Here’s a sample of my past work from the past couple years. Some of it has been published; where available, I’ve provided the links.
NY Auto Show Shocks Young Reporter – April 8, 2007
(NEW YORK) The New York Auto Show press preview is far more intense than the general public’s experience is likely to be. For the two days before the doors are opened to the masses, automotive journalists rush helter-skelter across the floor to scoop up information about the newest cars. Every aspect of the event is revved up to the redline; where regular attendees mosey from one car to the next, reporters dash across rooms the size of football fields between press conferences so they can behold the unveiling of the latest Ford or Mercedes-Benz. Where civilians normally would wait just a moment for the crowd to clear away from vehicles they want to see, journalists have to try and force through throngs of competitors just to get a glimpse of a new car as it is unveiled.
Of course, journalists get free booze. Yes, that’s right – free beer and wine is there for the taking, alongside fresh sushi for lunch, homemade cream puffs for dessert, and an endless supply of Cokes, cookies, brownies and other sweets – all gratis.
Journalists also get the privilege of running their hands over just about every piece of sheet metal in the place. During the public show, cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis are separated from the serfs by glass partitions and glowering Armani-clad guardians; but reporters are free to plop themselves down in cars that would make James Bond jealous.
But the real reason journalists come to the auto show is to be the first ones to catch a glimpse of the newest cars, and this year was no disappointment. The show kicked off with the introduction of not one, but three new Chevrolet concept cars dubbed the “triplets” by Bob Lutz, vice-chairman of product development at General Motors. Lutz, a 72-year-old Leslie Nielson look-alike on the fast track to automotive canonization for his efforts to restore GM to its former glory, declared his company had the lofty goal of developing the best vehicles on the market through all means.
“When GM was king, design ran the place,” Lutz said from the stage where the three cars sat hidden beneath white sheets. “We have restored the power of design at General Motors.”
Moments later, a group of backup dancers in “grungy” clothing rushed the stage to a thumping beat and began gyrating madly in perfect synchronicity – the Broadway version of a mosh pit. As they danced, stagehands snuck behind them and pulled the covers off the three cars – revealing a trio of tiny, odd-looking cars. The Chevy Groove, which looks like a Mini Cooper that pulled a Face/Off with a Porsche Cayenne, was designed “in the spirit of modern grunge,” according to GM VP of design Ed Welburn. The Chevy Beat, the Starship Troopers version of a New Beetle, will share its “design language” with many future Chevrolets, according to Welburn. And the Chevy Trax, with what Welburn described as its “bold SUV look,” resembles a dwarf, mutated Jeep.
And the amassed reporters cheered wildly. When one of the GM presenters told the crowd to choose their favorite of the cars by throwing a color-matched Nerf ball onto the stage, hundreds of green, orange and purple balls flew through the air. The journalists seem to favor the lime-green Beat.
The Audi press conference was more reserved than the General Motors – for one, their dancers were wearing collared shirts. Broadway singer Jessica Molasky serenaded the crowd with Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot” while the four dancers teased the cover off a candy-apple version of the brand-new Audi S5, a 354 horsepower V8-powered coupe coming to America later this year.
Mercedes-Benz’s press conference featured a “Mission: Impossible” theme, from the jazzy spy music to the nigh-endless supply of bad jokes the teleprompters forced over the tongues of the spokesmen. Mercedes-Benz USA Director of Communication Geoff Day’s introductory speech was “interrupted” when an assistant handed him a BlackBerry with “new instructions;” a video sprang up on the stage’s screen detailing Day’s new “assignment,” then warned “this message will self-destruct in five seconds.” Day threw the Blackberry past one of the sheeted cars – and simultaneously, a retina-searing pyrotechnic charge exploded as the sheet was torn off the new Mercedes-Benz C-class.
But those fireworks were nothing compared to the explosive unveiling of the other covered car on the stand, the high-performance CLK63 AMG Black Series. For that, AMG CEO Volker Mornhinweg lit a long fuse on the stage and ran like hell, as the fuse ignited a 30-second-long display with showers of sparks and jets of fire surrounding the car.
Extravagant displays were the rule, not the exception, at the show. Infiniti chose to unveil their latest offerings with a mock thunderstorm, complete with bright flashing lights, rolling kettle drums and high-volume thunder in a presentation that would have made Jerry Bruckheimer proud. Lexus unveiled their new, gargantuan LX570 SUV with a video in which the vehicle frightened off giant vultures and blazed across a barren, volcanic wasteland that looked an awful lot like the bad parts of Middle-Earth.
But not every unveiling was so outlandish. At Ford’s conference, 84-year-old Carroll Shelby – father of the Shelby Cobra and as far from a background dancer as one can get – came to the stage to introduce his newest car, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR “King of the Road.” The only flair came with the introduction of the Shelby and its on-stage companion, the new Ford Flex crossover; both were hidden behind oscillating walls of cotton sheeting which were slowly lowered to reveal the vehicles. And Bentley chose to reveal their super-exclusive, $400,000 Brooklands coupe without any theatrics whatsoever – unless one counts the free mimosas handed out afterwards.
March of the Elephants – March 28, 2007
(NEW YORK) It’s the first warm night of spring, and the people want to see some elephants.
They’ve come to the exit of the Queens Midtown Tunnel in the middle of the last Tuesday night in March in hopes of catching a glimpse of the pachyderm parade that emerges every year from the mouth of the tunnel. The elephants, which work for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, are too big to bring into the city by more conventional means, so whenever the circus comes to New York, the animals enter the city on foot and march down 34th St. to Madison Square Garden.
At 11:30, though, there’s little sign of what’s to come at the corner of 35th St. and the tunnel’s western terminus; only a dozen people have gathered to stalk out prime viewing locations in the 60-degree warmth.
An older woman with a clipped New York accent says she decided to come see the elephants this year because she’d never had the chance before she retired this year. “It’s part of New York history, that you walk the elephants through the tunnel,” she says.
Marcus Forsblom, a computer engineer from New Jersey, aims his bulky Canon SLR at the tunnel’s mouth. An amateur photographer, he says he wishes he had borrowed his friend’s wide-angle lens for tonight. “Too big for my budget,” he says.
By 11:40, the police have pushed everyone off the sidewalks and erected metal barricades across 35th St., which people immediately crowd up against as they jockey for position. Within ten minutes, traffic from the tunnel has ceased. The crowd seems to tense up.
Sisters Abigail and Sarah Downs are huddled against the barricade, craning their necks towards the tunnel. They say they found out about the march in a book detailing must-see events in New York. Sarah, who works at Columbia University Medical Center, says she hadn’t even met anyone who’d attended it. “I had to Wikipedia it to find out when it was,” she says.
The sisters seem giddy with excitement. “I love elephants!” shouts Sarah. “Big ones!” yells Abigail, a senior at Barnard – then both burst into laughter.
Come midnight, the crowd has increased tenfold from its numbers half an hour earlier. One young boy sits perched atop his father’s shoulders, in prime viewing position – but the only motion from the tunnel is a black plastic bag dancing across the pavement in the breeze.
“At this point, I’m here until the elephants are,” says Sarah Downs. “It’s already past my bedtime.”
The lack of elephants leads some to random conversations. “Who do you like better – Barnum or Bailey?” asks a short man with a receding hairline, deadpan. Within minutes, the group is debating whether the Mountain Time Zone suffers from a television tape delay.
By 12:15, the little boy once perched atop his father’s shoulders now lies asleep in his arms, sucking his thumb. The sound of a siren splits the night, and someone yells out, “The elephants are on fire!” People are getting anxious – many of them have been standing for over half an hour by now. “They tricked us – there’s no elephants!” says a woman with short-cropped hair.
At 12:30, a pair of circus employees emerge from the tunnel, wearing jackets the color of a clown’s nose. A handful of people burst into applause at the sight of them, but it quickly dies as people realize there are no pachyderms behind them. “They’re not bringing peace or anything – they’re just lumbering by,” says Hairline to the hecklers before pretending to address the elephants. “Go back to Africa! Or possibly Asia!”
Finally, at 12:40, a parade of police cars crawls from the tunnel; heads whirl and cameras snap – just in time to see the lead elephant emerge, a clown riding atop it. Behind it mosey seven more, each clutching the tail of the elephant before it in its trunk. The crowd screams as though the elephants were The Beatles. The elephants, for their part, barely seem to notice the masses on either side of them; they plod along at a leisurely pace.
Dozens of horses follow the elephants, but few watchers stick around to see them. Instead, people tear off after the pachyderms, dashing westward to find a spot along 34th St. closer to Midtown. “Scream if you love elephants!” yells a young man on 34th and Lexington, and the nearby crowd is only too happy to oblige. A handful of animal rights activists wave signs, but the cheering throngs vastly outnumber them.
By the time the elephants pass the Empire State Building, literally thousands of people are following them like rats after the Pied Piper. At Herald Square, a handful of cars sit at the traffic light apparently unable to be moved before the road was closed; the occupants can only watch, dumbfounded, as the ten-foot-tall animals lumber past beside them.
Finally, the parade rounds the corner onto Seventh Avenue and heads towards Madison Square Garden, leaving most of the disciples at the corner. At the very end of the procession, a street sweeper whirs along, cleaning up any detritus the herd has left behind. The elephants might not have brought peace to Manhattan – but they certainly brought joy with them.
The Polar Express – March 19, 2007
(NEW YORK) The train rumbles through the snowstorm, oblivious to the driving wind as it plows the powder from its path. Much like its namesake citizens, the falling snow rarely deters Amtrak’s Vermonter.
The cabin flickers as naked trees alongside the track interrupt the thin light from outside. The cars sway rhythmically, sashaying like ballroom dancers. Left, right, left, right.
On board, a conductor – who barely looks old enough for the stubble on his face – punches tickets and collects payment. The train is quiet; for the most part, the only sound to be heard is the rumble of the wheels below. The café car attendant knits at a table as she waits for customers to buy $3.50 hot dogs and $1.75 cans of Pepsi.
Many passengers sleep, curled up in the soft cloth seats. One young woman wears a black eye shade. Some watch movies or work on laptops; others play cards or listen to iPods. But some are content to stare out the window and watch America roll on by.
The train isn’t fast – it takes nine hours to travel the three hundred miles from Waterbury, Vermont to New York City. It only runs once a day in each direction. But it is cheap – a one-way ticket runs only $44.
It also offers a level of convenience airplanes rarely can – the ability to drop passengers off in their destination’s downtown, whether it’s Penn Station in Manhattan or Main Street in Randolph, Vermont (pop. 4,853).
Many aboard the train are young, clad in NYU sweatshirts or Burton ski jackets. Austin Gohl, a freshman at George Washington University from Wolcott, Vermont, works on a five-page paper due the next day. He’s on for the long haul – a 12-and-a-half-hour ride from Montpelier, Vermont to Washington, D.C.
He says he decided to take the train mostly because of the cost. “It’s a lot cheaper than the plane from D.C.,” he says. Gohl says the train only costs him $150 round-trip, whereas the plane would cost him $200 more and force him to drive an extra half hour to the airport in Burlington, Vermont.
Gohl says he likes the quiet aboard the train, “but not much else about it.” He doesn’t like how it takes so long, he says, but that isn’t his only gripe.
“Sometimes the smell,” he says. “The smell’s pretty bad.”
Gohl says the most offensive odors are the sharp aroma of urine wafting from the bathroom and the acrid stench of the train’s brakes that leaks into the cabin when the conductor opens the door. All in all, he says, he’d rather take the plane.
But not everyone aboard the train is as displeased as Gohl. Ruth and Arthur Barnes, an elderly retired couple from New Hampshire, are riding the train to New York City for a funeral. They say they took the train because they are too old to drive, and it takes too long to get to the airport from where they live– it’s an hour and a half away.
Despite the somber circumstances of their travel, they say they enjoy the train. “It’s relaxing,” says Mrs. Barnes.
Even Gohl says the train isn’t all bad. “It’s nice to see the snow,” he says, gesturing to the ivory hills out the window.
The train’s whistle bellows, a warning cry in the blowing powder. Eight hours to New York.
Film Review: “Right At Your Door” – February 2, 2006
(PARK CITY, UT) Some movies should only be seen at home, with all the doors locked up and the windows shut tight to keep your worst fears trapped outside.
“Right at Your Door” (Thousand Words) is not one of them. Not by a long shot.
Essentially, the premise is simple: on an average May day in Los Angeles, Lexi (played by Mary McCormack, better known to students as Kate Harper of “The West Wing”) heads off to work downtown while her bedraggled, out-of-work stereotype musician husband Brad (Rory Cochrane) stays at home, perhaps to practice making his hair look more slept on. Unfortunately, whatever plans he has are quickly shattered as a series of explosions rip through Los Angeles, causing massive carnage and devastation. Brad tries to head out after his wife, but quickly finds the roads jammed and the disaster zones blocked off by the (as always) trigger-happy Los Angeles Police Department.
Unable to save Lexi, he retreats home and discovers the neighbors’ handyman Alvaro (Tony Perez) hiding inside, also cut off from his wife by the disaster zones. He informs Brad that the news says the explosions were dirty bombs, and that toxic ash is now drifting over the L.A. basin – so they have to seal the house up airtight. Perhaps Tom Ridge wasn’t completely full of it when he told Americans to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting. With the house sealed airtight, nothing can come inside – not even Lexi, who shows up a few hours later, covered in ash.
From there on, the movie becomes as much a character study as anything else, as the main characters try to come to grips with the ends of their respective worlds. Brad begins sealing himself deeper into the house so his wife can come in, but isolating himself even more; Lexi, in turn, tries her best to keep her mind off her near-certain death as she grows sicker and dead birds rain from the trees like ripe fruit. And all the time, she and Brad try to reach out to each other through the glass and plastic that separates them – right up until an ending with a twist worthy of Hitchcock.
First-time writer and director Chris Gorak has done an incredible job with the film. One can’t help but feel a bit of panic at the sight of smoke rising up over a burning Los Angeles, made all the more real by the simplicity of the images. (Interestingly, Gorak actually used digitally modified footage of smoke from Iraqi oil fires for the effect.) Despite the fact that the majority of the film takes place within a tiny house, and that the main characters aren’t able to even touch, it never feels slow or tedious. The relationship between Brad and Lexi isn’t overly dramatic or played up; the actors are allowed to just interact, and McCormack and Cochrane play their parts exceptionally well.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the film is the news reports broadcast over the radio; it serves as Brad’s only source of information beyond his own house throughout the whole story, and it’s used chillingly well, leaving the images to the viewer’s imagination. Gorack actually wrote a separate 50-page script just for the news reports, and his extra dedication shines through.
“Right at Your Door” is especially gripping considering today’s environment. Seven years ago, such a movie would have just been seen as fantasy, as likely as an asteroid slamming into the ocean or Arnold Schwarzenegger heading the world’s seventh-largest economy. But today, it seems all too chilling – and realistic. Instead of focusing on the Jack Bauers of the world, it focuses on the John Smiths, the people who don’t manage to go out and heroically save lives in times of trouble but are more preoccupied with keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay to the film is that it makes one really think – all the way home.
Film Review – Rocky Mountain Die (“Subject Two”) – February 2, 2006
(PARK CITY, UT) Apparently, there are still some people out there who are not familiar with the cardinal rules to be learned from horror movies. Here’s a quick refresher, for those of you in the dark:
1. If you and several of your attractive friends ever decide to hang out somewhere where there is no way to reach help, you will die.
2. The more sexually active you are, the sooner you will die.
3. The killer is always the innocuous secondary character.
4. High schoolers will go psycho at the drop of a hat, especially if they aren’t cool.
5. If a mysterious stranger invites you to come alone to his remote mountain cabin miles from civilization, you don’t take him up on it.
Clearly, Adam Schmidt is one of those people unfamiliar with these rules. At least, so it appears in Subject Two (Cardiac Pictures), by Philip Chidel, the latest remake of the Frankenstein story and one far different from any seen before on the screen.
In this version, a young medical student named Adam Schmidt (Christian Oliver) is brought to the secluded Rocky Mountain cabin of Dr. Franklin Vick (get it?), played by Dean Stapleton, who is quite possibly the best creepy actor you’ve never heard of. Vick offers him a chance to be part of something extraordinary – the chance to develop a way to raise the dead, which can be accomplished through a unique combination of “cold, technology, and…such.” Schmidt, who came to Vick directly from being browbeaten by his professor in his medical ethics class, hesitantly agrees – only to have Vick garrote him with a piano wire, proving that you don’t need brains to get through med school.
Vick then proceeds to inject his assistant with his unique formula, which might possible simply be pure Red Bull, stitches closed the gaping neck wound, and places him outside in the cold to see if he will revive. The experiment, not surprisingly, is successful; much like an overcoat-clad Jesus, Schmidt rises on the third day, with the only notable side effects being an eerie new pair of white irises, a Bizarro speech pattern and one mother of a hangover. Vick explains to Schmidt that in order to perfect the formula, it needs to be developed from the subject’s blood – and that it will only improve with each death of the subject. Schmidt, having already been through the process, agrees to do so, thus allowing Vick to continuously come up with new ways of killing him. Along the way, Vick conditions his assistant, making him exercise to get him in better shape and thus strengthen the formula. It’s sort of like Rocky, if Mickey ended every day by shooting Rocky in the chest. (Come to think of it, that might be a good idea for Rocky VI.)
As Vick refines the process, he finds his subject becoming more and more questioning of his fate – of whether being able to bring the dead back to life is necessarily a good idea, from the perspective of an undead man. Ultimately, Schmidt decides he’s had enough of the research, and makes a break for it, sending Vick after him on his snowmobile – which ends up smashing into Schmidt at fifty miles an hour, sending him flying into a tree and taking out a chunk of his head the size of a baseball, killing him yet again. Vick brings Schmidt back to the cabin, where Adam comes to after several days– all by himself. Schmidt pleads with Vick to kill him for good, but Vick can’t – nothing can anymore. The formula has been perfected; Schmidt is immortal. With Vick unable to do any more for him, Schmidt again takes flight, trudging off into the wilderness to the sound of soft classical music. One almost expects him to pass a hitchhiking Stewie Griffin to the tune of The Incredible Hulk’s “Sad Walking Away Theme.”
For Chidel’s second picture (he also wrote and directed 1999’s Far From Bismarck, which also starred Stapleton), Subject Two shows surprising depth, building on subtexts and leaving one wondering what is going to happen. While the script is not nearly as snappy as the work of, for example, Quentin Tarantino, it is enough to allow the viewers a glimpse into the characters (though some additional backstory for both of them would be greatly appreciated). The chemistry between the actors is quite good; Stapleton’s performance is so good one must wonder why he doesn’t get more work, and Oliver’s portrayal of the undead Schmidt is only marred by the occasional, inexplicable flare-up of a German accent. The film leaves the ending open, throwing in at the last second an epic twist which leaves one smiling at the film’s idea of justice. It isn’t a film for the faint of heart, and it’s hardly perfect, but all things considered, it’s worth checking out.