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Sofa cinema: How I Live Now, Charlie Countryman, and Birth of the Living Dead
Don't feel like going to the theater this weekend? Check out our roundup of new and notable video-on-demand releases.

1. How I Live Now

For fans of: The Hunger Games, Children of Men, The Host, The Road
When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99

How I Live Now — director Kevin MacDonald's adaptation of Meg Rosoff's successful 2004 young-adult novel of the same name — is the boldest entry yet in the long string of YA adaptations from the last several years. That's not because of its star-crossed teenage love story or its dystopian near-future setting, which have both become standard cliches of the genre. How I Live Now is bold but because of how racy it is while flaunting those elements. It's strange to see a YA adaptation that's rated R; if it was in theaters, MacDonald would be cutting out most of the film's target audience, who probably wouldn't be old enough to see it in theaters without their parents. Fortunately, that's what VOD is for — and that's probably why Lionsgate decided to roll out How I Live Now on VOD platforms concurrent with its limited theatrical release.

Saoirse Ronan stars as Daisy, an icy, perpetually annoyed teen who is sent to live with her British cousins in the English countryside because of problems with her dad, her stepmom, and their new baby. These details are established early, but they're merely periphery to the film's dystopian setting: Armed guards, multiple security checkpoints, and a gaggle of gawking travelers transfix on a horrific news broadcast explaining that Europe is on the brink of World War III.

Daisy is greeted at the airport by Isaac (Tom Holland), an affable 14-year-old cousin who drives her to their home in the English countryside. At first, Daisy is your typical snotty teen who wants nothing to do with them and keeps to herself. Their mother, Daisy's Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) is a high-ranking government official, which means that the kids are typically left to their own devices. Slowly, Daisy begins to break out of her shell — mostly due to her infatuation with her oldest cousin, the dreamy Edmond (George MacKay). And when a nuclear attack in far-off London leaves them cut off from the outside world, the infatuation evolves into a full-blown romance, as the new couple and the rest of Daisy's cousins vow to live by their own rules on the secluded countryside. But when war inevitably reaches their doorstep and threatens their new way of life, How I Live Now morphs into a fight for survival.

If you can ignore the queasiness of the incestuous romance at the center of the narrative, How I Live Now measures well against the best of YA literary adaptations. Similar in tone to the wildly popular Hunger Games films, How I Live Now's brutal, neo-realistic post-apocalyptic vision never comes off as hokey or forced. Instead, it's a surprisingly entertaining ride.

2. Charlie Countryman

For fans of: In Bruges, Guy Ritchie's gangster movies
When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99

In the opening scene of Charlie Countryman, we meet the titular Charlie (Shia LaBeouf), who's exhausted and heartbroken after watching his mother (Melissa Leo) be taken off life support and pass away. But as he collapses in sadness in the hallway outside her hospital room, he get a visit from her spirit, who tells him to go to Bucharest. And thus the stage is set for Frederik Bond's chaotic, hyper-stylistic mess of a film, which finds Charlie hopping around the Romanian city, falling in love with a femme fatale who causes him to get into a whole mess of trouble. You can say a lot of negative things about Charlie Countryman, but you can't say it's a boring film. This is cinematic ADD, switching gears so rapidly that you're never sure what's going on — but you're always curious to see where it goes next.

On the plane to Bucharest, Charlie strikes up a conversation with guy sitting next to him — who promptly dies in his sleep, leaving Charlie to take care of some of his unfinished business with his beautiful daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood). Upon setting foot in Bucharest, Charlie barely has a moment to rest. He immediately falls for Gabi, believing his mother's message to be some sort of spiritual suggestion that he is meant to be with Gabi, and goes to great lengths to win her over. Those great lengths involve dealing with her maniacal, murderous gangster ex-husband Nigel (Mads Mikkelson). Soon, Charlie finds himself in the middle of a dangerous rivalry between Nigel and his ex-partner Darko (Til Schweiger), with both men out to kill him for sensitive evidence of a past crime. It only gets more complicated from there.

Charlie Countryman is a bad film. From the wildly over-stylized and sometimes nonsensical script to Evan Rachel Wood's laughably horrible attempt at a Romanian accent (which sounds like something between Russian and Jamaican), Charlie Countryman is a spectacular failure.

But for some viewers, that will also be its greatest strength; it's the kind of train wreck that bad movie fans won't be able to turn away from. Charlie hustles his way through Bucharest, getting beaten up and strung out at most every turn. Every time the narrative seems to settle down to establishes some sort of coherence, something radical happens, forcing Charlie into another ridiculous and inconceivable situation. The film unfolds like bad acid trip — which is appropriate, given that Shia LaBeouf reportedly tripped on acid while filming certain scenes in order to fully commit to his character. To his credit, LaBeouf really is giving it his all; he's perhaps the only person in Charlie Countryman who actually seems like he wanted to do it. Unfortunately, his effort is ultimately wasted on a scattershot, unfocused film that's mainly notable for how bizarre it is.

3. Birth Of The Living Dead

For fans of: Night of the Living Dead, zombie films, documentaries about filmmaking
When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99

In Birth of the Living Dead — director Rob Kuhn's new documentary about the making of director George Romero's Night of the Living DeadNew York Times critic and Shock Value author Jason Zinoman points out that zombies in modern popular culture can't be traced to any source other than Romero's 1968 zombie classic. Unlike vampires or werewolves, whose origins can be traced to various literary texts from thousands of years ago, the zombies as we know them today — slow-moving, soulless, flesh-eating undead — were birthed into existence by Romero and his ragtag team during production in 1967. They put in countless hours and thousands of their own dollars to create a little film in the Pittsburgh suburbs that went on to transform the landscape of horror movies forever. It's a remarkable story that's been told many times over — but Kuhn injects new critical insight and perspective into the documentary to make it something more than bonus feature fodder for fanboys.

There are no big revelations in Birth of the Living Dead, but the story is still fun to hear, no matter how many times it's been told: After starting a small, moderately successful production company to make commercials and other small TV projects, Romero and his crew decided they wanted to make a feature film. After a few failed attempts to sell series art-house scripts to major studios, Romero decided a genre film was the way to go, and wrote a script for a film called Night of the Flesh Eaters. But rather than try and take the script to Hollywood to get it made with the help of a big studio, Romero and his crew pulled together their own money — each chipping in $600 — to make the film in Pennsylvania. With an extremely low budget, Romero called in favors from his clients to help out — most of whom played zombies. Pretty much all of the main cast pulled double duty as a crew members.

The production was also a big deal for the small town of Evans City, where it was filmed. The local community rallied behind Romero and the crew to help out in any way possible: Local police loaned themselves and their vehicles for certain scenes, newspapers and TV stations intensely covered the production, and Charles Craig, an actual local newscaster, volunteered his services for the film. Birth of the Living Dead makes it clear that the immediate success that followed Night of the Living Dead was as much a victory for Evans City as it was for Romero.

But what makes Birth of the Living Dead fascinating isn't so much the story behind the film as it is the subtext and critical analysis of it. Numerous film critics and scholars appear to discuss the political allegory behind the film, which arrived at the height of the Vietnam War, and the progressive racial politics of the films black leading man Duane Jones. While Birth of the Living Dead might not have much of an appeal for those who aren't already fans of Romero's original film, Kuhn is able to give a new argument to check it out — even if it's mostly based on information that film nerds have known about for years.

Matt is an arts journalist and freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written about film, music, and pop culture for publications including Washington City Paper, The American Interest, Slant Magazine, DCist.com, and others.

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