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

 

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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CHAVALA — Review by Martha K. Baker

It is entirely possible that you’ve never heard of Chavela Vargas, but the excellent documentary, “Chavela” will introduce you to this remarkable woman. She sang, not like a bird but like the earth. She sang ranchera, literally “a farmer’s song,” but figuratively, songs of love and loss, lots of loss. Continue reading

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LUCKY — Review by Martha K. Baker

Lucky is barely a moving picture, until it is. Watching paint dry involves more neurons at times than watching Lucky. Glaciers grow faster. And, then, just when it appears to defy the “moving” part of moving picture, Lucky perks up, like a corpse that twitches. That makes watching it worthwhile. Lucky is, after all, Harry Dean Stanton’s last film. Continue reading…

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MANOLO: THE BOY WHO MADE SHOES FOR LIZARDS — Review by Martha K. Baker

Manolo balances shoe business with show business. Manolo Blahnik’s name is synonymous with shoes — wild, nose-bleed, calf-lenthening, knee-knocking shoes of amazing construction. Shoes that demand attention and admiration. Shoes whose cost is out of the reach of most women but will forever be connected to Sex and the City if not to anything real. Continue reading…

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VICTORIA AND ABDUL — Review by Martha K. Baker

Victoria and Abdul scores on every point, defining the biopic “based on a true story.” Not one single false step. No blurred foci. Under Stephen Frears’ impeccable direction, Lee Hall’s script, based on Shrabani Basu’s remarkable research, shines into the far back reaches of the theater. The cast, topped by Dame Judi Dench, acquits itself beautifully. Continue reading…

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SHOT — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Shot’ sticks to clichés. Let’s say you never imagined the results of one gun shot on a community or a couple or a culprit. Let’s say you are woefully ignorant or willfully unlettered in the violent world around you. But, let’s say, you want to learn, to pick up just a skosh of information about the consequences of violence. Plus, you’re open to experimental film. Then, “Shot” is for you. Or for social studies classes of 6th graders for whom clichés are still fresh and discussable. For you and them, “Shot” works. Continue reading…

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TULIP FEVER — Review by Martha K. Baker

I took the loveliest little nap during the screening of “Tulip Fever.” The theater’s temperature was just right, the seat was comfy, and the company was cozy, so I drifted off. When I awoke, I hadn’t missed much in this romance where two lips kiss while tulip prices rise. Continue reading…

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HOME AGAIN — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Home Again’ squeaks by as “romcom,” almost begging to be made fun of. It encourages the critic in everyone to have a field day with adjectives describing its mediocrity, with phrases applied like plasters to its clumsiness, with capital letters to proclaim its failure as an end-of-summer romantic comedy, known by the conflation “romcom.” Continue reading…

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VICEROY’S HOUSE — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Viceroy’s House’ lays historical foundation for today. It’s more than half-way through “Viceroy’s House,” a historical look at the partition of India, before the word “oil” leaks out. The film explains so terribly much about then, 1947, as well as now, 2017. And it pays to watch this well-crafted look at that moment over there. Continue reading…

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THE TRIP TO SPAIN — Review by Martha K. Baker

Bottom line: The Trip to Spain is not as good as The Trip or The Trip to Italy, but what do you expect? The comedy team of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon does not appeal to everyone, but under Michael Winterbottom’s direction, The Trip series also offers food and travel for your delectation. Continue reading…

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WIND RIVER — Review by Martha K. Baker

The moon is full over snowed upon water. The snow is dirtied by time. Red and bloodied by death. This scene begins the shocking, excellent film “Wind River,” named for Wyoming’s only American Indian reservation. Before that scene settles, a marksman has found a teenager. She is dead on the landscape. Continue Reading…

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MENASHE — Review by Martha K. Baker

“All beginnings are hard,” it is written in the Tal-mud. And Menashe is finding life hard since he lost his wife Leah a year ago. His son Rieven has gone to, or been sent to, his mother’s brother’s house to live. Menashe, a hapless, portly Jew, wants his son back. The rabbi of his tightly constrained Hasidic com-munity, shown in tight camera shots, grants Menashe a week to earn his son back. It’s the week before Leah’s memorial, which her brother thinks should be held at his house, not in Menashe’s crowded flat. In that week, Menashe does everything wrong. Continue reading…

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THE GLASS CASTLE — Review by Martha K. Baker

To read of family dysfunction, an alcoholic father slapping his child, an artsy mom not feeding her bairn is one thing. To see it on the screen is so painful as to be avoided. That is the case with “The Glass Castle,” based on the 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls. Continue reading…

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LANDLINE — Review by Martha K. Baker

The title’s reference to a fading form of communication suggests the decade for “Landline,” that is, the Nineties. But it says nothing about the chief literary device, that of irony, which each of the characters has to deal with in the course of this multi-generational look at cheating. Continue reading…

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THE JOURNEY — Review by Martha K. Baker

The Journey negotiates from war to peace. Two men openly said horrible things about each other during a historical period known ominously as The Troubles. The enemy leaders are forced to journey together in 2006 during the Northern Ireland Peace Accords. Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness and Democratic Party pastor, Ian Paisley, are chauffeured to the meeting. Continue reading…

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