Let’s Party Like It’s 2003

by Matthew Hawkins

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Northeast Blackout of 2003, as Wikipedia officially calls it. Basically, every single New Yorker who was around back then has their very own “survival story” and I’m no different…

Such tales can easily classified into one of two categories, and thankfully my experiences fall into the didn’t suck column. Because I had narrowly missed being trapped in a subway train for who knows how long, again thank God; was in Manhattan, earlier in the day, for an EA presser on the behalf of Nickelodeon Magazine. When it was time to type up my report in my home office, which was in Bay Ridge, DEEP south into Brooklyn, my iMac suddenly died. And stayed dead.

When the power remained out for longer than expected, everyone in my neighborhood began roaming the streets, looking for answers. There was the slightest tinge of fear and dread in the air, given that 9/11 was not that long ago. Thankfully the corner deli guy had a radio (plus batteries), so everyone could heard the news and find out what had actually happened.

I distinctly recall talking to a friend on the phone, who was still in Manhattan; I had a cell phone, which still wasn’t super common at that point, and which also means he didn’t own one. So we conversed via pay phone, in Times Square to be exact; with so many people in the area and so many voices, including lots of tourists, who tended to be on the dumb side even back then, it’s easy to understand why the truth was having a hard time making the rounds, amidst all the speculation and rumor floating around (again: 9/11 kinda/sorta just happened).

When I told my aforementioned friend that the news had reported a massive power outage, I then heard him telling everyone around him (there were apparently long lines of people at every pay phone, waiting to call someone), and distinctly recall all laughing they shot back at him. Whatever.

It was another insanely hot and humid summer day, and there was no way in hell I was sticking around the apartment all day long with no AC. While strolling around my neighborhood, looking for ways to stay distracted and cool, I passed by the deli on the other end of the street, which was in the process of being closed by its proprietor. He gave me over two dozen Spongebob Squarepants popsicles, knowing that they wouldn’t last long. And they cooled me down, but you can only have so many in a row. Five to be exact.

Officially bored, I called another friend and we made plans to hang out, at his place (he had a basement apartment, which I theorized would be cooler). I walked all the way to Sunset Park, going up via 5th Ave. The stretch from 88th St to 35th St was legit the longest block party I have ever encountered. Back then, that entire section of Brooklyn was almost entirely populated by working class, Mexican families; seemingly every single occupant of every house I passed by was out & about, young & old, grilling meats & consuming cervezas.

Only now, looking back, do I realize what a truly remarkable scene it was, the kind that make you proud to be a New Yorker; am assuming all those people are gone, cuz that area has probably been entirely gentrified… last I was near those parts, I saw lots of condos going up. Predictably.

By the time I got to my friend, he had managed to contact another pal, who had a car. Once again, thank God I wasn’t in Manhattan, where I heard traffic was a fucking nightmare; things were nice and controlled in the parts of Brooklyn that we drove around. We ended up hitting a bunch of bars surrounding Prospect Park, where they were practically giving beers away, since they’d all go bad otherwise. We all got pretty loaded, and yes, there was a drunk behind the wheel of our car. But everyone on the road was going super slow, it was okay.

At a certain point, late in the evening, I found myself stumbling across Prospect Park proper in the dark. Then, out of nowhere, a police chopper came swooping in and I was hit dead-on by a spotlight. On the megaphone was: “GET OUT OF THE PARK, RIGHT NOW”. But it wasn’t directed at me; there were… no joke… over 50 people in my immediate vicinity, all fucking in the park, under the blanket of darkness. Am surprised I didn’t step on anyone’s head or a boobie.

Eventually I was dropped off home and had the drunk munchies. But I knew I needed a real meal, some protein… some meat… some animal flesh. Had been looking forward to what I had in mind for dinner the couple hours leading up, and it was finally time to feast upon… a cold can of Chef Boyardee Beefaroni. Which I ate straight out a can. I felt like a survivalist, a real man’s man, eating “raw beef”, in the glow of my Game Boy Advance SP, which lit up my entire space.

Was going to have a few more Spongebob Squarepants popsicles for desert, but my fucking roommate at the time had eaten them all. Wasn’t too shocked; dude was a home body so he probably never left the house and needed a way to stay cool throughout the day & night… or perhaps he ate all twenty or so popsicles in one sitting, cuz he was weird like that (clearly I’m still pissed about it, fifteen years later). I went to bed worried about the pending loss of novelty of the blackout the following morning. But by then, the power had kicked back on.

So, yeah, an amazing time. Hence why, for the longest, I believed the city should have a mandatory blackout once a year. But I don’t believe that anymore… cuz the city’s not the same, and frankly, its denizens couldn’t handle such a thing. The 15th anniversary has made me realize that the Northeast Blackout of 2003 might be in, sad to say, the last time I truly loved NYC.

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With a title like The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot, many are anticipating the next modern grindhouse classic. As for myself, I knew going in that there’d actually be two possible approaches: either something totally wacky or something completely straight. I expected the former (and again, am assuming others are too), which would have been totally fine; despite my disdain for postmodern, self-aware midnight movies, one can’t help but be curious about such a legit intriguing name. Though I was rooting for the latter; it would be harder to pull off, yet if executed properly, the end result could be something truly memorable, one that potentially transcends multiple genre conventions. Turns out, the film did indeed go for option number two.

Again, when you hear something called The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot, you expect to hear that it’s crazy, hilarious, absurd, goofy, shlocky, gruesome, and whatever else that’s usually associated with grindhouse fare. Alas the single word that sums it up best is the absolute worst in this instance: boring. Things start off spectacularly enough: it’s immediately established that the film jumps back and forth in time. First we meet young Calvin Barr, a US solider on his way to kill Hitler… right off the back is a Nazi watch gag that’s simply brilliant (hence no spoilers)… and in tandem we meet old man Calvin Barr, a grizzled vet tasked with the job of killing Bigfoot. As noted, everything is as real as possible, given the kooky koncept; anyone expecting another “what if” type flick, like how Inglourious Basterds flat out changes history, will be surprised. There is an explanation given as to why no one’s heard of Barr’s accomplishment, which directly ties into why he’s disillusioned and therefore resistant when duties calls again. Plus the title card is hawt; again, a promising start.

But back to those flashbacks: we also witness Barr before shipping off to WWII, when he was in love. In this instance, not much is spelled out, including why the romance ultimately peters out. There’s supposed to be this air of mystery, which in turn is supposed to give gravitas, yet given how one dimensional everyone is, the romance angle becomes a MASSIVE waste of time. The frustration continues with a solid cast who are given nothing to work with; I wasn’t so much curious of the film’s concept alone as I was with what star Sam Elliot does with it, which ain’t much. There will be a point in which you ask out loud to anyone within earshot, as was the case with my wife: “Okay, when the hell is he gonna kill Bigfoot already!?!?!” BTW, when we finally get to that part, things pick up something fierce and awesome. But then it’s over… yet the movie’s not done? The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot honestly feels a super cool concept that a filmmaker came up with, yet when given the opportunity, was unable to actually come up with anything. Or should I say, tried to be smart and deep yet failed big time; sometimes a film that sounds grindhouse should be allowed to be grindhouse.

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Since debuting at Sundance earlier this year, Madeline’s Madeline has been THE breakout hit at every film festival it has appeared at, with the latest stop being Fantasia. Hardly a shocker, given the lead’s mesmerizing debut performance, along with the director’s gleeful attempt at sensory overload (perfect for Fantasia Fest), plus subject matter that’s genetically engineered for high-brow/art-fart movie going crowd (so in that sense, it’s also an odd one out).

The star of the show is a 16-year-old woman transitioning towards being a 17-year-old woman, and like most coming of age flicks, Madeline’s torn two worlds. The first is the mundane, everyday existence that her mother’s center stage of; you want to root for this woman, Regina, since it ain’t easy being a single mom, especially when the child has (an unidentified form of) mental illness. Being in NYC probably doesn’t help either. Yet she also tries to be the cool mom and it’s super cringe-y. Again, being in NYC ain’t helping. Coupled with bouts of eye-rolling neurosis and you’ve got a perpetually low altitude helicopter parent. An early scene has Madeline showing off her estranged dad’s basement dwelling to a bunch of guy friends, where they all sit around & watch pop’s porn on VHS; Regina stumbles across the scene and thinks it’s a good idea to join the viewing in progression, which includes the suggestion that the guys “whip out” their penises. It’s excruciatingly awkward, yet admittedly, an awesome scene.

With all that in mind, it’s no any wonder that Madeline desires escape, and this other world is an acting class headed by her other mother, so to speak. Alas, the woman that Madeline apparently wishes was actually mom is Evangeline, the stereotypical artiste who wields an almost cult like hold over her students. Also very early on, it’s established that Madeline is a pro at their very goofy form of method acting; perhaps due to some innate skill, all the hormones running through her, or the aforementioned mental illness (probably some combo of the three), which allows Madeline to really get into pretending that she’s a cat. Also established immediately is Evangeline’s infatuation with her star pupil, who slowly starts making the young woman the star of their upcoming production. As one might assume, Evangeline manipulates Madeline’s frail psyche to get the desired results, which in one case is acting like a pig. Things then get super weird and complicated when Evangeline, who is expecting a child btw, invites Madeline home to have dinner. There she meets Evangeline’s husband, and here we discover that maybe Regina was right, so maybe Madeline watching her dad’s porn collection was maybe a bad idea after all.

Madeline’s Madeline will no doubt appear in many top ten lists at the end of this year… some have even gone far enough to state that it’s one of the best of the century thus far… and I’ll probably agree with much of the praise, despite not finding the film enjoyable. Cuz as someone all too familiar with not only individuals attempting to perfect the art of parenting, but also folk involved in the profession of acting… primarily in the Big Apple… the portrayals of Regina and Evangeline were uncomfortable spot on. In the end, it’s all about star Helena Howard; her legit “holy sh*t” impressive first stab at being a movie star is attention grabbing and attention holding. Even when the rest of the movie, in particular the overactive aesthetics, tries a bit too hard. Howard will no doubt be that dark horse fave who won’t get the Oscar next year, though as someone else has already pointed out, she’s also guaranteed to be in the next X-Men flick to introduce a new crop of teen mutants at the very least.

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