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Heavy new investments in the arts promise to lift Bunker Hill

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Heavy new investments in the arts promise to lift Bunker Hill

With two major expansions of downtown Los Angeles cultural institutions in the works, Bunker Hill is primed to elevate its status as the region’s leading arts center even as the area around it struggles with persistent homelessness and post-pandemic losses of office tenants.

Bunker Hill will soon have the largest concentration of buildings designed by Frank Gehry in the world and promises to become a cultural center “like no other place,” the architect told the Los Angeles Times.

The Broad recently announced a $100-million project that will increase gallery space at one of the city’s most popular museums by 70%, and the Colburn School for performing arts just broke ground on a $335-million expansion that will include a mid-size concert hall — designed by Gehry — that is expected to be in near-constant use for events put on by students, professional artists and academics.

Gehry has been a key player in the decades-long comeback of Bunker Hill, a former residential neighborhood that is now home to cultural institutions, office skyscrapers, apartment towers and hotels. With the coming additions, Gehry said, Bunker Hill stands to surpass the vision he, museum founder Eli Broad and other civic leaders had in the 1990s when work got underway on Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the government-led Grand Avenue Project to revitalize the neighborhood.

Planners at the time hoped to build on the appeal of the Music Center, which was built in the 1960s and served as a popular destination for arts patrons who typically drove in and out without stepping outside its boundaries.

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A rendering of the future Broad expansion as viewed from Hope Street.

(Courtesy of the Broad. © Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R))

“We have come a long way since the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the other Music Center venues opened,” Gehry said. “So much great energy has come to the fore.”

Bunker Hill is still unlikely to feel similar to cultural centers in other big cities, he acknowledged, and laughed off a reminder that Broad had suggested Grand Avenue could become L.A.’s version of Paris’ Champs-Elysees.

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“Los Angeles cannot be compared to anywhere else in the world. It’s different than other cities,” Gehry said.

Bunker Hill is slightly removed from the homelessness and safety concerns that trouble the financial district just south of it, said John Sischo, who has worked in the real estate business downtown since the 1980s.

“Homelessness is a big problem that keeps office tenants from coming downtown,” he said. Safety issues are both “real and perceived.”

In the two decades before the COVID-19 pandemic, civic leaders and landlords pushed to elevate the financial district that Sischo recalled as a “doughnut hole” between Bunker Hill — with its highbrow cultural scene — and the booming new neighborhood of South Park near Crypto.com Arena and L.A. Live, where sports and entertainment ruled.

Thousands of apartments and condominiums were added to the financial district — followed by bars, restaurants and stores that thrived on the residents and office workers whose bosses took advantage of comparatively low rents in gleaming towers that were being upgraded by their owners.

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The drop in street life from workers staying at home during the pandemic and continuing to work remotely has been a drain on the vibrancy and sense of security in the financial district, which is depressing office leasing and hampering the neighborhood’s comeback, Sischo said.

Falling office values have led to foreclosures on some prominent office towers, including 444 S. Flower St., which was owned by Sischo’s company, Coretrust Capital Partners.

A man in a blue suit stands in an outdoor lounge near Walt Disney Concert Hall

Acclaimed architect Frank Gehry stands in an outdoor lounge area of the bar Sed, part of Conrad Los Angeles, a luxury hotel across from Walt Disney Concert Hall, which Gehry also designed.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“Pre-COVID, it was really jelling,” he said of the financial district.

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The most transformative addition to Bunker Hill in recent years was the Grand, a $1-billion hotel, apartment and retail complex designed by Gehry that stands across Grand Avenue from Walt Disney Concert hall, which he also designed.

“Now Disney has context,” Gehry said in 2022 on a balcony at the Grand overlooking the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “For me, it all fits now. Disney Hall doesn’t look like an outlier.”

In the nearly two years since the Grand opened, its 45-story apartment tower has been nearly fully leased, owner Related Cos. said.

The Conrad Los Angeles hotel there is “outperforming the market,” Nicholas Vanderboom, chief operating officer of Related California, said, in part by “catering to growing interest in L.A’.s arts institutions.”

Spanish chef José Andrés operates restaurants at the Grand and more places to eat are coming in a part of the complex that has been dark since it opened, to the dismay of neighbors who have been waiting for long-promised retail venues on Grand Avenue. One of the features Gehry designed was space for stores and restaurants on the avenue and on terraces above that overlook the Disney Concert Hall, but it’s still mostly unoccupied.

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Later this year, Andrés will open a Bazaar Meat, his high-end steakhouse that originated in Las Vegas, on the second level. Santa Monica Italian, French and & Moroccan restaurant Massilia will also open a branch on Grand Avenue this year, and other tenants will be announced in 2024, Related said.

The additions to the Broad and the Colburn promise to boost foot traffic on Grand Avenue, said Sel Kardan, president of the Colburn School, which opened on Bunker Hill in 1998 and has around 2,000 students.

The Broad Museum on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles

The Broad Museum on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles in April 2019.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Construction began recently on the expansion of the Colburn School that includes a mid-size concert hall Kardan expects to be in near-constant use for events put on by students, professional artists and academics. It is the third Gehry-designed building on Bunker Hill, which gives downtown L.A. the highest concentration of Gehry buildings anywhere, his firm said.

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Colburn Center, as the addition will be called, will include a 1,000-seat concert hall with an in-the-round design meant to create intimacy between the performers and the audience. The hall will have an orchestra pit and a stage large enough to accommodate “the grandest works,” Kardan said, making it suitable for orchestra, opera and dance.

He expects the new hall will host more than 200 events a year at various times of day. The Colburn Center will also more than double facilities for the school’s Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, creating what the school called “one of the most comprehensive dance education complexes in Southern California.” The dance facilities will include a 100-seat theater for dance and four professional-size studios for dance instruction and rehearsal.

With the new addition, “there could be three or four performances going on on our campus on any given night,” Kardan said, a combination of educational performances, guest artists and events put on by local arts organizations.

The Colburn Center is set for completion in 2027. The Broad expansion should open a year later, museum President Joanne Heyler said, and add to street life on Grand Avenue.

A model of architect Frank Gehry's design of an addition for Colburn School

A model of architect Frank Gehry’s design of an addition for Colburn School, a private performing arts school in downtown Los Angeles, which will make Bunker Hill the only place with three Gehry-designed buildings in close proximity, on January 31, 2024.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

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Attendance at the Broad returned to pre-pandemic highs of more than 900,000 annual visitors, she said, with a new daily record of more than 6,000 visitors set in March.

With the expansion,”we’re simply responding to the tremendous enthusiasm of our audience that is now consistent with pre-pandemic levels and and seemingly growing,” she said.

“I am under no illusion that downtown in general is free of challenges,” Heyler said. “We in the entire area have a lot to work on, but as a meeting point, a place to enjoy a cultural destination, our experience with the Broad is that things are vibrant. And I know that goes against the typical narrative of downtown.”

The Grand was “the next-to-the-last piece of the puzzle” for Bunker Hill, said landlord Christopher Rising, whose firm Rising Realty Partners owns two office buildings there. The final piece will be Angels Landing, he said, a $1.6-billion hotel-housing-retail complex set to rise next to Bunker Hill’s historic Angels Flight railway in time for the 2028 Olympics.

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Rising laments that office attendance is still below pre-pandemic levels, especially among nearby government buildings that were packed with public employees who helped bring a sense of activity to Grand Avenue and other downtown streets.

“There are years of vision that are coming to fruition” on Bunker Hill, Rising said, “but the vision was heavily dependent on synergies with government workers. Without them, it’s slowing things down.”

More can be done to improve Bunker Hill, Gehry said, and the streets near Grand Avenue that are thick with parking lots are now ripe for development. The Colburn addition is going up next to the existing school on a former asphalt lot at 2nd and Olive streets.

“To keep upping the ante, we still have work to do,” Gehry said, such as “fixing” the Chandler Pavilion to make it a better venue for opera performances.

“There are also opportunities to connect down to the arts district, the civic center, and Little Tokyo on the east-west streets,” he said. “That is very exciting to me.”

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Movie Reviews

Chhaya Kadam: Earlier my name wouldn’t even be written in film reviews, now I have a Grand Prix winning film at Cannes

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Chhaya Kadam: Earlier my name wouldn’t even be written in film reviews, now I have a Grand Prix winning film at Cannes

This is clearly the year of Chhaya Kadam! After a great run with the actor’s earlier releases, Laapataa Ladies and Madgaon Express, her film All That We Imagine As Light became the first Indian film to win the Grand Prix at the recently concluded 77th Cannes Film Festival. One of her other films, Sister Midnight, was also screened at Directors Fortnight. Talking to us after the Grand Prix ceremony, Kadam exclaims, “It was the first Indian film to be screened at the main competition in 30 years, and we directly won an award! We had a story rooted in our motherland about women like us. For a subject like that to get selected here… I have no words.”

Actor Chhaya Kadam

Acknowledging her great run this year, she says, “People in Cannes also recognised me as Manju Mai (from Laapataa Ladies); they would say, ‘hey Manju Mai, Chhaya Kadam’.”

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Kadam’s tryst with acting began in 2006, then she went on to star in Marathi films such as Fandry (2013), Sairat (2016) and Nude (2018). “Earlier, my struggle was to get work; now it is for good work,” she shares, adding that it doesn’t end there. While she’s enjoying the fame now, there was a time when the actor’s work wasn’t recognised. “Earlier, film reviews would miss out on mentioning my name, even if my character was important. Bura toh bahut lagta tha. But then I thought I should work so hard that people are compelled to mention my name in their reviews,” she ends with a chuckle.

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How do you play a 400-year-old sin eater? Terrifyingly if you're 'Fargo's' Sam Spruell

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How do you play a 400-year-old sin eater? Terrifyingly if you're 'Fargo's' Sam Spruell

Debt is a theme running through Season 5 of “Fargo,” and there was no more terrifying bill collector in Noah Hawley’s latest seriocomic venture into the dark whiteout of the Upper Midwest than Ole Munch. Nor so poignant a creature, either, as portrayed by English actor Sam Spruell. Both the failed hired kidnapper and unlikely rescuer of Juno Temple’s protagonist Dot, the centuries-old sin eater pursues his own peculiar morality, burning malefactors’ eyeballs and demanding pancakes along the way.

Speaking via Zoom from the Hackney, London, home he shares with costume designer Natalie Ward and their 14-year-old son, Spruell looks tan (spray-on, he notes, for his role in the upcoming season of the British heist series “The Gold”) and sounds articulate, a far cry from his ruddy, cryptic “Fargo” apparition. Spruell mostly plays villains; a racist cop in “Small Axe: Mangrove” and “Doctor Who’s” Swarm are recent examples. But as Ole Munch’s season-capping moment demonstrates, Spruell finds the transcendent in the terrifying.

How much of Ole Munch was on the page and what was your creation?

Lots of it was in the script. Noah Hawley was quite clear when I met him who the character was. He started off by saying Ole was 400 or 500 years old, began in Europe, maybe has been in America for 200 to 300 years. He hasn’t spoken for a century. He has an eye-for-an-eye, Old Testament kind of code that he can’t relinquish. If he feels like the scales aren’t balanced between action and recompense … Noah described it as like an itch inside of his skull that he needs to scratch.

That was quite helpful. But what really unlocked the part for me was the sin-eating. Because he was poor and desperate, he was almost forced to eat the sins of the rich. People unable to break their cycle of poverty and crime because they’re not looked after by the rest of society, that was a very strong notion that I could build a character around.

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Sam Spruell plays killer Ole Munch in “Fargo.”

(Michelle Faye/FX Networks)

Ole exudes intimidation. You seem friendly, though.

I suppose some people have access to the ability to play lovers or turn on tears very quickly. My kind of capacity as an actor is darkness — and I’m not a very dark person! I’m reasonably happy, I’ve got a family who have stuck with me, but I can access darkness and intimidation. You never really play it, though; you’re playing someone who’s damaged through the whole series of events in their lives. You think about that, maybe, rather than playing a villain. Or scowling; I worked with Ridley Scott early in my career, who told me, “Just do a little less with your face.” He gave me that note when I was playing a really scary guy in “The Counselor,” and obviously it stuck.

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So many memorable, specific aspects to Ole, like his third (or is it fourth?) person syntax and sibilant voice.

Noah saying that he hadn’t spoken for 100 years was enormously useful. Your ability to form sentences in, maybe, your third language … it doesn’t flow. It’s not fluent, it’s broken, the sounds are malformed, if you like. Once you throw in that he’s got a Norwegian name, you throw in some Scandinavian sounds, so with the voice coach I built it out that way as well.

And he wears a skirt.

It’s so funny. Noah and Carol Case, the costume designer, wanted to make him timeless, but also somebody who was not moved by convention. I was coming to the same conclusion, and weirdly I sent her an email saying, “Maybe he should wear a dress?” Kind of as a joke, kind of a tryout, but Noah had said the same thing to Carol or the other way around. She started sending pictures of kilts, and I felt this was exactly right. It’s got a weird historical thing going on.

A tight black-and-white portrait of British actor Sam Spruell.

“The great thing about ‘Fargo’ is it creates characters with a real interior but who have these physical and eccentric attributes that you can really go for,” actor Sam Spruell says.

(Oliver Mayhall / For The Times)

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There’s so much that’s bizarre about Ole, yet at the very end he’s beaming.

The great thing about “Fargo” is it creates characters with a real interior but who have these physical and eccentric attributes that you can really go for. That’s the joy of it, being allowed to go for something that you’re trying to make naturalistic but is completely unnaturalistic as well. It’s a fine line, but if you feel like you’re onto something and you’re able to achieve it in a scene, there is nothing better as an actor than playing that size a character.

That all comes out in the remarkable final sequence, where only Dot knows that Ole’s come to threaten her cluelessly welcoming family, but ultimately makes him smile — perhaps for the first time — with a Bisquick biscuit.

He’s arrived at her home because of, again, that itch inside of his skull. He set her free from her imprisonment on the ranch, but there was no quid pro quo and he’s troubled by that, so he returns to gather the debt. The understanding that she’s not gonna pay it and that he’s actually got to forget about it runs through that whole scene. But the kindness element is so interesting. In preparation, I had all these boards written in my Calgary apartment: He’s never been touched, he’s never been shown any kindness, never been shown any affection or love. That scene, suddenly, he’s just wrapped up in a family’s love — ever so incrementally, so delicately, that he doesn’t even know it’s happening to him.

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That final act, where she gives him something made with love and he accepts it, is I guess the first step to him having a chance in life.

Is Bisquick a thing in Britain?

It’s not. Bisquick were in touch with my manager in the States because they wanted to gift me a box or something. It was very funny. We haven’t followed up on it yet, but maybe I should get it delivered to my home and have a proper taste of it with my kid.

Speaking of family, how has your mother, Linda Broughton, influenced your craft and career?

She is still an actor; she’s 77. She’s mainly had a life of theater, mine’s been predominantly film and telly, and it’s been a really good conversation between the two of us. We have different approaches but we’re both kind of after the truth. I did an audition tape for the part of Ole Munch, and it was my mum I’m reading the lines with. I feel incredibly lucky to have had her counsel. Hopefully I give her something in return when we talk about how to be better actors.

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Ezra (2024) – Movie Review

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Ezra (2024) – Movie Review

Ezra, 2024.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn.
Starring Bobby Cannavale, William A. Fitzgerald, Robert De Niro, Rose Byrne, Vera Farmiga, Whoopi Goldberg, Rainn Wilson, Tony Goldwyn, Jackson Frazer, Greer Barnes, Tess Goldwyn, Ella Ayberk, Lois Robbins, Alex Plank, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Matilda Lawler, Joe Pacheco, Amy Sheehan, Barzin Akhavan, Donna Vivino, Jacqueline Nwabueze, John Donovan Wilson, Joshua Hinck, Sophie Mulligan, Thomas Duverné, Guillermo Rodriguez, and Jimmy Kimmel.

SYNOPSIS:

Comedian Max co-parents autistic son Ezra with ex-wife Jenna. Faced with crucial decisions about Ezra’s future, Max and Ezra go on a life-changing cross-country road trip.

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Undeniably made with good intentions, Ezra wants to tell a story about a young autistic boy and his father struggling to accept that uniqueness (lamenting that his son will never be “normal”) due to some personal baggage related to his rocky upbringing. Ezra is also a film that consistently gets sidetracked or finds itself telling that story in a broad, mawkish manner with outlandish plot beats that continuously sink the few elements that work. That’s also surprising considering screenwriter Tony Spiridakis (who had been working on the script for roughly 15 years) is basing that father-son relationship on his experience raising an autistic child. Why turn such personal material into… this?

A film about the challenges of parenting an autistic child and ensuring that everything from school to public behavior is going well has enough realistic, stressful drama to be relatable to anyone who has ever been in a similar situation. The dynamic that parents Max (Bobby Cannavale) and Jenna (Rose Byrne) are divorced (the actors are married with children in real life) adds another layer of domestic intrigue.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn, the film seems to have no awareness of when to stop manufacturing more drama or when it begins to feel like piling on for the sake of telling a story that quickly begins to feel false. It becomes less of an earnest look at autistic childhood and more of a far-fetched road trip flick where the logic for certain characters is nonexistent, and the narrative rapidly transitions to do something that could only exist in the movies, something that is counterproductive to why this film was made.

This is frustrating since there are touching flourishes whenever Max interacts with the titular Ezra (William A. Fitzgerald, a delight to watch and autistic). Despite getting expelled from school, Ezra is a kind soul with various stimulation triggers (such as hugs or sensitivity to eating with forks), who often speaks in famous quotes and takes everything literally to such a degree that when he overhears Jenna’s new partner jokingly talking about murdering Max, he frantically runs out of the house to warn his loving father. This leads to Ezra making the choice to run into the middle of the street while scared and avoiding a barking dog on the sidewalk, nearly getting hit by a car, with doctors under the impression that it was a suicide attempt, dealing with the incident by forcing the parents to put the boy into a special needs school and take antipsychotic medication.

That’s only the beginning of this exaggerated story, which then sees Max kidnapping his son from Jenna, believing that she has lost hope in fighting for his rights and is too comfortable listening to professional advice. He doesn’t like that the medication zombifies his son (understandably so) and appears to believe that allowing the boy to go to a special needs school means he is accepting that there is something wrong. Many of his hangups with accepting his son’s autism come from a tumultuous relationship with his father, Stan (Robert De Niro), a former chef who gave up his dreams to provide for Max after his mother left. This grandfather also has trouble acknowledging his grandson’s autism, uncomfortable uttering the term. Both of these men, in a sense, are hiding and running from reality.

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Perhaps a more skilled filmmaking team could make something out of that, but Ezra also has to contend with baffling subplots such as Max’s aspiring standup comedian career and his relative closeness to securing a spot performing for Jimmy Kimmel. There is also a road trip aspect that sees Max heading West with Ezra, coming across several old friends for the sake of convenience. In one sequence, the film makes the case that there will be kids (even girls) who accept Ezra and those who will bully him, doing so in a confused way, unsure if it wants to sanitize itself. It’s also accompanied by sappy music.

At a certain point, Ezra is officially reported as kidnapped with warnings and notices throughout the 24-hour news cycle. Max is aware of this, yet confoundingly still thinks showing up to audition for Jimmy Kimmel will end well. The occasional tender moments between father and son are continuously undercut by this stupidity and overblown narrative decisions. At least it follows suit, ending in a fittingly melodramatic cringe.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

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