December 9, 2015

PU Art Museum

On Saturday, January 23, 2016, the Princeton University Art Museum will unveil “Pastures Green and Dark Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape.” Showcasing masterpieces by artists from Constable to Turner to Monet — working in Britain, the exhibition offers new insights into the cultural history of Britain as it became the world’s first industrial nation late in the 18th century. This oil on canvas by Claude Gelee titled “Landscape with St. Philip Baptizing the Eunuch, 1678” is among the artworks that will be on display. 

McGukianFilm director, writer, and producer Mary McGuckian will discuss her recent film, The Price of Desire, about Irish architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray, on Friday, December 11 at 4:30 p.m. at the Lewis Center for the Arts’ James M. Stewart ’32 Theater, 185 Nassau Street. Part of the 2015-16 Fund for Irish Studies series at Princeton University, the event is free and open to the public.

The film, which premiered at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival earlier this year, is set substantially in and around Gray’s most abiding work, the villa E.1027 at Roquebrune Cap Martin in southern France, now recognized by many as the first fully fledged modernist house ever constructed. The drama explores the controversial events and details surrounding Le Corbusier’s effacement, defacement, and eventual erasure of Gray’s authorship and ownership of the one of the most important houses of the 20th century.

Gray is regarded as a cult figure among collectors of her work. This film is part of the Eileen Gray Project (2014-15), which includes a companion documentary, Gray Matters, by Marco Orisini, as well as a series of limited edition Eileen Gray Project Portrait Prints by Julian Lennon, and various other projects designed to bring Gray’s life and work to the public’s attention.  more

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) presents Sarah Donner in a Holiday Soiree on Saturday, December 12 at 8 p.m. The concert will be held in the ACP’s Solley Theater at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street.

Donner is known for her bright musical melodies and ballads. She will be joined by guitarist and vocalist Amanda Duncan and Chris Q. Murphy. Tickets are $12 ($10 for ACP members, students, and seniors).

Parking is available in the Spring and Hulfish Street Garages. For more information, visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org or call (609) 924-8777.

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Art Evening

“SOFT EVENING”: Gail Bracegirdle’s watercolor pictured above is among the works by the Artists’ Gallery’s 16 artists who will be exhibiting at the Gallery’s annual holiday show “Small Works in a Small Town.” The exhibit runs from Thursday, December 10 until Sunday, January 31, 2016 during which time patrons can purchase smaller artworks that make perfect holiday gifts.

The Artists’ Gallery’s (AG) 20th annual holiday exhibition, Small Works in a Small Town, runs from Thursday, December 10 until Sunday, January 31, 2016. The show predominately features smaller artworks by the gallery’s 16 artists that are perfect for holiday gifts. An Open House with the artists will be held at the gallery, located at 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville on Saturday, December 12 from 1 to 7 p.m.; light refreshments will be served. more

December 2, 2015

movie revWhen most people think of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), what automatically comes to mind is the image of a gutsy underdog who holds his own in the boxing ring against a variety of imposing adversaries. Each installment of the series has been about the buildup leading to a riveting championship bout between the underdog and a world champion.

Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed is a spin-off that pays homage to that tried-and-true formula but also departs from the series’ successful formula. The change is that this film devotes attention to character development in addition to ratcheting up the tension leading to the showdown bout.

The picture reunites Coogler with Michael B. Jordan, who starred in his directorial debut, the critically acclaimed Frutivale Station. In Creed, Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, a juvenile delinquent who’s had several scrapes with the law because of his quick temper and a tendency to settle arguments with his powerful fists.

Just past the point of departure, the hot-headed Adonis is informed by Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) widow (Phylicia Rashad) that he is the illegitimate son of Rocky’s original opponent.

Fast-forward a few years, where we learn that Adonis has learned to channel his anger and explosive might by becoming a boxer. Over the objections of his adoptive mother (Mrs. Creed) he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps.

He moves to Philadelphia to find Rocky who is now running a restaurant called Adrian’s. Adonis prevails upon the ex-champ to serve as his trainer. Rocky agrees on condition that he change his surname to Creed. Soon Adonis rises in the ranks to become the number 1 contender and lands a title fight with Pretty Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellow).

In addition, Adonis falls in love with his next-door neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring hip-hop artist who is on the verge of success. Away from the gym, he also spends time with Rocky, and even gives him some heartfelt advice that just might save his aging mentor’s life.

This engaging seventh episode can rightfully claim to be a highly recommended spin-off of the legendary series.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, and sensuality. Running time: 95 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

Hillary Chute and Richard Dienst will be at Labyrinth Books on Wednesday, December 15 at 6 p.m. to discuss Ms. Chute’s new book Disaster Drawn, about the ways in which graphic narratives document the disasters of war.

Investigating how hand-drawn comics have come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways in which graphic narratives by diverse artists, including Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Keiji Nakazawa, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco, document war. Ms. Chute demonstrates why, even in the era of photography and film, people understand hand-drawn images to be among the most powerful forms of historical witness of war. more

Art Zink

ZINK’S “MERCER MAGIC” TALK: Clifford Zink will talk about his new book, “Mercer Magic: Roeblings, Kusers, The Mercer Automobile Company and America’s First Sports Car,” on Sunday, December 13, at 2 p.m. at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum. The cost is $5 for members of the Trenton Museum Society and $10 for non-members. Pictured above is a photograph of New Mercers lined up at the factory for road testing in 1912.

Clifford W. Zink, the foremost expert on the Roebling family and the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company, talks about his new book, Mercer Magic: Roeblings, Kusers, The Mercer Automobile Company and America’s First Sports Car, on Sunday, December 13, at 2 p.m. at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum, in Cadwalader Park, Trenton. The cost is $5 for members of the Trenton Museum Society and $10 for non-members.

Mercer Magic is a story of Trenton’s entrepreneurship, innovation, and national achievement in the exciting first decades of the 20th century when the new technology of automobiles was sweeping the country.

Members of the Roebling and Kuser families started the Mercer Automobile Company in 1909 to build automobiles “in a class by itself,” and that’s what they did. Mercer Automobile Company produced fine touring and sporting cars, most notably the two-seater Raceabout, which an amateur sportsman could drive around town during the week and take to the local track to race on weekends.  more

Art Provincetown

“DRIZZLY PROVINCETOWN DAY”: This 18×24 acrylic and collage on canvas is an example of local artist SiriOm Singh’s artwork. There will be an exhibition at the Blawenburg Café in Skillman displaying Singh’s “’scapes,” which include landscapes, seascapes, and inner scapes. The artist sees all images as portraits to create structures that have a personality and become living things that serve as a testament to how we care for our world. Singh’s exhibition will be on display until Friday, January 8.

Local artist SiriOm Singh will be displaying his art in Skillman’s Blawenburg Café located at 391 County Road 518 in Blawenburg until Friday, January 8. The work can be viewed weekdays from 7 a.m.–4 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m.–3 p.m. There will be an artist reception on Friday, December 5 from 6-8 p.m.

Singh sees himself as an abstract expressionist. He uses acrylic and collage applying layering techniques, primarily with a pallet knife, to create images that are intended to help the viewer experience inner peace, love, and unity.

The show displays recent images of landscapes and seascapes, some painted on location, and some recreated in the studio, from memory, or from the artist’s imagination. Singh sees all images as portraits – representations of our humanity and our need to plant ourselves solidly in the world. more

(Filmframe)

(Filmframe)

When Bogart tells Bergman “We’ll always have Paris” as they say their farewells in Casablanca, he’s responding to her plaintive question “What about us?” For Rick and Ilsa, Paris is another word for love. “We lost it until you came to Casablanca,” he tells her. “We got it back last night.”

While the city of the title is a Moorish fantasy fabricated on a back lot at Warners with stock footage of an overview, Paris is the absolute that will always be the City of Light as Humphrey Bogart will always be the epitome of cool, Ingrid Bergman the epitome of beauty, and “As Time Goes By” the theme song of their romance.

When the two lovers were reunited in Rick’s night club, they talked of the last time they were together, in a Montmartre cafe called the Belle Aurore on the day the Germans marched into Paris. “Not an easy day to forget,” said Rick. “I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.” more

For its annual Thanksgiving weekend concert this year, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) looked back through music history. NJSO concertmaster Eric Wyrick served as both conductor and violin soloist for three works harking back to the days before conductors formally stood in front of orchestras. Friday night’s NJSO performance in Richardson Auditorium showed the nearly full house how an instrumental ensemble can work within itself to create music rooted in solid communication and musical trust.

In his career, Mr. Wyrick has had extensive experience as both a follower and a leader in an ensemble; in conjunction with his position as concertmaster of NJSO, he regularly appears as soloist with orchestras worldwide and has recorded an extensive repertory. Friday night’s concert was centered on Antonio Vivaldi’s early 18th-century concerto set The Four Seasons, for which Mr. Wyrick served as violin soloist. In the four concerti selected, a chamber-sized NJSO demonstrated the true orchestral intricacy of 18th-century music with themes passed among players and complex musical conversations. Mr. Wyrick brought The Four Seasons into the 21st century by playing off an iPad, and added a wealth of 19th and 20th-century interpretive style to music which is sometimes considered repetitive. In this performance, nothing was boring, and there was tremendous variety in dynamics, contrast, and melodic lines.  more

Carol

AJ Cedeño and Graeme Malcolm as seen in a recent production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. Tickets start at just $25 and are available by calling the box office at (609) 258-2787 or online at www.mccarter.org. Special discounts are available for groups of six or more. Purchase a McCarter Theatre membership and automatically receive one free ticket. (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

The American Boychoir’s annual “Home for the Holidays” performance will take place at Richardson Auditorium on Sunday, December 20 at 4 p.m. To purchase tickets, call (609) 258-9220.

Artistic Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz states, “This year’s holiday program was created as an homage to our many supporters and fans. It stemmed from this fundamental question: if people could pick one song for the American Boychoir to sing for them during the holidays, what would it be? The answers to that question put together an ‘all-star’ collection of favorites, as well as what I hope to be a most enjoyable concert experience.”

Earlier this year, there was some doubt that the American Boychoir School would even be open for the holidays, because the school filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April and the fate of the school was unknown. However, the American Boychoir School leadership, students, parents, and community came together in an unprecedented effort to not only keep the doors open, but to position the school and its revered choir for the future. The holiday season offers the perfect opportunity for the American Boychoir to celebrate and thank its many friends and supporters who are working so hard to keep the school open. more

Join the Princeton Singers for their traditional holiday favorite, A Child’s Christmas in Wales on Saturday, December 12 at 6 p.m. at Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton.

Narrated by author Paul Watkins, holiday carols will be accompanied by a reading of Dylan Thomas’s classic story. This local favorite will be, as always, replete with snowballs, Christmas pranks, and a heart-warming ending.

The program is recommended for children ages 10 and older. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please visit www.princetonsingers.org.

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November 25, 2015

move rev 11-25-15Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) and Rose Lacey (Fiona Glascott) have stayed in their family’s home because their widowed mother (Jane Brennan) is still grieving the loss of their late father. The devoted daughters have had to put their dreams on hold, since job prospects aren’t great for young women without higher education in tiny Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland.

Although Eilis has exhibited an affinity for math, she settles for a part time job as a clerk at a grocery store where she works under the thumb of a vindictive shrew (Brid Brennan). The time is the early 50s, when an ambitious local young woman might set her sights on America, the land of opportunity with hopefully a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Salvation arrives when Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), a Catholic priest, is willing to sponsor Eilis’s emigration to the United States. She reluctantly agrees because she knows that the entire burden of caring for their mother will now fall on her sister’s shoulders. However, after an exchange of tearful goodbyes, she boards the New York-bound steamship and goes to her bunk in steerage for a seasick plagued voyage to America.

Eilis finds a room in Brooklyn in a female-only boardinghouse run by an eagle-eyed landlady (Julie Walters) who is obsessed with protecting the reputations of the young Irish immigrants under her supervision. Eilis gets a job at a department store and tuition money to study bookkeeping at college.

While grateful for all this generous help, Eilis still misses her mother and sister terribly. So much so that she seriously considers going back to Ireland, although Father Flood assures her that the homesickness will eventually pass.

Everything changes the night she meets handsome Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) at a dance. The two fall in love and embark on a romance that enables Eilis to make the adjustment to life in the States.

However, just when she’s ready to decide to stay in America, fate intervenes when a tragedy occurs that demands her immediate return to Ireland. Of course, when she is back in Enniscorthy, Eilis is pursued by a wealthy bachelor (Domnhall Gleason).

Which suitor will she choose? The answer to that question arrives at a moment of truth in Brooklyn, a touching historical drama directed by John Crowley (Closed Circuit). Based on Colm Toibin’s best seller of the same name, the film features an elegantly understated performance by Saoirse Ronan that is likely to land the 21-year-old ingenue her second Oscar nomination.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for brief profanity and a sex scene. Running time: 111 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Theater PBS

NEW ORIGINAL PBS SERIES: The Lewis Center for the Arts presents a screening of the new PBS Civil War drama, “Mercy Street” on Monday, December 7 at 7 p.m. followed by a panel discussion moderated by Christina Lazaridi. Both events are free and open to the public, but advance reservations are strongly recommended. Tickets can be reserved at arts.princeton.edu/mercystreet. (Photo Courtesy of Antony Platt/PBS)

The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University will present a special preview screening of the new PBS Civil War era drama series Mercy Street on Monday, December 7 at 7 p.m. in the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater at 185 Nassau Street. The screening, preceded by a reception beginning at 6:15 p.m., is free and open to the public, however advance reservations are encouraged.

Set in Virginia in the spring of 1862, Mercy Street follows the lives of two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the conflict; Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a staunch New England abolitionist, and Emma Green (Hannah James), a naive young Confederate belle. The two collide at Mansion House, the Green family’s luxury hotel that has been taken over and transformed into a Union Army Hospital in Alexandria, a border town between North and South and the longest-occupied Confederate city of the war. Ruled under martial law, Alexandria is now the melting pot of the region, filled with soldiers, civilians, female volunteers, doctors, wounded fighting men from both sides, runaway slaves, prostitutes, speculators, and spies. more

book revOnce upon a time a long time ago Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) came to Bloomington, Indiana, in the form of a Classic Comic of Gulliver’s Travels being read by an eight-year-old boy and an impish, bespectacled, congenitally effusive young man of 25-going-on-15 who will eventually be proclaimed Swift’s “best and fullest biographer” by Christopher Ricks in the London Review of Books.

The boy and the biographer are both seated on the living room floor, the Swiftian-to-be having politely refused the boy’s parents’ offer of a chair. “It’s exciting, but scary” the eight-year-old says when asked his thoughts on Gulliver’s Travels. To show what he means by “scary,” he points out the frames where the Lilliputians are swarming over Gulliver’s body, binding it with ropes, staking his long blond hair to the ground. After discussing the imagery, the biographer begins to make playful comments about the “Life of Swift” on the comic’s last page, which the boy has read and finds disturbing. At this point, the parents intervene and the biographer is coaxed into a chair.

Savage Commentary

Because my parents had the first 20 issues of Classic Comics bound as a present for my ninth birthday, I still have the copy of Gulliver’s Travels Irvin Ehrenpreis and I were perusing together all those years ago. Looking over the “Life” at the end, I’m struck by the vehemence of the language describing Gulliver’s “savage commentary on the European world” as “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” Pretty heady stuff for an early reader; no wonder I found it disturbing, not to mention the concluding paragraph, in which “Swift’s satire became more and more violently bitter, possibly the result of a mental disease which, by 1736, caused him to become insane. He never recovered and died on October 19, 1745.” In the brief biographies at the end of every Classic Comic, each author dies in such and such a time and place, but Swift’s fate became one of the numerous shadowy elements of a childhood occasionally haunted by the sound of phantom footsteps and the sight of an abandoned playground where the empty swings were still in motion.  more

Art Fire

This painting by Heather Barros is among the works in the “Earth/Fire” juried art exhibit hosted by D&R Greenway Land Trust. The show celebrates the themes of earth and/or fire. These inspirational elements are essential to land conservation and our spiritual passion and grounding. The artists in this juried exhibition celebrate the playfulness of flame and the steadiness of soil in a wide variety of interpretations and mediums. “Earth/Fire” runs through January 22, 2016 with an opening reception on Friday, December 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at One Preservation Place. (Photo Courtesy of www.drgreenway.org/art_galleries.htm)

Music in response to great tragedy over the centuries has covered the spectrum of war songs, to orchestral works inspired by current events, to popular music. Perhaps as a sign of the time, musical works addressing man-made tragedies have become more common in the past two decades, such as John Adam’s On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned shortly after 9/11. In 2014, composer and Princeton Singers Artistic Director Steven Sametz found himself compelled to compose a work in memory of those killed in the 2012 Sandy Hooks Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, believing that “as artists, we are hopeful that what we create may offer healing to those who mourn.” Perhaps also as a sign of the times, Sametz’s A Child’s Requiem is a multi-media work, incorporating artwork from elementary school-age children into a supertitled performance featuring two choirs, soloists, and orchestra. For Saturday night’s concert at Princeton Meadows Church and Event Center, The Princeton Singers were joined by the Ensemble and Cantores choirs of the Princeton Girlchoir, as well as three vocal soloists and a highly-polished orchestra.

The tributes to the victims of Sandy Hook began Saturday night in the entryway to Princeton Meadow Church with portraits of the children. In this work, Sametz also paid tribute to several musical traditions of the past, beginning with a musical anagram of letters from the words “Sandy Hook.” The four pitches derived formed a musical cell which Sametz wove into an orchestral “Prologue” marked by a poignant cello solo and visually accompanied by a child’s drawing of a broken heart.  more

Theater Cabaret

A longtime fixture of the New York cabaret scene, two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole will perform her new show, Big Noise from Winnetka, at McCarter Theatre on December 12 at 8 p.m. Ebersole created the production with her longtime music director Bette Sussman. Song selections in Big Noise from Winnetka include “Alfie,” “Woodstock,” “Landslide,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” To purchase tickets, visit www.mccarter.org or call (609) 258-2787. 

November 18, 2015

book rev

In Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Paris is a “cradle” in which “each one slips back into his soil: one dreams back to Berlin, New York, Chicago, Vienna, Minsk. Vienna is never more Vienna than in Paris” — which could also be said of cities everywhere, including Cairo and Damascus, Istanbul, Aleppo, and Baghdad. In Paris, Miller adds, “Everything is raised to apotheosis. The cradle gives up its babes and new ones take their places … where Zola lived and Balzac and Dante and Strindberg and everybody who ever was anything. Everyone has lived here some time or other. Nobody dies here.” more

Music Trenton

Trenton children beginning music study will have their own instruments to take home for practicing, and neglected instruments will find a whole new life, as Princeton University’s Office of Public Affairs and WWFM The Classical Network host “Instruments of Change,” benefitting the Trenton Community Music School. From November 30 through December 4, the Office of Public Affairs will open its doors for members of the community whose musical instruments are in need of a good home. Families whose children have outgrown their small instruments, shifted their interests away from playing, or developed into the need for a finer instrument, will find grateful recipients for their ½-size violins, novice-level flutes, or instruments that are no longer played. The Office of Public Affairs is located at 22 Chambers Street in Princeton, and will be open for donations from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

C Carol

McCarter Theatre has produced “A Christmas Carol” every year since 1980, when then Artistic Director Nagle Jackson brought his adaptation to the theater. The current adaptation by David Thompson remains faithful to much of the language and spirit of Dickens’s original story, capturing both the struggles of Victorian life, and the joy and redemption of the holiday season. 2015 performance dates run from December 4 through 27. Seen here (l-r) are Graeme Malcolm, Michele Tauber, Sari Weinerman, Madeline Fox, and Bradley Mott. (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Art 1

“HARVEST TIME”: This watercolor by Amy Amico is one of the plein air paintings on display at the Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury from December 6-23. Each painting is inspired by a private property or park in and around the town of Cranbury.

A group show of paintings by artists who participated in the Art in the Park plein air series sponsored by the Cranbury Arts Council will run from December 6 to 23 at the Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury.

There will be an artist reception on Sunday, December 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Gallery located in Cranbury Town Hall (Old School Building), 23-A North Main Street. Each month from May to October, a different Cranbury property hosts local artists to capture the scenes offered at their beautiful gardens and historic homes.  more

Theater rev 11-18-15 Bengal

GO, TIGER!: The Tiger (Victoria Davidjohn, center), who serves as narrator, aggressor, victim, and philosopher; is guarded by two U.S. Marines, Kev (Max Feldman, left) and Tom (Matt Chuckran) in war-torn Baghdad in Theatre Intime’s production of Rajiv Joseph’s dark surrealistic comedy “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” (2009), playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through November 21.

The legacy of Saddam Hussein and the repercussions of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq continue to haunt us. Playwright Rajiv Joseph, who understands the power of ghosts and the inexorable reverberations of violence and corruption, would not be surprised.

Mr. Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (2009) is a war story, a dark comedy, with much more darkness than humor. Set in Baghdad in 2003, the first days of the Iraq War, the play is strikingly, shockingly realistic in its depictions of the brutalities of war and its effects on all parties involved. But it is also disturbingly surrealistic, with ghosts gradually taking over the stage from live characters, and an eloquent, acerbic, philosophical tiger presiding over the proceedings.  more

November 11, 2015

movie rev 11-11-15

In 2002, Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada, a candidate for the presidency of Bolivia, was floundering in the polls with just a few months to go to election day. Since the desperate multimillionaire had been raised in the United States, he knew how a political consulting firm could influence the outcome of an election.

So, he retained the services of James Carville, who had successfully orchestrated Bill Clinton’s presidential bid in 1992, and Carville came to Bolivia with a team of media-savvy strategists.

Still, repositioning Goni would be difficult, since he was an unpopular ex-president who had been exposed as a pro-American, pro-globalization puppet controlled by powerful corporate interests. Carville and company’s only hope rested in employing smear tactics against the other two favorites in the race: a socialist and a capitalist.

Ultimately, the carpetbaggers prevailed, and that incredible feat was chronicled by Our Brand Is Crisis (2005), a documentary that showed how easy it was for money to corrupt the democratic process with the help of a team from Madison Avenue. The picture also questioned the wisdom of fixing foreign elections in this fashion, since bloody civil unrest subsequently arose in Bolivia, which forced Goni to flee the country for asylum in the U.S. a year later.

Directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), Our Brand Is Crisis 2.0 is a sanitized version of the above described events. Names have been changed and characters have been conflated and added to make the intervention almost appear benign.

Here, courtesy of revisionist history, the socialist (Louis Arcella) and capitalist (Joaquim de Almeida) candidates both rely on assistance from two American PR firms led by Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), respectively. The entertaining adventure pits a flirtatious and crafty mercenary against an idealistic ex-alcoholic in a battle of wits marked by deception and dirty tricks.

Instead of making a pure political thriller, director Green has cut the tension with moments of levity and sexual innuendo. As a result, the movie works very well as formulaic Hollywood fare.

The movie is a light-hearted primer in how to mount a smear campaign that manipulates a banana republic to vote against its own self-interest.

Very Good (***). Rated  R for profanity and sexual references. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 108 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.