Paul Ingrassia’s book ‘Engines of Change’ reveals the American Dream through 15 classic cars

This is New York City. Most of us don’t drive cars. We ride the subway, catch the bus and hail taxis. But that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate a good-looking set of wheels when we see one, especially when it’s an American classic. In his new book, “Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars,” Paul Ingrassia reflects on America’s history through the rear view mirrors of 15 iconic automobiles. PHOTOS: ICONIC CARS FROM THROUGHOUT HISTORY The former Detroit bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal has chronicled the ups and downs of the American auto industry for nearly three decades. Now the deputy editor-in-chief of Reuters, Ingrassia has already written two books on U.S. cars and won a Pulitzer Prize for covering General Motors. “This book reflects my fascination with cars and car culture, which grew slowly, over many decades,” writes Ingrassia, whose own cars have included a ’69 Chevy Nova and an ’84 Chrysler minivan. “Cars continue to provide unique personal freedom and mobility,” he writes. “They spawn powerful emotions, experiences and memories, of family road trips, one’s first car, or one’s first sexual adventure.” But that’s about the extent of his personal narrative. This is a book about the cars, not him. And he uses the cars he highlights to dive (better yet, drive) into issues much grander in scale. “A handful of cars in American history, however, rose above merely defining the people who drove them,” he writes. “They defined large swaths of American culture, helped to shape their era, and uniquely reflected the spirit of their age.” From the Model T straight through to the eco-friendly Prius, Ingrassia views these 15 cars as a reflection of the American psyche. In their progression, he sees the advancement of the U.S. The Model T brought about major Continue Reading

Chilean miner Edison Pena is on top of world and ready for New York Marathon

Edison Pena, who was trapped for 70 days more than 2,000 feet underground in a Chilean mine, found himself Friday standing 1,250 feet above the streets of Manhattan. And the view from the Empire State Building's observation deck was a whole lot better. "It was really beautiful," Pena said after he pumped his fist in the air in joy. New York, he said, is "precioso," which translates as "very pretty." For the miracle miner and wife Angelica Alvarez visiting the building was - literally - the high point of their whirlwind visit to the Big Apple. While up there, Pena used the viewfinder to search for the finish line in Central Park, which he hopes to cross tomorrow when he runs in the New York City Marathon. Pena trained for the marquee event by running through an underground tunnel to keep from losing his mind while he and 32 other miners waited to be rescued. On Thursday, the Elvis-loving miner rocked the "Late Show with David Letterman" with his hip-swiveling rendition of "Suspicious Minds." His future plans include a visit to Memphis to see Graceland followed by a jaunt to Las Vegas to see "Viva Elvis," a Cirque du Soleil show based on Elvis Presley's music. Shivering in a blue windbreaker, Pena appeared more intent on getting back to the warmth of his waiting SUV than talking about his itinerary. Pena said he didn't feel woozy at all on the observation deck and just shrugged when asked if the 32 other miners he'd been trapped with might be jealous of his travels. And with that, Elvis left the building. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Daily News reporter learns the steps from ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Maksim Chmerkovskiy

Rule No. 1 in ballroom dance: When Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the frequently bare-chested heartthrob of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," is leading, you follow. As Chmerkovskiy swiveled my hips in an attempt to teach me a basic salsa dance, I was living out a "Dirty Dancing" fantasy. My private tutorial took place in a small dance studio in Times Square, where the 29-year-old Russian champ is in rehearsals for "Burn the Floor." The staged ballroom spectacular, which began previews at the Longacre on Saturday, will be Chmerkovskiy's Broadway debut. Along with his "Dancing With the Stars" co-star (and fiancée) Karina Smirnoff, he will join the 18-member company for the first three weeks of the show's 12-week run. "Burn the Floor," which opens Aug. 2, has been touring the globe for the past 10 years. It showcases all genres of ballroom, including foxtrot, cha-cha, jive, Viennese waltz, tango and swing."It's surreal," says Chmerkovskiy. "It's every entertainer's dream to be on Broadway and it's a huge accomplishment." Chmerkovskiy and Smirnoff learned all the choreo­graphy for the show in just two days. I, on the other hand, would need a little more time to master even the most ­basic steps. I began my salsa lesson facing Chmerkovskiy with our feet close together, knees bent for optimal hip-swiveling. The steps seemed intuitive at first: a series of three simple weight changes. He steps forward, I step back, and then we step back together. It was easy until Chmerkov­skiy, better known as "Maks," threw in some turns. The basic steps remain the same: back, two, three; forward, two, three — only now there were flourishes. And when he twirled me across the floor into a dip, I held on to his gleaming biceps for dear life. Ballroom dance is all about following the leader, Chmerkovskiy explains — which is often hard for today's strong, independent woman to do. "It's not a macho thing," he explains. "I noticed that the biggest Continue Reading

‘Rain’ Maker: Dramatist leaps to Broadway with a big boost from stars Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman

Daniel ("007") Craig and Hugh ("Wolverine") Jackman are rehearsing for the soon-to-preview Broadway play "A Steady Rain," in a location a publicist describes as "top secret." What's not hush-hush about this hotly anticipated cop drama is that its author, Keith Huff, is having his life shaken and stirred big time. He's become an overnight sensation — one that's been 25 years in the making. In Chicago, where Huff lives with his wife, Georgette, a court reporter, and his 8-year-old daughter, Robin, he's a familiar, even acclaimed voice in the theater. He's written some 60 plays, many of which have been produced. Yet he's never made a living as a dramatist. Like many writers, he has a day job to pay the mortgage. His is managing editor of Orthopedic Knowledge Online, a medical Web site. But with the buzz surrounding "A Steady Rain" he has gone from hip replacements to hip status. In the past, Huff pitched ideas to TV and film studios. Now, in a change of pace, they've been pitching assignments to him — among them, police procedurals and gritty buddy stories that bear a passing resemblance to "Steady Rain." The play was inspired by an event in Milwaukee involving a bungled police investigation that had horrific consequences. Huff relocated the setting to Chicago and "reshaped" the story into one about family, friendship and fallout from very bad decisions. Denny (Jackman) is a bullish but compassionate family man. Joey (Craig) is his unmarried childhood pal. The two cops take turns telling their version of the events that lead to their fracturing relationship. The play, which was first seen in a workshop version in 2006, was performed last year in Chicago by local actors and got strong reviews. When the run ended, producer Frederick Zollo slipped a copy of the play to Daniel Craig. "I was told that Daniel really wanted to do it," says Huff, "but Fred also said that he would call me to talk about it." Months passed. No call. Continue Reading

Beyonce video for ‘Sweet Dreams’ set to debut; more booty swiveling, plus a gold femmebot outfit too

Beyonce is having a Barbarella moment. At the end of her new video, for the single "Sweet Dreams," she looks like a femmebot in a gold-plated bodysuit that's one part tin woodsman, one part Pam Anderson. And it definitely owes a little something to the '60s B-movie classic starring Jane Fonda. It's certainly not the first time Beyonce has rocked a metallic leotard - but it may be the first time she's looked like a giant sci-fi spacedoll. In the new clip, she reprises some of the moves from her "Single Ladies," video  - after all, it worked the first time, and even Beyonce can only swivel those hips in so many ways.She also reuses the two-backup-dancers-on-white-screen look of the earlier effort, though this one stars off with Bey and her doppelgangers swinging their booties around what appears to be a Martian landscape - check the song title, it is a dream, after all!Does Beyonce's Star-Wars worthy garb in the video's finale mean she's settled in to life on a new planet?Let's hope she eventually comes back to earth.To see Beyonce in her full golden glory, check out MTV, where the video premieres Thursday. A full-length version that made the rounds on the Web early the same day was yanked by Sony. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Jennifer Lopez, aka J.Lo, performs in leather cat-suit update at Italy’s 2010 Sanremo Music Festival

J.Lo’s cat-suit look apparently has nine lives, or at least two.After stalking into the new year in a sparkly body-hugging cat-suit, Jennifer Lopez's booty set tongues wagging again Friday night - this time in a skin tight black leather suit accessorized with studs and laces.The curvy 41-year-old singer, who was performing on the fourth night of the 2010 Sanremo Italian Music Festival, seems to have maintained her stamina and her curves since the New Year.Lopez sang a medley of her major hits: "Jenny from the Block," "Waiting for Tonight," "Love Don't Cost a Thing," "Get Right" and "Lets Get Loud." No doubt constricted by the tight leather, she didn't perform highly complicated moves, settling for a lot of hip swiveling and stomping. But that was probably enough for the male population.The highlight of the performance had Lopez and her back-up dancers twirling canes for a Charlie Chaplin-esque number.The mother of two took to the stage twice for the festival’s 60th anniversary. During her second act she wore gold tasseled military regalia and sang "What Is Love?" - a single from her new album, "Love?"At the end of the show, Lopez smiled under a sea of confetti and shouted breathlessly, "You didn't know I could do that did you?" Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

‘Bye, Bye Birdie’ is guilty of fowl play

Through Jan. 10Henry Miller’s Theatre,With the newly restored Henry Miller's Theatre, the Roundabout has another Broadway house under its wing. But with the launch of the venue's inaugural production, a bumbling, badly cast version of "Bye Bye Birdie," it also has egg on its face.Director/choreographer Robert Longbottom ("Side Show," "Flower Drum Song") has staged the sweet, hit-filled 1960 classic like an exaggerated comic book. In the process, many of the charms have been smothered and characters emerge as plastic as the scenery. The musical has been away from Broadway since 1961, but it's been running everywhere else. "Birdie" is a famous film and TV tale, and it's a staple for high schools, community players and regional theaters. The songs (by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams) and story (by Michael Stewart) are deeply ingrained in pop culture. A quick recap: When Elvis-like teen idol Conrad Birdie (an entertaining Nolan Gerard Funk) gets drafted in the late 1950s, his manager Albert (John Stamos) and his long-suffering secretary, Rose (Gina Gershon), hatch a PR stunt to send him off on a high note so all will benefit. Before he goes to Uncle Sam, Conrad hits small-town Ohio to smooch his No. 1 fan, Kim (Allie Trimm), on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The fun is that everyone's best-laid plans go awry. While some jokes have grown musty and there's a non-finale, the show is loaded with snappy songs, which in the right pipes sound great. Stamos and Gershon have done musicals, including "Cabaret," but they're limited singers and dancers. Both are surprisingly robotic. It's painful watching them execute Longbottom's lame moves and hack through roles Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera made famous. The former "Showgirls" stripper wobbles as she warbles. The ex-"ER" doc looks uneasy in his big numbers, "Put on a Happy Face" and "Rosie." Sparks or a connection between them? MIA. As Albert's co-dependent mother, Jayne Houdyshell stirs up only a couple of laughs from a part that Continue Reading

From hokey-pokey to hanky-panky on ‘Dancing With the Stars’

They spend hours together touching, groping, grinding and staring into each other's eyes as they sweat through tango rehearsals every week. It's no wonder ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" is a hotbed of steamy hookups. The reality dance competition featuring sexy celebrities and scorching professional dancers has sparked numerous rumors over the course of its six seasons, linking the likes of: Pro Julianna Hough with her season four partner, Apolo Anton Ohno, and also season five partner Helio Castroneves.nMaksim Chmerkovskiy with his season three partner, Willa Ford; season four partner, Laila Ali; and season five partner, Mel B. Tony Dovolani with season three partner Sara Evans. Cheryl Burke with season two partner Drew Lachey.nAnd now, Karina Smirnoff with current partner, the R&B star Mario (aka Mario Barrett). Smirnoff is also said to still be dating season three partner Mario Lopez, though they've never confirmed their relationship publicly, and season five couple pro Mark Ballas and "Cheetah Girl" Sabrina Bryan have out-and-out said they are together. So is "Dancing With the Stars" one big orgy, or are some of these people just that good at faking it on the dance floor? "I'm not going to lie to you. People do hook up," past "Dancing" pro Chmerkovskiy tells the Daily News. "You don't have to be a spy to understand that, I think it's pretty obvious. But I also think it's something that the audience actually wants to see. "They'll convince themselves that [season five contestant] Cameron [Mathison], who's married with children, and his partner Edyta [Sliwinska], who's getting married, definitely have something going on because at the end of their rumba, they were touching. "But if they don't touch," he says, "the judges say their rumba isn't hot enough." Dan Karaty, choreographer and judge for Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," which has dealt with its own share of romance rumors, says that if a dancing couple is Continue Reading

New beauty shop can’t make the cut

"The Salon" Comedy about residents of a Baltimore neighborhood who gather at the corner beauty shop. With Vivica A. Fox, Terrence Howard. Director: Mark Brown (1:32). PG-13: Language and sexual and mature themes. At Magic Johnson Harlem 9 and AMC Loews 34th St.Adapted from a years-old stage play, "The Salon," Mark Brown's stilted, sista-centric answer to "Barbershop," definitely shows its roots. And despite a few highlights, the overall effect is not pretty.An appealing Vivica A. Fox is Jenny, the owner of a Baltimore beauty shop where feisty employees and quirky clients bicker, gossip and tease each other all day long. When the government threatens to take over the building, Jenny has to decide if she's ready to fight for her business or give up and move on. Wanna guess which path she chooses? There are some strong performances here, most notably from Terrence Howard, who steals his scenes in a brief turn as an abusive boyfriend. But every character is written as an unabashed stereotype, from the hip-swiveling gay stylist and sassy gold digger to the neighborhood pimps and prostitutes.Although there are earnest points being made, each line is delivered as Important Dialogue, rather than natural conversation - a significant problem for a movie that's all talk and very little action. In 92 minutes, the movie crams in lectures on, among other things, civil rights, single mothers, sexual morality, corporal punishment, gentrification, Hollywood racism and the dearth of available black men, not to mention the nerve of white women who try to steal them.Given that Brown wrote the significantly superior "Barbershop," he should know that when you make a socially conscious comedy, you've got to weave in plenty of wit alongside the wisdom. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

A story of crime without the grime

See also:View the photo gallery"True Crime" "Lonely Hearts"Two detectives try to track down a pair of murderous lovers in the 1940s. With Salma Hayek, Jared Leto, John Travolta, James Gandolfini. Director: Todd Robinson (1:48). R: Violence, sex, nudity, language. At area theaters. Real-life lunatics Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck would have been exceedingly surprised to see themselves portrayed as the glamorous pair at the bloody center of Todd Robinson's beautiful but shallow "Lonely Hearts." The demented duo have already inspired other movies, including the 1970 cult classic "The Honeymoon Killers." But where that film was notably grotesque, this one is oddly sterile. Jared Leto's Ray is a dapper con man who fleeces war widows out of their small bank accounts. He meets his match when he tries to swindle Salma Hayek's hip-swiveling Martha, and soon the two are targeting lonely spinsters, with Martha posing as Ray's sister. There are only two problems: Martha's obsessive jealousy and her very itchy trigger finger. Before long, their string of victims attracts the attention of Det. ­Elmer Robinson (John Travolta), who is still grieving the mysterious death of his own wife. While his partner (James Gandolfini) and girlfriend (Laura Dern) discourage him from getting involved, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the case. Robinson, who both wrote and directed the movie, is the grandson of Travolta's character, but his intense personal connection to the material comes across only intermittently. Most of the time, a slick Hollywood sheen covers what should be a deeply gritty story. The real Martha Beck was an obese, desperate woman grasping at love. Good as she is, the effortlessly magnetic Hayek just can't sell the role of a pathetic soul whose deep insecurities turn her into a sociopath. And if she has too much charisma, Leto, as the smooth Lothario, simply doesn't have enough. On the other hand, the sharply focused Travolta and the loose, burly Gandolfini make a Continue Reading