Train to Busan
South Korea, 2016
Genre: Action, Horror, Thriller
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee, Kim Soo-an
Snakes on a plane? Puh-lease. Zombies on a train is where it's at these days, courtesy of Yeon Sanh-ho's gross and electrifying commuter nightmare/social satire, wrapped up in a bittersweet family drama. The set up is quick and unfussy: There's some kind of chemical spill. There's a dead deer that all-of-a-sudden, is a lot less dead that it just was. And there's a divorced dad who is too caught up with being a corporate cliche to notice his sad little daughter's yearning for a stable home life. Disappointed by his half-arsed birthday gift, she expresses a determination to see her mum, who lives a short bullet train ride away in bustling Busan. On an ordinary day, the trip would be an hour-or-so, each way. But this is no ordinary day. A spasming stowaway in the rear carriages of the train sparks a chaotic contagion, and the occupants of the First Class cabin have no idea what's coming for them.
Watch Train to Busan at SBS On Demand
Belgium, France, Germany, 2016
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre
Isabelle Huppert is in her element (and should have won the Oscar, in my book) in Paul Verhoeven's wicked, winking drama Elle, a story of consent, Christianity, power games - and rape. She plays Michèle, a woman who encountered shame and guilt at an early age, and whose entire life has been shaped by one form of aftermath or another. Her unorthodox coping mechanisms have developed over several decades and Michèle now walks in the world with a sharp wit, a thick skin and precisely zero f*cks. So when a masked assailant breaks into her home and sexually assaults her in the kitchen, in front of her cat, this weird dark comedy-thriller-noir is less concerned with the identity of her attacker than it is with underscoring the fact that any of the men in Michèle's life might have done it. It’s bang-on with its observation of power dynamics large and small, and how they come to bear on the body of a woman who deadpans: "Nut jobs I can handle. They're my specialty."
Watch Elle at SBS On Demand
Director: Nadine Labaki
Starring: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Nadine Labaki, Kawthar Al Haddad, Fadi Kamel Youssef, Cedra Izam, Nour el Husseini, Alaa Chouchnieh
2019 Foreign Language Oscar nominee Capernaum is an unsparing portrait of the hard luck life of Zain, a fiery Syrian refugee whose enormous eyes have seen too much sadness in his short life, and he resents his very existence. After being jailed for committing a violent crime, Zain sues his parents for condemning him to his sorry fate in a squalid apartment in Lebanon (Director Nadine Labaki plays his lawyer). His effort to improve his circumstances sees him resort to increasingly desperate measures to survive. Labaki (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) shot with a small crew and cast non-professional actors from displaced backgrounds, and she says she was 'forever changed' by the experience of making it.
Watch Capernaum at SBS On Demand
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska
No one shoots a black-and-white period piece like Pawel Pawlikowski. With Ida and later, Cold War, Pawlikowski creates rich and vivid characters whose colourful lives jump out of the monochromatic palette of his film stock. Case in point: Ida, a sheltered teen who's all set to embark on her novitiate in the early-'60s, until her Mother Superior drops the hint that Ida ought to get in touch with her roots before she becomes a nun. A meeting with a world-weary aunt leads to series of family revelations, which deal with the everyday awfulness of the darkest moments of Poland's modern history. Masterfully, Pawlilkowski packages a probing exploration of his country's slow path to reckoning, into the surface story of a road trip between an innocent and an intellectual.
Watch Ida at SBS On Demand
Czech Republic, Slovakia, 2016
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Language: Russian, Slovak
Director: Jan Hrebejk
Starring: Zuzana Mauréry, Csongor Kassai, Zuzana Konečná, Tamara Fischer, Martin Havelka, Ina Gogálová, Monika Certezni, Ondřej Malý
A great companion piece to Election (also on this list), Jan Hrebejk's primary school-set dark comedy is a timely parable about human nature. In Communist Czechoslavakia of 1983, a new teacher starts currying favours from her students' parents, by using their kids' marks as leverage. Predictably, the scale of her requests escalates rapidly and before you know it, a plea for help with a faulty washing machine turns into a demand to smuggle goods across borders. A crisis P&C meeting reveals the extent of the corruption, and the awkward complicity of the hapless mums and dads says much about the role of the individual in a culture of collaboration. Mauréry has a hoot as the smiling assassin.
Watch The Teacher at SBS On Demand
France, Germany, 2016
Language: German, French
Director: François Ozon
Starring: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer
In the immediate aftermath of WWI, German woman Anna (Paula Beer), lays flowers at her fiance's grave, only to discover that someone else - a Frenchman, no less - has come to pay his respects to the young man who was felled by a French bullet in a trench. This snippet of intrigue paves the way for an enthralling mystery-romance, that cleverly plays with colour and memory, to talk about the universal feelings of loss and longing, that we all feel, no matter whose uniform you fight in.
Watch Frantz at SBS On Demand
United States of America, 2014
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern
"Don't get emotional about real estate," Michael Shannon's Rick Carver warns, channelling Gordon Gecko, in a contemporary update to Wall Street that could take place on many a street in North America, but is localised to a Florida housing estate in the mid-2000s. Ramin Bahrani's Faustian tale sees Shannon at his venal best as a real-estate broker who evicts defaulting mortgagee Andrew Garfield, whilst simultaneously offering him a job - if he's game enough to turf other defaulters out of their homes.
Watch 99 Homes at SBS On Demand
United States of America, 2018
Genre: Drama, Thriller, History
Director: John Curran
Starring: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, Taylor Nichols, Lexie Roth, Andria Blackman, David De Beck, Olivia Thirlby, Clancy Brown
John Curran picks through the sketchy timeline of an infamous scandal of the Kennedy clan. In the wee small hours of a July night in 1969, an Oldsmobile driven by United States Senator Ted Kennedy plunged off a bridge near Martha's Vineyard. The car's passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to Robert Kennedy, died inside the submerged vehicle, but exactly how the single car accident occurred has never been clarified. Kennedy's delayed reporting of the incident, coupled with his unreliable recollection when pressed, give plenty of scope for Curran (and writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan) to have a red hot go at creating a plausible account of how things might have gone down. Fans of Succession will see the parallels with a season two storyline.
Watch Chappaquiddick at SBS On Demand
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Matthew Broderick, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell
Alexander Payne's delicious comedy of bad morals and ruthless people is just as cutting as it was 20 years ago. When perky overachiever Tracy Flick (Reece Witherspoon) looks set for an unopposed run to the top of the student council, civics teacher (Matthew Broderick) is all of us, as he resolves to make it difficult for Tracy to add another accolade to her brag book. He vows to give the presumptive president her first taste of disappointment by orchestrating a popular rival, and the gloves come off in a dark and deeply funny way.
Watch Election at SBS On Demand
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