, which opens tomorrow, Ken.

MrEd said...

I'm in complete agreement with you. Heavy, ham-fisted writing, cliche after cliche.

And what was even the point of the John Goodman character? He played the part well, but the minute he showed up and "Sympathy for the Devil" started playing (gee, he must not be a good person), everything started going south. His later scene - WTF? Addiction is bad! It's horrible! Hey, let's bring in a drug dealer for comic relief!

What a disappointment.

Paul Duca said...

You've heard Anheuser-Busch is requesting scenes of its products be removed from the film?

XJill said...

I agree with Nat & Bill, although it was not the movie I expected based on previews and while it definitely had flaws it made me think.

And your Leaving Las Vegas comparison - he's intentionally drinking himself to death in that one so that doesn't really fit exactly (but I get what you mean).

In summary - if Flight gets some award noms over the awful "The Master" I will be just fine with that.

Dave Arnott said...

Ken, I didn't like the movie either. But I think we *both* would have forgiven seeing these familiar story beats (in this kind of story, you kinda have to have 'em) if they'd been handled better.

I, too, adore the direction in Back To the Future (and Used Cars is one of my all-time favorite comedies), but I felt like Zemeckis never trusted us as an audience.


The opening scene was great, but the very next chunk, the introduction of Nicole, was just so false. She looked wrong. The porno set was cutesy. Her landlord was a total caricature. It was all painted with a HUGE brush so either a) we'd all GET it, or b) we wouldn't feel too bad about it, or c) both.

Or... late in the movie, after not drinking the hotel mini-bar vodka, Whip puts the bottle down in close-up... and the camera stays on it... for a long time... kinda too long... and we KNOW that means he's gonna pick it up again. And instead of having this great, tense moment, where I'm squirming and hoping he doesn't pick it up, kinda knowing that he's gonna, but maybe not this time... instead of that, I'm just waiting for him to grab it... because we all know he's gonna. The way that's shot/written did not *invest* me in that moment. But wait... because when his hand comes in and he does grab the bottle... there's this HUGE low-end music sting that says IMPORTANT MOMENT! Because, apparently, I'm 9 years old and need to be spoon-fed.

As I said, I felt Zemeckis never trusted us. And it's too bad because there's some great stuff in there. That stairwell scene is terrific. All the stuff in the plane is harrowing and riveting and edge-of-your-seat, never-seen-quite-like-this top drawer movie-making.

But then you have Ken and his wife be almost comically crazy religious. As opposed to just being, seriously, devoutly religious.

Heh, actually... I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Zemeckis found out you could flip a plane and still fly it, really wanted to film JUST that sequence, and was resigned to the fact that he also had to shoot the rest of the movie around it.

Stef said...

Never really cared for 'Hey Jude' and now I've got it running through my head!
Curse you, Ken!

Rich said...

Great shout out for Dick Van Dyke TV movie! It's the only alcoholism that doesn't cop out. (Still remember the last shot of Van Dyke in an alley with a bottle, beaten by booze.)

Milwaukee said...

Zemekis couldn’t see that this movie was dragging and going nowhere?

Zemekis just caused the bankruptcy of Disney's animation studio with "Mars needs moms". The guys nerves are fried, his confidence is low, and he needed a standard script movie to get his mojo back.
He directed this movie as a way to jump back on the hollywood horse, the horse that just threw him off and broke his neck.
It's not a great movie, but i applaud the director for not withdrawing after previous failure. Just like i have more respect for Tiger Woods after his fall. For a billionaire to choose to keep going, even when most battles don't go your way, is quite inspiring to me.

By Ken Levine said...

Yeah, well... THAT would have made a better movie, Milwaukee.

Lily711 said...

I wish "Skyfall" were coming out on my birthday. Instead I saw "Flight" on my birthday. Why didn't I just lie down on the road until a schoolbus ran me over?This movie was a major bummer (a sixties word, which reminds me, the reason "Hey Jude" and "Aquarius" seem to go on forever is because at the time we really didn't notice they were going on forever, like, you know, man). Back to "Flight," I too thought it was a mystery thriller. The mystery is, why do they call it a thriller? It's a downer,period. The two most embarrassing scenes are in the stairwell (sorry, it just did not play for me) and the religious zealots in the hospital scene. This movie is a classic bait and switch. It stars one of our most popular actors and advertises a crazy scary plane crash -and delivers-then puts the audience through 2 hours of dreary predictability. Massive Fail.

Lily711 said...

I wish "Skyfall" were coming out on my birthday. Instead I saw "Flight" on my birthday. Why didn't I just lie down on the road until a schoolbus ran me over?This movie was a major bummer (a sixties word, which reminds me, the reason "Hey Jude" and "Aquarius" seem to go on forever is because at the time we really didn't notice they were going on forever, like, you know, man). Back to "Flight," I too thought it was a mystery thriller. The mystery is, why do they call it a thriller? It's a downer,period. The two most embarrassing scenes are in the stairwell (sorry, it just did not play for me) and the religious zealots in the hospital scene. This movie is a classic bait and switch. It stars one of our most popular actors and advertises a crazy scary plane crash -and delivers-then puts the audience through 2 hours of dreary predictability. Massive Fail.

Marty Fufkin said...

Just saw the film (despite your review) and didn't dislike it as much you, Ken. I wonder if perhaps your underwhelment was because of the bizarre marketing. It was a straight-up drama; If I walked in expecting an "action packed mystery thriller", I'd feel grumpy about it too.

My gripe was that a significant plot hole was not touched on -- and it could have provided a more complex plot rather than a by-the-numbers alcoholism story. The pilot probably caused the malfunction by pushing the plane beyond capacity through the turbulent storm. A friend of mine who is a pilot said this is the first thing investigators would have pinned on the pilot, but wasn't touched on by the investigators in the film.

Beef Supreme said...

I had fortunately read (part of) Drew McWeeny's review on, so I knew going in that it was a drama about alcoholism and addiction. I also told the people I went with this, and EMPHASIZED it, because the marketing was clearly extremely misleading.

I thought the movie was very entertaining though, and really well acted and written. It took a few shortcuts such as leaving the question of whether Whip could have handled the situation better had he not been intoxicated, and the very last scene was hokey... but other than that it was, as they say, "a gripping drama". Did it break new ground? No, but it was an interesting character study. Too bad though if you went in expecting a "mystery thriller"... which I agree that the trailers sort of sold it as.

Oh, and the worst part about it? Using "Sympathy for the devil" on the soundtrack when introducing Goodman's character. How trite was that? There should be a total ban on using that song as shorthand in movies.

-bee said...

I waited to see the film before reading your review but maybe I shouldn't have - you were right!

What a disjointed mess this film was - that it got so many good reviews just shows the lousy shape film criticism is in these days.


It was so repetitive. I began to roll my eyes every time Denzel looked at a bottle of liquor "Should I or shouldn't I? OK, I should".

And the film DOES raise an interesting central question then never actually deals with it. DID the fact Denzel was drunk/high actually make him MORE capable of dealing with the situation?

I mean, yeah, obviously a mainstream film could never actually ADVOCATE that pilots drink/drug and fly - but then why even made it the crux of a mainstream film in the first place?

At the very least the film could have addressed the possibility that life is highly paradoxical - but it does not even go THAT far.

Denzel was great as usual. If he wins a slew of awards its all fine by me, but the film itself was not good.

Anonymous said...

at the risk of being called RAAAACist, i can't help but think of this movie as a metaphor for the current washington administration. i.e. this 'magic black man' is so good at what he does, only he can pilot this plane to safety (economic metaphor plane is the country or economy) and that he can do it 'crunk'
as some people have pointed to admitted drug use in sutobiography 'dreams of my father' and debate performance as evidence of continued substance use of not ab-use. see, we have to give this man a chance whatever his flaws, because he is the only one who can do it.