pop culture imports september 6

(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best, wackiest, and weirdest foreign-language movies and TV shows streaming right now.)

Like the start of every school season, September brings with it something old and something new for this week’s Pop Culture Imports. The acclaimed Brazilian crime drama City of God makes its way to streaming, while HBO premieres its first international TV series with a gender-bent take on Sherlock Holmes. Plus we have Netflix’s first Indian horror series co-produced by Blumhouse, a Luxembourgian rural thriller, and a sweeping Spanish historical drama series.

Get in subtitle lovers, we’re going streaming.

City of God – Hulu

Country: Brazil

Genre: Crime drama

Director: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund

Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Alice Braga, Seu Jorge.

City of God is a devastating epic on par with the some of the greatest Greek tragedies and yet, feels so painfully now. Even 16 years after its release, every sweaty frame of Fernando Meirelles‘ debut film crackles with life. Set between the 1960s and 1980s, City of God skips through time in its sprawling tale about organized crime in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Amateur photographer Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) offers a literal lens into the turf wars of the neighborhood dubbed “the city of God.” Growing up in the ’60s, Rocket dreams of escaping the slums and becoming a professional photographer. Though his older brother engaged in a life of petty crime, Rocket manages to stay above the fray of gang violence and addiction, even as his childhood bully Li’l Dice (Leandro Firmino da Hora) murders and brutalizes his way to becoming the city’s reigning crime lord. As Rocket and Li’l Dice’s storylines run parallel to each other, City of God throws in backstories of dozens of other characters, each more vibrant than the last. While the abundance of characters could make any film feel overcrowded, City of God‘s breathless homages to ’70s crime dramas and exploitation movies keep the film apace. Unrelenting and visceral, City of God hurtles toward a foregone conclusion on the endless cycle of violence plaguing the impoverished people of Brazil.

Watch This If You LikeGoodfellas, La Haine, Slumdog Millionaire, feeling sweaty.

Ghoul – Netflix

Country: India

Genre: Horror series

Creator: Patrick Graham

Cast: Radhika Apte, Manav Kaul, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, S. M. Zaheer, Mahesh Balraj, Rohit Pathak, Mallhar Goenka.

Netflix’s latest attempt to crack one of the biggest film markets in the world, Ghoul marks the streaming giant’s first foray into Indian horror and its first collaboration with Blumhouse. The latter’s fingerprints are all over this dystopian horror series, which crafts an taut, nightmarish three-part miniseries around a terrifying monster drawn from Arabic folklore. The titular ghoul is not the grave-dwelling creature we know, but a supernatural being summoned to wreak havoc on victims who, let’s be honest, kind of deserve it. Set in a near-future India in which a fascist regime violently tamps down on any action deemed the slightest bit anti-national (cue the fascist shorthand: burning books), Ghoul is a rather heavy-handed indictment of overzealous nationalism. Our “final girl” Nida Rahim (Sacred Games‘ Radhika Apte) is a patently unlikable military interrogation officer who kicks off the series by turning in her own father to the government. Along with the other abusive officers who torture terrorists in the creepy interrogation center where the series takes place, Nida becomes the target of a vengeful ghoul, who is summoned by the terrorist mastermind Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj). Ghoul is a little slow-moving and exposition-heavy at the beginning — the fallbacks of creating a whole new sci-fi world only to set the series in a single location — but a proper Blumhouse feature kicks into gear by the second episode.

Watch This If You LikeLights OutInsidious, anything with the Blumhouse logo on it.

Miss Sherlock – HBO Go

Country: Japan

Genre: Science-fiction/teen series

Director: Junichi Mori

Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Shihori Kanjiya, Kenichi Takito, Tomoya Nakamura, Ryohei Otani, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Yuki Saito, Ran Ito.

In nearly every modern take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s deer stalker-wearing detective, Sherlock Holmes is a straight up asshole. How did we get here? How did Sherlock Holmes transform from the vaguely pompous upper-crust gentleman to an asocial genius so mean he borders on psychopathic (or “a high-functioning sociopath,” as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock smugly describes himself)? It’s Cumberbatch’s modern-day Holmes, portrayed in BBC’s acclaimed series Sherlock, that best encapsulates this callous characterization: that of a insufferable male genius who doesn’t have to suffer the feelings of mere mortals. Shades of BBC’s Sherlock permeate through HBO’s modern-day Sherlock Holmes take, Miss Sherlock. But the Japan-set Miss Sherlock takes some quietly revolutionary steps to distance itself from the assholery of its predecessors. First: Miss Sherlock reimagines the iconic detective as a Japanese woman, played with cool elegance by Yuko Takeuchi (The Ring). Second: Miss Sherlock doesn’t care about your edgy lone genius tropes. Sure, Takeuchi’s Miss Sherlock is a little prickly and her disregard for social norms off-putting, but there’s a camaraderie to her detective that you’d be hard-pressed to find in other modern iterations. You believe the friendship between her and Shihori Kanjiya‘s Wato-san (this show’s Dr. Watson), and her affection for their eccentric landlady Kimi Hatano (Ran Ito). Hell, on the day she meets Wato, she tries to give her a makeover — admittedly, with a blood-stained designer coat.

Miss Sherlock isn’t a game-changer by any means. Its cases are fairly by-the-books (and in some cases, laughably predictable), but like many detective J-dramas, its characters sing and it indulges in elements of camp that make it entertaining as hell.

Watch This If You LikeSherlock, Elementary, Veronica Mars, dismantling the patriarchy.

Gutland – Amazon Prime

Country: Luxembourg

Genre: Thriller

Director: Govinda Van Maele

Cast: Frederick Lau, Vicky Krieps, Marco Lorenzini, Pit Bukowski, Leo Folschette.

What at first appears to be a quaint fish-out-water story turns into a sinister thriller in this surprising Luxembourgian drama. Gutland follows a gruff German drifter Jens Fauser (Frederick Lau) who arrives in the sleepy rural village of Schandelsmillen with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a mysterious bag of money in hand. Looking for work, he’s greeted at first with suspicion by the villagers, until a sweet-faced waitress (Vicky Krieps) takes a liking to him and the kindly old Jos Gierens (Marco Lorenzini) takes him under his wing. Though the close-knit community soon warms up to him, it’s no wonder this provincial village was so mistrustful of Jens. Pop culture dictates that Jens is the “bad boy,” the perennial outsider who threatens to upend a peaceful village, and indeed, he is harboring an illicit secret or two. But director Govinda Van Maele pulls the rug from underneath us by slowly introducing the possibility that Schandelsmillen’s secrets are more frightening than Jens’. Van Maele slowly builds an unnerving tension through the film, as Jens stumbles upon strange behaviors that are slightly off: erotic photos, shocking parental punishments, a life-endangering brush with a tractor. It’s a surreal transformation that traffics in ambivalence, and prompts us to question what is truly monstrous.

Watch This If You LikeThe Stepford Wives, Hot Fuzz, Thoroughbreds, the Vicky Krieps invasion.

Cathedral of the Sea – Netflix

Country: Spain

Genre: Historical drama series

Director: Jordi Frades

Cast: Jordi Aguilar, Aitor Luna, Pablo Derqui, Daniel Grao.

Ambitious historical epics are all the rage now, and with Cathedral of the Sea, Netflix makes another pass at trying to craft its own Game of Thrones-sized hit. And in scope, it almost succeeds: the Spanish 14th century drama took years to make (mostly due to behind-the-scenes conflicts) and filmed in 70 locations in the Spanish cities of Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Madrid, Aragon, and Catalonia. Cathedral of the Sea practically screams “epic,” taking place over several decades and following multiple generations of characters. Based on the historical novel by Spanish author Ildefonso FalconesCathedral of the Sea follows a serf named Bernat (Daniel Grao) who flees from abusive nobles to Barcelona with son Arnau, where he makes a new life as a builder. But a decade later, Arnau (Aitor Luna) would be blamed for another tragedy, and their life would be thrown into turmoil for the next several years into Arnau’s tumultuous adulthood. The story plods a bit toward the beginning, but it’s easy to be swept up in Cathedral of the Sea‘s grand vision of 14th century Barcelona.

Watch This If You LikeMarco Polo, The Pillars of the Earth, tallying up every streaming service’s attempt to nail the next Game of Thrones.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: