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: 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.

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.

Breathless stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.
Screen shot | Wikipedia

"Breathless," the iconic French New Wave movie from 1960, is being re-released in an impeccable new print, and it opens Friday, Sept. 10, at the Tivoli. In part homage to the low-budget American crime movies that flooded Europe after World War II, in part a brilliant exercise in stylistic innovation, the movie remains a landmark of 20th century cinema.

Unlike some major movie stars of today, George Clooney is not reluctant to take on roles that don't always reflect the best in human nature. In "The American," Clooney plays Jack, a high-priced assassin who works in Europe. Jack knows that the rules of his profession don't permit sentimentality or mercy, and, in the taut opening scene of the movie, set in deep snow in the beautiful Swedish wood, he acts accordingly. The scene, with cold and ruthless efficiency, sets up the rest of the movie, both its tone and its tale.

'Get Low'

In contemporary rap slang, "get low" means get down and dirty, but in the mountains of Tennessee in 1930s, it meant "get down to business." The business Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) wants to get down to in the fine new independent movie "Get Low" is his funeral, and he is not willing to wait until he dies.

’The Kids Are All Right’

The title of "The Kids are All Right," a very engaging, mostly comedic look at how traditional difficulties can afflict a thoroughly modern family, can be taken at least two ways.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 2, 2008 - For a man who doesn't believe in God, Bill Maher sure can get preachy. And he becomes positively evangelical in the last few minutes of "Religulous," a fairly funny if sometimes obnoxious "gotcha" film in which Maher travels around the country and the world confronting people who do believe in God with the seeming contradictions and absurdities of their beliefs ("Swallowed by a WHALE???"; "A talking SNAKE???").

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 10, 2008 - Time and time again, in the strange and strangely believable universe created by the Coen brothers, obsessive characters pursue elusive goals - a lawman tries to catch a killer and find meaning in a world marked by seemingly random violence ("No Country for Old Men"); a deceptively laid-back slacker searches for a missing rug ("The Big Lebowski"); a childless couple commits major felonies to obtain a baby ("Raising Arizona"). In the films of Joel and Ethan Coen, pursuit of a goal is inevitably complicated by the competing needs of other characters, and chaos ensues.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Meanness abounds, and David Mamet has always taken an almost unseemly amount of delight in rooting it out, usually in places you would already expect to find it.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Chuck Berry turned 81 last fall, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that a couple of dozen singers whose average age is 80 have earned international acclaim singing rock and roll. Indeed, many people associate rock music predominantly with youth. That's a mistake you certainly wouldn’t make after seeing a rousing new celebration of life called “Young@Heart,” which opens with a 92-year-old woman declaiming with an appropriate British monotone the chorus to the Clash’s punk classic, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Hi-Pointe going dark?

Apr 17, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Hi-Pointe Theatre, which closed Thursday after the final showing of the British comedy “Run Fatboy Run,” will re-open in several weeks, the owner assures the St. Louis Beacon. But regular patrons of the art house at Skinker and McCausland may not recognize what they see on its screen.

Karl Markovics and Dolores Chaplin enjoy life before the Nazis in "The Counterfeiters."
Jat Jurgen Olczyk | Sony Pictures Classics

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Sixty-three years after the fall of the Third Reich uncovered the stark horror of the Nazi concentration camps, and 61 years after the first publication of “The Diary of Anne Frank” put an unforgettable human face  on Hitler’s murder of 6 million Jews, the Holocaust remains one of the  central stories of our time, a story of immense moral weight that lends  itself to fiction, to nonfiction, and from time to time – as in the  recent case of the woman who claimed to have been saved from the Nazis  by wolves -- one masquerading as the other. We are haunted by the Holocaust, as we should be.