HOW I LIVE NOW: 2 ½ STARS. ” beautiful to look at, but low on any real substance.”

how-i-live-now-uk-posterSaoirse Ronan is just movie away from being a superstar. I’m convinced that with the right choices this talented young Irish actor could be a Kristen Stewart level a-lister.

Trouble is, of late she’s been the best thing in a series of movies that people didn’t see. “Violet and Daisy,” “Byzantium” and “The Host”—which was positioned as the start of a “Twilight” style franchise before audiences ran the other way—all underperformed, adding little luster to her star.

In “How I Live Today” she hands in another great performance, made all the more impressive as she wrings it out of a movie that is beautiful to look at, but low on any real substance.

In “How I Live Now” she plays Daisy, an anxiety-ridden New York teen sent to live with her aunt and cousin in the English countryside by her disinterested dad and his new wife. She wears her lack of self esteem like a badge. “I’m a curse,” she says, “everywhere I go bad [things] happen.”

Just as she starts to bond with her young cousins Piper (Harley Bird) and Isaac (Tom Holland) and REALLY bond (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) with hunky Eddie   (George MacKay), something bad does happen. Their bucolic life is torn apart after terrorists ignite a nuclear bomb in London, killing tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands.

The country falls under military law and soon the cousins are separated by gender and sent to work camps. As they are being torn apart Eddie and daisy make a deal to meet back at the country house, no mater what it takes to get there.

Surrounded by terror and uncertainty Daisy digs deep into “Dr. Phil” style pop psychology—“Take the bad,” she says, “put it in a box and focus on the good.”—to morph from angst ridden teen to Survivorwoman to find her way back “home” and reunite her new family.

When she is not pouting or in Eddie’s capable arms, Ronan spends most of her onscreen time on a dangerous trek with preteen Piper. It’s here her character gets interesting thanks to Ronan’s subtle but intriguing performance, but director Kevin “The Last King of Scotland” Macdonald’s reliance on musical montages to move the action forward, while beautiful, get in the way of the actors creating really memorable moments.

The actors are all good looking, as is the movie, but the visuals aren’t of the show-me-don’t-tell-me type, they’re more like cinematic wallpaper. It’s a treat for the eyes, but rings hollow in the story and character department.

For example, Daisy is a classic teen over thinker. We know this because McDonald adds in the ghostly voice of her inner mind on the soundtrack, and yet, (SPOILER ALERT) after she shoots two men dead there’s barely a second thought given to the murders.

Ronan is gifted, and will one day find the role to make her a star, unfortunately for all it’s visual panache, “How I Live Now” isn’t it.


19964_Last-King-Of-Scotland-04You can always tell its awards season when the biopics start hitting the theatres. Biographies are powerful Oscar magnets. The Academy has always been a sucker for a true-to-life story. Since the beginning of the Academy’s history 1 in 7 films nominated for Best Picture have been life stories and once designated, 1 in 5 go on to win. In the last two years alone Oscars went to actors portraying Ray Charles, Truman Capote and June Carter Cash. Next in line for Oscar consideration, in the Best Actor category at least, should be Forest Whitaker’s true-to-life look at Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s rise to power in The Last King of Scotland.

The story begins with a young Scottish doctor who travels to Uganda to do charity work and winds up as the newly minted dictator Amin’s personal physician. Based upon the novel by Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland places the fictional MD into a historical setting.

James McAvoy, who people will remember as Tumnnus in The Chronicles of Narnia last year, plays a doctor who starts out with the best of intentions but soon finds himself implicit in Amin’s madness as the body count around him grows. Director Kevin MacDonald takes us into Amin’s inner circle, allowing us to see the dictator’s descent into madness from the point-of-view of an objective observer. The doctor acts as a filter through which the viewer learns about the evil of Amin.

We meet the larger- than-life Amin just as he has come to power. He is a captivating figure, a man of the people, whose speechifying can whip a crowd into a frenzy. The doctor, swept away by Amin’s charisma, agrees to work with him to create a new health care system for Uganda. Soon the cracks in Amin’s personality reveal the cruelty of his reign.

McAvoy may be the leading man, but Forest Whitaker’s brilliant performance as Amin is at the heart of this film. He shows us the duality of Amin, the man who on one hand was a magnetic, charismatic leader and on the other a cold-blooded killer who ordered the deaths of 300,000 people during his reign of terror. It is a complex and richly realized performance that elevates the movie from standard biopic to Oscar caliber film.