There was the trailer, the studio-generated buzz, and the images of Bill Murray, cigarette in a long holder, angled upward, pince-nez poised on the end of his nose, promising that "Hyde Park on Hudson" would be a superb glimpse into the public-private life of FDR.
It's the summer of 1939, a pivotal moment in history, especially for England on the cusp of going to war with Germany. The king of England, George VI (Samuel West), and his queen (Olivia Colman), have arrived at Franklin Delano Roosevelt's estate, Hyde Park, bowler in hand, to ask the Americans (in the grip of isolationism) for a promise of support for what will be a long and arduous battle.
"Hyde Park" should have been electric, rich with possibilities and personalities. It isn't. No matter that there are some touching moments between FDR and the young, hesitant, and stuttering king as they share a nightcap before retiring.
Bullet to the Head
Instead, the film veers off to focus on a tawdry relationship between FDR and his distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), who he, just before the monarch's arrival, summons to his estate to chat and look at his stamp collection.
Daisy, ever compliant, arrives at Hyde Park, willing to serve. And when the two take a long drive (the president driving Miss Daisy in his specially outfitted convertible), to a sheltered spot with a sweeping view of the Hudson valley, FDR places her hand on his upper leg and then sits back, smoking his signature cigarette, as flowers and FDR bob up and down. It's a puzzling and even unexpected moment in the film; however, as it turns out, it frames all that follows.
So, instead of sorting out America's place in a world slipping into chaos (Germany's juggernaut is marching across Europe), or allowing FDR's courageous struggle with his paralysis to be included, "Hyde Park" focuses on FDR's dalliances with different women, to include his personal secretary, Missy Lehand (Elizabeth Marvel). Apparently, the first lady, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), is occupied elsewhere. Even FDR's mother, intrusive and bossy, indulges her son, a man who seems profoundly self-centered, showing only trivial glimpses of his political brilliance or suggesting that he possessed any semblance of self-awareness.
At first blush, the film seemed a solid response to those startling good English films and television series that offer a dramatic view of British culture and class. Instead, it drops off a cliff into the inconsequential, offering more information about an iconic president than anyone really cares to know, abandoning all sense of FDR, the man and the politician, choosing Daisy, who does the voiceover, as its fulcrum. Perplexing.
"Bullet to the Head"
First things first: "Bullet to the Head" is all about retro, harkening back to the 1980s when the film's director, Walter Hill, made "48 Hrs." But then retro also is what Sly Stallone is all about. He refuses to go gently into that good night, emerging annually, like Groundhog Day, from his favorite fitness club — pumped-up arms, eyes hooded, his mouth a permanent sneer, his hair untouched by gray (really?), a sheen of sweat on his parchment face, challenging anyone to mention that he just might have become an old guy, in spite of all best efforts. How old? Don't ask. OK, he's been around long enough to spark feelings of nostalgia.
What Stallone has done in film, for at least three decades, is driven heavy machinery through any residual audience sensibilities, leaving in his Rambo wake carnage and mayhem. His characters love guns (and bows and knives) and the violence they can perpetrate. Life is cheap, remorse nonexistent. It's a dark fantasy. The classic urban cowboy, the quintessential loner, who, in the end, walks out of a wrecked, abandoned warehouse into a sunset obscured by city pollution.
His most recent offering is "Bullet to the Head," a film absent any real plot, or a plausible rationale for the gratuitous killing.
Does Stallone still have cachet? Sure. In a strange, stoic, totemic way. He no longer has to act. He just has to be present and try to make his lips move. He still carries this really large hammer and sees every situation as a nail. Ambiguity is never an issue.
But for fans of the genre, for those who appreciate what some might call a stylized vanity film, driven by remembrances of Rocky past, well, "Bullet to the Head" will satisfy.