Harper Barnes | St. Louis Public Radio

Harper Barnes

Harper Barnes

Harper Barnes' most recent book is Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 11, 2008 - It's hard to imagine that any atheists were converted to Christianity, or Christians to atheism, after listening to Dinesh D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens debate the topic "Is it good to believe in God?" Wednesday night. But most of the crowd of more than 2,000 people who crowded into Powell Hall seemed to enjoy the spirited exchange, and gave the speakers a rousing ovation at the end of the program, which lasted a little under two hours.

The truish story told in "Kill Your Darlings" -- a dark miasma of poetry, sex and violence set in the 1940s among the writers who would later be called "the Beats" -- takes place entirely in New York. But it began in St. Louis.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: ‘The Counselor’

For a violent movie about the drug trade along the Mexican border, "The Counselor" is mighty chatty. For long stretches of time, in between routinely effective action scenes, the characters philosophize about life and fate and matters of the heart, not goofily like Truffaut's affable thugs in "Shoot the Piano Player" or focused on trivia like the miscreants in any number of Quentin Tarantino movies, but seriously and to the point.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The opening shot of "Wadjda" is, like the movie as a whole, simple but effective, funny but serious. We see shoes, the toes peeking out from beneath the long, dark robes worn by a group of Saudi Arabian schoolgirls. There are several dozen girls, and several dozen pairs of shoes, and all the shoes are virtually identical -- plain black slippers. Then comes a surprise -- a pair of high-top purple-laced canvas sneakers, Chuck Taylor style.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The scene is riveting: a 500-foot-long ship, stacked high with freight containers, is pursued at 20 knots through the open sea by a small motorized wooden fishing skiff. The battered open skiff has outboard motors bolted to the stern and a handful of men in ragged clothes aboard, waving automatic weapons as they are tossed about by waves.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Early on in the beautifully written, superbly acted romantic comedy "Enough Said," Albert (James Gandolfini) and Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who have just met, are having dinner at a nice LA restaurant, well-appointed but not fancy.

They are chatting with nervous but bantering humor. They sit bathed in old-fashioned soft, romantic music. Suddenly, in the middle of the meal, the lights get darker and the music gets louder and becomes more insistent and drummy, as if programmed to fit the presumed changes in the demographics of the restaurant as the evening turns into night. The music, in a word, becomes younger.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: There's an exhilarating, shocking, painfully human movie about international Formula One auto racing out there. It played here in 2011, and it was called "Senna." The documentary tells the story of Brazilian champion driver Ayrton Senna and focuses on his memorable and dangerous duels with French champion Alan Prost in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In one of his celebrated letters of advice to his son, Lord Chesterfield cautioned the lad about sex, noting that the pleasure of the carnal act was "momentary," the expense was "damnable" and the position was "ridiculous."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The press notes for most films are pretty standard stuff, heavy on the hype about how much fun the cast had working together, but "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," as the strange title might suggest, is not an ordinary film and the press notes aren't close to ordinary, either. They feature a fascinating and refreshingly frank interview with the film's writer-director, David Lowery, an independent filmmaker based in Texas.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The movie officially called "Lee Daniels' The Butler" has its faults, but the only major one is the ungainly title, the result of what A.O. Scott of The New York Times rightly called "a ridiculous film industry food fight." The kaleidoscopic new movie I'll choose to call by its original name -- take that, Warner Bros. -- more than makes up in passion and exuberance what it sometimes lacks in continuity and focus.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "Blue Jasmine" can be funny; at times painfully so. But it would be a mistake to go into the film thinking you are about to see a typical Woody Allen comedy.

True, like most good Allen movies, "Blue Jasmine" is a witty psychological gabfest about people who are too smart for their own good. But the fine and complex new film is a lot more than that.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: I hope you'll pardon me for taking this movie personally, but perhaps it's time for human beings to stop thinking it is a good idea to keep large mammals with large brains in captivity -- even if the human beings actually think the intelligent mammals are enjoying themselves performing tricks for people. The keepers can say that they don't mistreat the creatures all they want, but the point is that, for an animal born to be wild, captivity itself is a form of mistreatment.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "... when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away." -- Barack Obama, July 19, commenting on the Trayvon Martin case

Early on the morning of Jan. 1, 2009, at the Fruitvale station on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART policeman. Grant was with a group of friends in a packed car returning to Oakland after celebrating the New Year in San Francisco when a scuffle erupted that spilled out of the car into the station. Grant and several of his friends were arrested.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The "way, way back" is the third row of seats in an old-fashioned long-frame station wagon, the row that faces the rear window. That's where 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) sits, brooding beneath his well-trimmed early Beatles haircut, as the movie opens. The vintage Buick is headed for the beach, and in the driver's seat is Trent (Steve Carell), a nasty piece of work who seems to take pleasure in demeaning Duncan.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "The Lone Ranger" After about two very long hours of disjointed and befuddling action, much of it conducted in the dark, the screen seems to brighten, the lenses open up, the camera grows wings and the soundtrack comes to life with a blast of familiar music. A tall man in a slim black mask, his hat the color of pearls, leaps into the saddle of a beautiful white stallion and takes off in pursuit of the forces of evil. With a flurry, trumpets charge into the familiar notes of "The William Tell Overture."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "Dirty Wars" is a disturbing documentary about America's clandestine use of drones, long-range missiles and deadly midnight raids for what are called "targeted assassinations" in Africa and the Middle East. The attacks are theoretically directed at known terrorists, but sometimes -- often, the filmmakers contend -- innocent people are killed. In one case that drives veteran war correspondent Jeremy Scahill on an obsessive investigation deep into zones of death, two pregnant women are among the casualties of a raid.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: ‘World War Z’ Traditionally, or at least since George Romero's seminal 1968 horror flick "Night of the Living Dead," zombies have been depicted as relentless but ungainly, sluggish creatures. The tradition of slow-moving zombies has persisted well into this century -- the long-running cable television series about zombies, after all, is called "The Walking Dead," not "The Running Dead."

Karen Duffy, left, and Margaret Kelly, a Duff's waiter since 1978.
Harper Barnes | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "Welcome to our tavern, a fine and public place

to rest and talk, in momentary stay,

where food loves drink, and life and art embrace."

-- Jon Dressel, founder of Dressel's pub, in a poem read at Duff's

(From left) Arthur Woodley as Emile Griffith, Jordan Jones as Little Emile Griffith and Denyce Graves as Eelda Griffith
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "Champion" has been described as "a jazz opera," but it would be more appropriate to describe it simply as "an opera." Or "a good opera."

Composer Terence Blanchard is best known as a jazz trumpeter and arranger, but he knows his way around a symphony orchestra and has written many movie scores -- including the hauntingly elegiac music accompanying Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke," about the Katrina hurricane striking New Orleans.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "The Kings of Summer," a quirky independent film about three teenage boys who hide out for a summer at a shack in the woods, was one of the hits of this January's Sundance Film Festival. That makes sense, and not just because the film summoned up summer in the dead of a Utah winter. The light-footed, hormone-tangled comedy is just the kind of small, distinctive movie people go to film festivals hoping to see.

Circus Flora poster

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The theme of this year's Circus Flora is "A Trip to the Moon," an homage to the 1902 fantasy film of the same name, but on Friday night there was no moon to be seen in the angry skies above the big red tent in Grand Center. Inside, a fanciful replica of the moon smiled over the circus ring. The opening night crowd was enjoying itself mightily, focused on entertainment, not the weather.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The sci-fi melodrama initially called "1000 AE" sprang from the mind of actor Will Smith, who envisioned it as an apt starring vehicle for his teenage son, Jaden, an aspiring actor and rapper. The idea was churned into a script by the computers of four screenwriters, including M. Night Shyamalan ("The Village"), who became the director, and it metastasized from a revenge drama (somewhat akin to "Moby-Dick") to the oft-told story of a rebellious son (Jaden) who must complete a dangerous journey to save the life of his proud father (Will).

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Some years ago, a friend of mine moved to Maine. As winter approached, she went to the local hardware store to buy a snow shovel. The lifelong Mainer at the counter asked, "What do you want a snow shovel foah?"

"For snow?" she suggested.

"If you buy it," he replied, with a dour look, "you'll just have to use it."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The title of the breezy British comedy "The Angels' Share" refers to the small, heaven-bound percentage of whisky that evaporates from a barrel in the aging process. Robbie, the film's protagonist, is no angel, except in the sweetly ironic tradition of movies like "We're No Angels" and "Angels with Dirty Faces." But he is determined to get his share of a cask of rare Scottish malt whisky that is coming up for auction and that is expected to draw bids in the hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Robert Redford's suspenseful new movie about a search for former ‘60s radicals flows with the strong, steady current of vintage "Law & Order," although "The Company You Keep" is not so much "ripped from the headlines" as it is cut and pasted from old news stories and the memories, such as they are, of those who survived the ’60s.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "To the Wonder" is a bafflement.

Terence Malick's strange new meditation on life, love, and the search for the holy spirit is undeniably beautiful to look at, but it has a negligible story line -- a couple fall in love, become romantic partners, break up, then get back together again -- and very little dialogue. "To the Wonder" feels at times like a silent film, with few words spoken for long stretches. Even when characters say something, they often do so off camera. People speak to the wind, and only the wind answers. Adding to the sense of disconnection is the movie's shifting time frame -- it slides into the past or the future without warning.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Danny Boyle is a wizard of the moving image. He was in charge of the opening-night show at the London Olympics, and his cast of thousands of quick-steppers speedily transformed an athletic field into pastoral England, complete with hills and dales, sheep and poets. He then had them tear it all down to make way for the industrial revolution as he took us on a long, high-speed march through the nation's history, ending with the reigning Queen of England, or so it seemed, entering the stadium by parachute.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In 1988, under pressure from Western democracies, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet called for a national plebiscite on his presidency.

A no vote, Pinochet promised, would end his 15-year reign, which had been marked by the murder, torture and arbitrary imprisonment of tens of thousands of his fellow citizens. If a majority voted yes, the general would remain president for another eight years.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: I was 19 years old, an indifferent college student in Kansas, when I first read Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," and I felt an irresistible urge to head for the highway and hitchhike to San Francisco, looking for Jack. It took me six month to get there, and I rode the Greyhound, but Jack was gone.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In a scene that could be from "Zero Dark Thirty" or the latest news story about drones, a computer screen with a slight greenish glow shows an aerial view of an urban neighborhood.

The camera fixes on a long automobile as it makes its way down narrow streets. Referring to the screen, a bald man, a former Israeli intelligence chief, talks quietly about the difficult decisions that must be made in fighting terrorists. The screen is reproducing images from years back, when the man was in charge of Shin Bet, Israel's powerful domestic intelligence agency.