The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal). Jason Bourne may never learn his real identity, but critics think Matt Damon has found his true self: He's an action hero. Which is to say, the third Bourne installment is one hell of a ride. Wesley Morris writes in the Boston Globe, "[T]here are fights and chases here that would knock Bob Fosse into next week and make Bruce Lee break down in tears." The Onion A.V. Club's Scott Tobias describes the frenetic pace: "The Bourne Ultimatum essentially amounts to one long chase scene, yet the tension never really flags." And the New York Times' Manohla Dargis lauds director Paul Greengrass and his signature handheld cinematography for re-energizing the genre: "What's different about the Bourne movies is the degree to which they have been able to replace the pleasures of cinematic violence with those of movie-made kinetics— action, not just blood."( Buy tickets to The Bourne Ultimatum. Read Dana Stevens' rave review of The Bourne Ultimatum in Slate.)—Aug. 3
Charles Simic. On Thursday, the Library of Congress announced the Serbian-American Simic as our next poet laureate; separately, the American Academy of Poets named him the recipient of its $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award. An astute critic known for his good humor, Simic is expected to be a good public advocate for the inscrutable art. The Washington Post praises his "down-to-earth, hey-it-ain't-rocket-science approach to appreciating poetry." The Guardian quotes Librarian of Congress James H. Billington explaining what makes Simic's work distinctive: "His poems have a sequence that you encounter in dreams, and therefore they have a reality that does not correspond to the reality that we perceive with our eyes and ears. He's very hard to describe, and that's a great tribute to him." In 2003, David Orr identified Simic's sensibility in the New York Times Book Review: He has "a moral vision rooted in a grim appreciation of the absurd— a world view as bleak as it is playful." ( Read poems by Simic at poets.org. Read "My Noiseless Entourage" at Slate. Download a PDF of Simic's first published work, in the winter 1959 issue of the Chicago Review.)—Aug. 3
No End in Sight (Magnolia). There's no end in sight to the praise critics are heaping on this Iraq documentary, directed and self-financed by Charles Ferguson—a novice filmmaker who just happens to be an Internet millionaire, poli-sci Ph.D., and think-tank habitué. Time's Richard Schickel calls it "without question the most important movie you are likely to see this year." The Village Voice's Rob Nelson makes no effort to hide his politics: "For those of us who've opposed the war for years, the movie is at once intensely frightening and, it must be admitted, disturbingly reassuring." The film focuses on the first months of the occupation, and is mostly composed of talking-head interviews. David Denby praises the film highly in The New Yorker, but does note, "There isn't much that's factually new … at least, not for people who have kept up with the best reporting on the war." Somewhat troublingly, many other reviewers found it full of surprises. Love the war? Here's a dissenting take on the film in the New York Post. Buy tickets to No End in Sight.
Bayreuth Festival. The audience booed throughout the premiere of Katharina Wagner's production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the summer festival that has showcased her great-grandfather Richard Wagner's works since he founded it in 1876. The 29-year-old's experimental take on Hitler's favorite opera was an important part of her bid to succeed her ailing father as the festival's director; its terrible reception isn't going to help. The International Herald Tribune provides a clear description of the comedy and the twists she introduced, writing that "the result is more a critique of 'Meistersinger'—and a negative one—than a production. … You left thinking you hadn't really seen the opera." A brutal review from Bloomberg News concludes: "Bayreuth cannot be saved by pretentious essays on art history. Nor are infantile gestures of rebellion the same as innovation." Signandsight translates German critic Marianne Zelger-Vogt's detailed review. Her bottom line: "[I]t all remains too intellectual, on the one hand filled to overflowing with ideas and props, on the other hand a void." MetaSumJudge: The Guardian rounds up other responses in the German press.—Aug. 1
Finding Forever, Common (G.O.O.D Music/Geffen Records). After some time lost in the electronica wilderness, the spiritual, socially conscious rapper climbed the charts and won wide acclaim several years ago for his Kanye West-produced comeback Be. Here, he's re-enlisted West and repeated the formula—with big results. XXL raves, "Finding Forever, the Chicago wordsmith's seventh disc, bumps like Be 2.0, capturing his '05 gem's essence while injecting some necessary audible steroids." The Boston Globe agrees, writing that the album "finds Common at his best lyrically, which means at his most basic, bending beats to fit his deliberate delivery." And PopMatters describes the sound: "Finding Forever is split evenly between Common's soul-dripping R&B jams and a surprising volume of banging electric-hammer tracks." Guess who doesn't like Forever? Yup, Pitchfork thinks it's "a turn toward going through the motions, weighed down by an adult-contemporary atmosphere that mistakes fatigue for relaxation." (Buy Finding Forever.)—July 31
RIP Ingmar Bergman. The great Swedish director, his name synonymous with film as art, died today at his home on the remote island of Faro, at age 89. The American and European press mourn him with high praise. The New York Times writes: "For many filmgoers and critics, it was Mr. Bergman more than any other director who in the 1950s brought a new seriousness to film making." The Washington Post elaborates: "[M]any American filmmakers were making soapy dramas or promoting gimmicks like Smell-o-Vision. In Europe, movie directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut helped break visual and narrative rules, but Mr. Bergman stood out for dreamy and often disturbingly psychological films that expressed emotional isolation and modern spiritual crisis." And the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw offers, "Perhaps he simply was the mind of his generation. Of the great post-war directors, he was the one who shouldered the burden of moral questions: Is there a God? Is there a God who is exists, but is absent?" Also: Watch two of Bergman's most famous scenes: The dream in Wild Strawberries and the chess game against Death in The Seventh Seal (via Arts & Letters Daily). Read"the legendary Playboy interview" from 1964. The Ingmar Bergman foundation has a comprehensive Web site about the man and his work.—July 30