Martha K. Baker

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.

 

Articles by Martha K. Baker

 

1945 — Review by Martha K. Baker

“1945″ curls tension into a fist. Knowing a bit of history will help an audience understand the deep meaning of “1945.” Not knowing history means that the emphasis on this valuable film covers plot rather than foundation. And still it signifies. “1945″ does in 90 minutes, in black and white, what many historical films never manage. Most people, vaguely familiar with history, think of August 1945 as the end of World War II after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the war in Europe had ended the previous May. That meant citizens of Europe were hoping to return to an antebellum time whilst retaining rewards of the bellum. Continue reading…

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ITZHAK — Review by Martha K. Baker

There he is, that familiar smiling face, those curls, that violin with only a cotton hanky between chin and wood. When Itzhak Perlman sits and plays, he manages the double meaning of “play,” that is, to produce musical sound and to have a whale of a good time doing it. Alison Chernick’s biopic of Perlman is a treasure, a rich combination of new film and old stills, a tour of a New York apartment and a glance at an old unit in Jerusalem, of old words and new, taught and learned. Continue reading…

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MADAME — Review by Martha K. Baker

It takes a very special filmmaker to turn a movie peopled by meanies into a worthy film. Sally Potter does it currently with “The Party,” but Amanda Sthers misses by a wide margin in “Madame.” The titular character is mean, haughty, and arrogant — no one you would want to break bread with. Continue reading…

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THE DEATH OF STALIN — Review by Martha K. Baker

death of stalin posterAnyone familiar with the work of Armando Iannucci has an inkling of the tack he takes with “The Death of Stalin.” Even one episode of the awarded TV series, “Veep,” or one frame of the 2009 film, “In the Loop,” presages what viewers will find in this non-historic look at a post-mortem. Iannucci is not known for being Mr. Nice Guy. Indeed, his curses are spiders, webbing their way across the screen to shock and amuse. He analyzes bureaucracies that drop to bended knee to ask for teasing and poking. Such is the case surrounding the titular event of Josef Stalin’s end. Continue reading….

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LOVELESS — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Loveless’ explores dysfunction and disappearance. It’s long and it’s loveless and it’s forlorn, this film about a divorcing couple without a shred of affection for the son caught in the middle. It was the Russian nominee for Best Foreign-language Film of 2017, and it has merit, but it also has characters without much character. Continue reading…

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TOM OF FINLAND — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Tom of Finland’ explores an artist of the demimonde. Unless you are familiar with the homoerotica of the gay world after World War II, the work of Touko Valio Laaksonen may be foreign to you. Under the pseudonym of Tom of Finland, Laaksonen described a culture of leather, backless chaps, engorged chests, and knee-high boots, Nazi-esque chic. Continue reading…

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RED SPARROW — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Red Sparrow’ spills blood all over Russia. Whoever had the blood concession for “Red Sparrow” earned enough in blood money to buy Band-Aids for life. Not that life will last long in the environment of this horribly violent, horribly sexualized exploitation version of Mad magazine’s “Spy v. Spy.” “Red Sparrow” shocks without elucidating anything but Putin’s manifesto. Continue reading…

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GAME NIGHT — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Game Night’ proves to be fitfully funny. This bombette is being sold as produced by the people who brought you “Horrible Bosses.” Now, that was funny, right there. And “Game Night” is funny, too — fitfully rather than fluidly. However, if belly laughs are as medicinal as claimed, then the gut-busters provided by “Game Night” balance the other 65 minutes of flat-lining. Continue reading…

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NOSTALGIA — Review by Martha K. Baker

For all its sadness and despair, “Nostalgia” fits the nation’s mood of hopelessness and grief. “Nostalgia” is a downer, like a lot of life itself. There is a lot of life — its clutter, its deaths, its good riddance — in the interlocking stories, told well by a sterling cast. Continue reading…

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THE FINAL YEAR — Review by Martha K. Baker

It’s doubtful that anyone sitting around the fire at Trump Camp will give “The Final Year” a moment’s notice, but those who were warmed by the fires kindled in President Barack Obama’s Administration will be fired up by this well-made documentary of the work that it takes to negotiate with foreign powers. Continue reading…

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PADDINGTON 2 — Review by Martha Baker

‘Paddington 2′ lives up to its forebear. ​Sometimes one goes to a sequel, fearful that it’s going to be mediocre. Still, one goes because one likes the characters. The film industry, the Mother of Sequels, banks on that. So one heads off to “Paddington 2″ with one’s love for that bear tucked safely inside. Continue reading…

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ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD — Review by Martha K. Baker

“All the Money in the World” succeeds fiercely. John Paul Getty was a Scrooge. He figured out not only how to dredge oil from the Arabian desert but also how to haul it across the oceans in a tanker. Thus, he was not just the richest man in the world but the richest man in the history of the world. Continue reading…

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PITCH PERFECT 3 — Review by Martha K. Baker

Pitch Perfect 3 serves a musical mess. Bus, as messes go. the film is a mess o’fun. From start to finish, emphasis on “mess” more than “fun,” however. And, yet, when looking for 93 minutes of brainlessness with a side order of the silly, the skinny, and the singing, you can’t go wrong. Continue reading…

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THE GREATEST SHOWMAN — Review by Martha K. Baker

The Greatest Showman propels the movie musical. Like its predecessors, from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to Chicago, The Greatest Showman makes a strong case for the movie musical. This one is about grandness grown spectacular, a circus that offers big-tent ideas with down-home family concepts, set to tunes written by Benj Pasek and Austin Paul of Evan Hanson fame. Continue reading…

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CALL ME BY YOUR NAME — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Call Me by Your Name’ seduces with academics. The time is 1983, summer. The setting is Italy, warm, open, sexy Italy, with the sous-setting being the groves of academe. A family of academics welcomes a kind of intern to their summer home in northern Italy. Oliver is solidly American to the family’s worldly, multi-lingual context. Continue reading…

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WONDER WHEEL — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Wonder Wheel’ spins in too many directions. Woody Allen’s latest film joins the other wonders of the season, but “Wonder” is wonder-full, as is “Wonderstruck.” “Wonder Wheel” is not so wonderful as woeful. It refuses to find a focus, almost as if it’s been on its own Ferris wheel and is dizzy with misdirection and indecision. Continue reading…

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THELMA – Review by Martha K. Baker

Psychiatrists will be thrilled with “Thelma,” even shrinks with 5¢ scrawled over their comic strip shingles. “Thelma” reveals itself as if in therapy sessions. Some of those meetings between client and doctor concern the past; some, the present, but all concern the person lying hopefully, sexually on that chaise. Continue reading

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COCO – Review by Martha k. Baker

​So what does your trusty film critic know? As I sat in the theater waiting for “Coco” to start, I observed the children around me. They were chattering, whining, mewling, and reporting. They were eating loudly, running rompingly, demanding attention. “What,” I thought uncharitably, “are they doing here? What will they understand of ‘Coco’?” Continue reading

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DARKEST HOUR — Review by Martha K. Baker

“Darkest Hour” focuses on first days of Winston Churchill’s prime ministry. Churchill was not the prime choice for prime minister of England in 1940, but Neville Chamberlain had lost the confidence of the people. England’s darkest hour was closing in, with Germany advancing on Belgium to march its army to the sea and, thence, to England. Continue reading…

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LAST FLAG FLYING — Review by Martha K. Baker

Something — memories of esprit de corps, desperation, loneliness — draws Doc Shepherd to find his old Marine buddies on the Internet. He has an agenda: he wants them to go with him to bury his son, also a Marine but killed in another war. Doc finds Sal, running a failing bar. Continue reading…

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WONDER — Review by Martha K. Baker

Wonder offers a free cry — nothing wrong with that. A small boy speaks: “I know I am not an ordinary 10-year-old kid.” He is not. August (“Auggie”) was born with mandibulofacial dystosis, or “Treacher Collins syndrome.” He has been home-schooled until now, when his parents decide it’s time for school-school. Wonder covers Auggie’s year in fifth grade. Continue reading…

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NOVITIATE — Review by Martha K. Baker

Director Margaret Betts, in her debut feature film, focuses on a novice, who has just entered the order, and a reverend mother, who has been in the convent for 40 years, stereotypes, yes. The young woman and the elder have a strong connection to the Roman Catholic church. Continue reading…

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MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS — Review by Martha K. Baker

Seeing the magnificent cast list may draw you in. Enjoying a classic mystery, even when you know who dun it, may draw you in. But after watching “Murder on the Orient Express,” you may feel discounted, for the Kenneth Branagh production has all the oomph of an airless whoopee cushion. But ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ gives new depth to ‘meh!’ Continue reading…

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A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS –Review by Martha K. Baker

What made “Bad Moms” delightful was the attention to truth: those moms weren’t bad so much as they were exhausted. The moms in the sequel are shown to be exhausted, too, but by trying to make Christmas perfect — the perfect tree, perfect gifts, perfect parties. They are their mothers’ daughters. Continue reading…

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SUBURBICON — Review by Martha K. Baker

The Coen Brothers’ latest offering is complicated to say the least, unsubtle to say the most. “Suburbicon” floods blood. It pounds with violence. It exploits mid-century modern — and a child actor. It disregards its effects, which may or may not have been the ones the bros had in mind. Continue reading…

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