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

(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.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In 2007, the German director Werner Herzog released a film called "Encounters at the End of the World." The subject was Antarctica and those who love it, but the title could have described the whole of Herzog's prolific career. Herzog has directed about two dozen documentary features, beginning in the late 1960s with "The Flying Doctors of East Africa," and 19 dramatic films.

academy awards won by Katherine Hepburn
cliff | flickr

The past couple of years, the annual race for the best-picture Academy Award has been a two-horse derby, with similar results each time. In both 2010 and 2011, early front-runners (“Avatar” and “The Social Network” respectively) were caught in the stretch and passed before the wire by two relatively low-budget upstarts (“The Hurt Locker” and “The King’s Speech”). It looks like something similar is going to happen again when the winners are revealed at the Oscar ceremonies Feb. 26.

From the first moments of “A Separation,” which opens with tempers flaring in the unwelcoming confines of a judge’s chambers in Tehran, it appears that Simin and Nader are headed inexorably for divorce.

Simin, a teacher, has an opportunity to emigrate from Iran to the West and she wants her husband, Nader, and their daughter, Termeh, to go with her. She sees emigration as a particular opportunity for the bright, inquisitive daughter, on the cusp of adolescence and eager to learn about the rest of the world.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 9, 2012 - You've barely settled into your seat for "Safe House," a frenetic, brutal espionage thriller, and rogue American spy Denzel Washington has already been assaulted in a scummy basement men's room, chased on foot and by car through the cacophonous streets of Cape Town, shot at -- and at one point apparently killed -- by snipers, and gruesomely waterboarded by his own countrymen. 

Tinker Tailer soldier Spy

There is nothing flashy or glamorous about the peerless spy novels of John le Carre, particularly the relatively early ones like "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" that featured the dour, pudgy, middle-age, ironically named George Smiley. Smiley's world of espionage is a sometimes dangerous but essentially drab place, rife with petty jealousies and minor sins, a world dominated more by fearful bureaucrats and dutiful file clerks than by fashionably dressed secret agents who slip like ghosts across borders and into bedrooms.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 19, 2012 - "A Dangerous Method," the smart, subtle, carnage-free new movie about Sigmund Freud, his disciple Carl Jung and a woman patient who becomes Jung's lover, can be considered in one sense a departure for director David Cronenberg. He was once known as "the Baron of Blood" for his low-budget horror exploitation films, and he has never previously been shy about presenting graphic violence.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 12, 2012 - Meryl Streep gives an extraordinary performance as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," but the central structural premise of the biographical film is a strange and ultimately unfortunate one that undermines the work of a great actor.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 30, 2011 - I found 2011 to be a very good year at the movies, with a wide variety of clever comedies and gripping dramas and rousing action films and even audacious attempts to grasp the essentially ungraspable: war in the Middle East ("Incendies"), the 2008 economic collapse ("Margin Call"), the very meaning of existence ("The Tree of Life.")