New York Stories: How I Live Now / Charlie Countryman

How I Live Now

By Glenn Dunks
November 20, 2013

The Manhattan Report: The two films reviewed this week share little in common (certainly not quality) except that they both flopped at the US box office. In the case of Kevin Macdonald’s WWIII teen drama How I Live Now, it’s especially disappointing. With The Hunger Games ruling the roost of YA adaptations, I can’t imagine why this effective if decidedly small-scale feature couldn’t have found at least some of that franchise’s genre run-off dollars. Of course, it was given an R rating by the MPAA, effectively killing any chance for crossover success. The lesson here is that showing kids murdering other kids for sport is good for any age, and realistically portraying teenage feelings to an audience that is so frequently spoken down to gets you slapped with restrictions. Disappointing to say the least.

How I Live Now

How I Live Now: As post-apocalyptic young-adult fiction goes, Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now does a lot of things right. Sure, it mightn’t be The Hunger Games in scope, but, as based on Meg Rosoff’s award-winning novel, Macdonald succeeds at putting forth an authentically teenage view of a world disaster that thankfully eschews cliché and bombastic pro-violence Hollywood attitudes.

Saoirse Ronan stars as Daisy, an American spending her school holidays with relatives in England because her family “doesn’t want [her]”. When nuclear war breaks out in nearby London, Daisy and her cousins must fight to survive and stay together against the odds. With this surprisingly moving picture, Macdonald brings an ever-escalating vitality similar to that found in his Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September. Adults will likely admire it for the darkly realistic take on the material, while a teenage audience will surely respond to its smart handling of young peoples’ lives. It treats their troubles with legitimate concern, ambiguously and yet creatively alluding to the sort of worries and tribulations that all teens go through, without the need to spell it out.

The strength of How I Live Now is its refreshingly stripped back aesthetic, committed performances from its young cast, and a screenplay that doesn’t sugar-coat its horrors or the way teenagers interact. They swear and foolishly lash out, they have sex, and popular, innocent characters die. The violence and the love story at its heart don’t feel as lacklustre as more sanitised Hollywood efforts would likely have it. Following in the footsteps of the similarly themed Tomorrow When the War Began rather than their 1980s American counterpart Red Dawn, the villain is left unspecified, allowing the barbaric situation and the characters’ plights to remain the focus. This is a simple, yet effective film, and one that may find future life as a teen favourite if the target audience is allowed to see it in its limited release. (It arrives in Australian cinemas November 28.)


Charlie Countryman

Charlie Countryman: The list of stupidity found within Fredrik Bond’s Charlie Countryman includes Rupert Grint taking Romanian Viagra, Melissa Leo as a ghost, a surrealist men’s room urinal, and perhaps the single worst pair of pants in cinema history. If Charlie Countryman were as gleefully bonkers as it clearly wishes it were – Crank with added magic realism may have been the pitch – this may have been fun. Instead, it’s a stagnant, putrefied wasteland of pseudo-quirk and needless nihilism.

In this Euro-set thriller, Shia LaBeouf stars as Charlie. His mother has just died, and her ghost tells him to drop everything and move to Bucharest. (Naturally.) When the kindly old man next to him on the plane dies – he too returns as a spirit, but our hero’s ability to see them is quickly forgotten once it’s no longer necessary to the plot – Charlie attempts to comfort his daughter. Instead, he’s quickly caught up in the city’s bustling underground criminal underworld. It’s here we find Mads Mikkelsen, who gets a post-lavatory quip so awful it has to be heard to be believed: “What’s a bit of piss between friends?” Blegh!

This tale is told with a remarkable lack of style by debut director Bond. LaBeouf attempts to inject life into the joyless affair, but is hampered by costume and make-up that paints him like an unwashed, greasy hipster. He may also be genuinely wearing the worst action hero (if you want to call Charlie that) outfit in all of cinema. It’s certainly the least flattering, at least. Really, that just describes the whole movie. The ugly step-child of In Bruges with none of the class or wit, Charlie Countryman is truly terrible. (No release date at this time.)


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