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

 

OCEANS 8 — Review by Martha K. Baker

Oceans 8 continues the franchise with diamonds. The Oceans probably stole their family tree. Every branch, from Danny Ocean on down, holds a con artist. It’s Debbie Ocean’s turn to steal. Would that she have pulled off her heist with her eight titular companions with a bit more levity and a lot more suspense. Continue reading…

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HOTEL ARTEMIS — Review by Martha K. Baker

Hotel Artemis: can you spell ‘dystopia’? Chances are you are not likely to see a movie like Hotel Artemis any time soon. Yes, it can be classified as science fiction in the subcategory of dystopia, and, because it’s set in 2028, it shares aspects of futuristic films and violent film wherein things blow up good. But the plot and backstory of Hotel Artemis are intricate, the characters interesting, and camera work is masterful inside this black and red color scheme. Continue reading...

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POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD — Review by Martha K. Baker

In 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first pope to take the name of Francis. He was also the first pope from the Americas, South America to be exact. He faces the camera in a biodoc dedicated to his life. Continue reading…

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BOOK CLUB — Review by Martha K. Baker

Fears that Book Club would make mock of women over 65 fade to boredom. Book Club is not so embarrassing in making eldresses look like banshees without brains as it is banal. Wine will be swilled and truths will be flayed as viewers check their watches like a conductor at a royal wedding. Continue reading…

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ON CHESIL BEACH — Review by Martha K. Baker

Ian McEwan is known for turning over rocks. Under them, he finds secrets, lies, sex, and truth. In On Chesil Beach, he finds all of those plus music. He centered his novel and screenplay on the wedding night of two innocent virgins, Florence and Edward. The year is 1962. These two youths wanted to be wed even though she is a classical violin player and he’s a rock ‘n’ roll fan. The only musician they agree on is St. Louis’ Chuck Berry, who in Florence’s estimation is “bouncy and merry.” Continue reading…

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DISOBEDIENCE — Review by Martha K. Baker

Disobedience deals with a vow to obey. Sebastián Lelio has made a name for himself as a director not just of films about women but of films about women on the edge. In Gloria, Lelio looked at a woman d’un certain age, flirting with a younger man; in A Fantastic Woman, he looked at a woman, who was once a man. In Disobedience, he looks at two women, former lovers. They meet again when Ronit Krushka returns to her orthodox Jewish community for the funeral of her much revered father, a rabbi of rectitude. He acted as bailiff of his bailiwick when he kicked her out, and he continued to ostracize her after his death by not mentioning her in his obituary and in not leaving her his home in his will. Continue reading…

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LITTLE PINK HOUSE – Review by Martha K. Baker

little pink house posterLittle Pink House is a subdued look at a hated judicial ruling. This is one for the Supreme Court: in a 5-4 decision, Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.) judges gave officials of the city government the right, the power, to raze a neighborhood so a corporation, not a hospital or a library but a multi-million-dollar corporation, could benefit. That neighborhood happens to be where Susette Kelo bought a ramshackle house in 2000 and painted it pink. She had no idea that her property would interest the fine folks at the Pfizer Corp. Its officers came to New London, enticed by the mayor and by a public relations agent, to develop on waterfront property. Continue reading…

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I FEEL PRETTY — Review by Martha K. Baker

No matter how much you want to feel amused by I Feel Pretty, you’ll have to settle for merely musing. This film is predictable and derivative, and its message is so old and hoary. To wit: Beauty comes from the confidence generated from inside us women and not from a mascara wand or concealer stick. Continue reading…

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LEAN ON PETE — Review by Martha K. Baker

Lean on Pete leans on violence. The only reason to see “Lean on Pete” is to watch Charlie Plummer further his career after his fine work in All the Money in the World. Otherwise, Lean on Pete offers very little beyond violence. It’s not even a classic animal movie of sentimentality: boy gets horse, horse dies, boy becomes man. Continue reading…

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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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