Low Winter Sun

A24 Films

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Locke Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) has just made a decision that will affect the rest of his life. The fact that he made it moments after hopping into his car after work means he long drive ahead of him will be spent dealing with the fallout, both expected and unexpected, and the entirety of it occurs without leaving the car. He takes calls from home and work, talks to himself as he works through his problems and mile by mile grows closer to his final destination. So simple yet so mesmerizing. Tom Hardy in a car for eighty minutes probably shouldn’t be this engaging, but his performance as an ordinary guy facing the life-altering fallout from one bad decision is powerful affecting. He feels real — his dilemmas, frustrations, actions — and we can’t help but relate to the grounded drama and emotion. Suspense builds through conversations and Hardy’s acting, all without leaving the car. And not for nothing, but this is one incredibly (and unexpectedly) gorgeous film too. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, commentary]

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The Bridge

Here’s one of my pet peeves: critics describing the setting of a TV show or film as a “character,” the way Manhattan was routinely called a “fifth character” in Sex and the City. Describing a location as a “character” is supposed to be a compliment — it means the writers, set designers, and directors have done their job of building a convincing world — but to me it usually just sounds like a disparagement of TV shows and films that don’t bother to feature a unique background. The current “golden age of television,” which dawned after a conspicuous New Yorkification and Californization of the TV landscape in the 1990s, has largely taken place outside of the five boroughs and the Golden State. The Sopranos, the herald of the prestige cable drama era, took place in northern New Jersey — geographically close but culturally far from the big city. Breaking Bad has achieved brilliant cinematography in New Mexico, while The Wire and Friday Night Lights accomplished in-depth explorations of why Baltimore and the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, are the way they are. Justified gets great mileage out of its unique and detailed portrayal of Harlan County. All the above shows were filmed on location — enriching TV as a visual medium. Even Mad Men, The Shield, and Sex and the City, which do take place in America’s two cultural capitals, have grander ambitions regarding their settings. The action in those shows takes place mostly in relatively small neighborhoods of their respective cities. Thus, Don Draper’s Manhattan isn’t Jerry Seinfeld’s. Vic Mackey’s LA isn’t even in the same universe as Beverly Hills, […]

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review low winter sun 105

The title of last night’s episode, “Cake on the Way,” could be a slogan for the series: good things come to those who wait. But as things slowed to a snail’s pace, it became clear that no reward would be forthcoming — not last night, nor, it appears, on any future night. Accordingly, LWS‘ ratings have steadily declined; last week, it was watched by 1.18 million viewers, less than half the number that tuned into the pilot. So what is Low Winter Sun about and why is it worth continuing to watch? As I stated in my review of the pilot, Chris Mundy’s series is about the decline of a city. It’s this aspect of the police drama, as well as the generous attention paid to the criminal characters, that’s garnered (rather superficial) comparisons to The Wire. Though it’s shot in Detroit — crumbling wooden houses and empty lots are as much a part of the “look” of the show as the eclipse-like darkness — the action is so disconnected from the actual city, which has experienced some rather soap operatic turns recently, that it could take place in Generic Rust Belt City, USA. Sure, there are some Motor City touches, especially in the multi-ethnic cast — apparently it’s part of the show’s Bible to use the word “Chaldean” at least five times in every episode — but it’s not as though that race has played an important role in the storyline.

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LWS Catacombs

Low Winter Sun is a dark show, and I mean that in the most simple-minded way possible. In keeping with the series’ themes of urban decay and existential despair, it’s in the shadows that the characters work, wait, and wax poetic about green emerald eyes (my brown ones are rolling). The cinematography’s heavy reliance on grays, browns and blacks – and the frequent difficulty of making out what exactly is happening in a scene – is supposed to heighten the show’s mysteries. It’s a visual technique that The X-Files pioneered and used to maximum technique – but that was a show built on suspense, where the unknown was lurking in a corner, poised to attack. Low Winter Sun is a drama – and one nearly devoid of suspense at that (though not by design) – so I’m not sure that obscuring the action and depriving the audience of details and nuances through low lighting and contrast really serve a purpose on this show, other than the unnecessary one of providing it with a “look.”

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Low Winter Sun

When Frank yells “No rounds!” at his boxing ref, he just wants to keep moving, even if all he can do is stumble and take punches. Last night’s episode of Low Winter Sun, named after Frank’s demand, takes its cue from its title – and moves much more than the last two atmospheric-heavy installments. So, okay, Frank’s plan to wait out the clock until Brendan’s case goes cold – yet another black eye for the DPD, as well as another feather in Lt. Dawson’s cap of shame – isn’t the most dynamic plot development to happen to a TV character. But with the unwitting help of an eyewitness, who comes forward about seing a black man and a white man – or was he Mexican? Or Arabic? – Frank gains one more crucial step ahead of IA detective Boyd. We also had some more character moments with Joe: his mercy toward Katia, his tender scenes with his mom (which are both darling and creepy), his angry statement “I should’ve killed her” while praying in church. Other than verbally sparring with Frank, it’s not really clear what Joe can do while Boyd investigates him and Frank fails at finding Brendan’s killer. Wasn’t Joe supposed to help Dani with her eaten-by-dogs victim?

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LWS Goat Rodeo

Low Winter Sun is a familiar show. Its grim, weary atmospherics aside, the cop drama has little to add to the current television landscape. The Shield did police corruption with more coked-up verve, The Wire with more smarts and empathy, and almost any network procedural offers more satisfying whodunnits. Low Winter Sun‘s one point of pride, then, is the queasy, jittery partnership of convenience between Frank (Mark Strong) and Joe (Lennie James). “We’re married, Frank. For better or for worse. We’re all each other’s got,” says Joe, whose fate is bound to Frank’s after the two killed Joe’s former partner Brendan McCann in the series’ pilot. They are dissimilar in the ways we expect of buddy cops – Frank is introspective but stoic, Joe is more cutthroat, a dissembling man who likes to hear himself talk. (Also, has the show yet revealed who Frank’s official partner is?) Low Winter Sun‘s boldness and originality comes from its willingness to challenge our preconceived notions of mismatched partners. Far from “brothers in blue,” they’re simply shackled together by one unfortunate if inevitable decision and haven’t yet figured out how to coexist without periodically choking the other with their shared chain.

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Low Winter Sun

In the same way that humanity doesn’t really begin until Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge and are banished from the Garden of Eden, the current spate of critically acclaimed dramas are interested in the scramble for resources and connections when civilization collapses and chaos takes over. Tony Soprano is haunted by the rank-and-file efficiency of the greatest generation’s mobsters. Don Draper joins the political and commercial elite just as the whole lot is about to be pushed off their perch. Walter White gleefully embraces megalomaniacal nihilism when terminal cancer excuses him – or so he thinks – from traditional morality. Set in America’s most dysfunctional city, Low Winter Sun toes the line established by its cable drama predecessors with the added disintegration of Detroit mirroring its crumbling institutions. Its police force is so corrupt that partners can’t rely on each other – in fact, the pilot begins with Joe Geddes (Lennie James), a veteran cop, murdering his partner Brendan McCann (Michael McGrady), with the help of Frank Agnew (Mark Strong), another brother in blue. “Screw the blue code of silence,” says Lt. Charles Dawson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), their boss. Loyalty has no place here. The criminals, too, are without a code. “There is no old school anymore,” says one coke dealer, implicitly dismissing the short, old man in the sharkskin suit who comes by his bar in an executive car for his protection money.

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Low Winter Sun1

Twice a year, the Television Critics Association descends on Hollywood (or, as was the case recently, Hollywood-adjacent Pasadena) for their “Press Tours,” weeks-long presentations that allow the various networks to unveil their upcoming slates (including returning and new series) to various entertainment reporters for their informational edification. It all sounds a bit like summer camp crossed with Comic-Con pumped up with a lot of foodstuffs and swag up the wazoo. It also sounds deeply exhausting, and this summer’s Press Tour (affectionately just called the “TCAs,” a confusing moniker if we’ve ever heard one) is only halfway complete. Networks that have rolled out their slates to the TCA attendees so far include NBC, Reelz, National Geographic, OWN, and a whole mess of other cable outlets. Upcoming panels include CBS, The CW, Showtime, Hulu, Fox, FX, Disney, and PBS, and we’ll be sure to cover their exciting shows once they’re announced (assuming, of course, that they’ll be much to get pumped over from those networks, but considering that PBS gets two whole days, our expectations are high). With so many of the traditional networks next up on deck, most of the newly announced programs we’re most interested in seeing aren’t hour-long dramas or half-hour sitcoms or similar, they’re one-off specials, miniseries, and made-for-TV movies. Is this the future of television? Sure!

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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