Spacebabes Meet the Monsters
Peter Gardner, John Norris, Jean Black.
Directed by Kathe Duba-Barnett.
Originally produced in California in 2003 under the much more accurate title The Low Budget Time Machine but not released on DVD until earlier this year, Spacebabes Meet the Monsters is a goofy trifle deliberately recalling the cheesy, ultra-low-budget sci-fi films of the past. At 46 minutes, it doesn’t quite qualify as a feature, but it’s certainly more substantial than a typical short film. Las Vegans Kathe Duba-Barnett (director, co-writer, co-producer) and Buddy Barnett (co-writer, co-producer) tell the story of three hapless astronauts sent into the future by a mad scientist. There they meet the titular spacebabes, alien hotties in go-go boots who enjoy subjugating men and are looking for a way to return to their home planet.
There’s only one monster, though, a rather harmless mutant named Gary, and not a whole lot of peril for our bumbling heroes. The movie is most entertaining when it’s self-deprecating (as when the characters mock the flimsiness of the sets), and it has a few too many scenes of people just running from one place to another. But overall the Barnetts have a good camp sensibility (Buddy Barnett is the former publisher of the influential Cult Movies magazine), and the movie coasts on its affability, ending before its deficiencies become too irritating. (The DVD also includes The Walking Ink, an excellent experimental short film by local director Tom Barndt.)
Linda Vu, Don Barnhart Jr., Porsche Ing-Johnson, Jon Halbur, Don Turner.
Directed by Don Barnhart Jr.
Available on DVD and for download at Chinadollsmovie.com.
Writer/director/star Don Barnhart Jr.’s China Dolls opens with a somber disclaimer about human trafficking and the sex trade, setting up a serious drama about an important social issue. But what follows instead is a lurid thriller, undercutting the potential topical message with contrived twists and turns, not to mention wooden dialogue and stilted acting. Barnhart’s real-life wife Linda Vu plays a Vietnamese prostitute who steals a case of diamonds from her violent pimp (Turner). While hiding out, she and her fellow-prostitute co-conspirator use a dating service to hook up with a pair of single guys (Barnhart, Halbur) who try to help them escape into a new life.
The writing is clumsy, and the acting is uneven, but Turner gives a fascinatingly over-the-top performance as the insane pimp/drug dealer who will stop at nothing to get his diamonds and hookers back. Whenever he’s beating, berating or boning some poor supporting character, the film has a certain B-movie charm to it. But the plot makes little sense, and the mega-happy ending is beyond laughable. It’s never clear why a movie about Vietnamese prostitutes is called China Dolls; that’s just one of many things about this movie that don’t add up.
Who Will Stand
Directed by Phil Valentine.
Available on DVD at Whowillstand4us.com.
A sometimes moving, sometimes frustrating documentary about soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, Who Will Stand is all the more disappointing for how much better it could have been. Director Phil Valentine and his producing partner Michael Bedik take on a vital and underreported issue, and their movie is full of insightful and heartbreaking interviews with veterans of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, as well as doctors and activists who work to provide better care for soldiers suffering from psychological problems.
But it’s also full of self-indulgent asides about the filmmakers themselves and their process of putting the movie together; one scene even features Valentine and Bedik in their Las Vegas production office discussing whether to go to an Iraq-war memorial in California (spoiler: They go). And Valentine is prone to overnarrating every little revelation, making certain quietly powerful moments into heavy-handed sermons. The sappy, bombastic songs that play during endless montages don’t help, either. Still, Valentine and Bedik are skilled filmmakers, and all of the flaws fall away when they pause to let soldiers simply tell their stories of how they struggled, often for many years, after returning home from war. Who Will Stand tells an important story, and with a little more focus and subtlety, it could have been an important movie as well.
Amanda Colmen, Gino Carnell, Lucia Reveles.
Directed by Gino Carnel.
Ugly is certainly the right word to describe Ugly Money, a visually messy, hypocritical and cheap exploitation drama about prostitution. Writer/director/star Gino Carnell demonstrates ineptitude in all three positions, with a heavy-handed story full of repetitive dialogue (just try counting how many times the lead prostitute characters utter the words “girl” or “daddy”), a shooting style wholly indifferent to lighting and camera placement and a sleepy performance as pimp Mack, who trains and abuses prostitutes Carmella (Reveles) and Amber (Colmen). The movie tries to be a cautionary tale about not falling into the relatively easy money of prostitution, but it’s muddied by the glamorizing of Mack and the two hookers’ relative stupidity and lack of remorse at their chosen profession.
The more likely lesson to be learned from this movie is that if you’re an attractive woman walking down the street, every black male who approaches you will be a pimp (to be fair, not every black man in Ugly Money is a pimp; one is a drug dealer, and one is a cop). As a drama, Ugly Money is an unmitigated failure, but it could serve as a handy primer on how not to be a prostitute.
Henry Clarke, Robert Watts, Antoinette Correia, Will Edwards.
Directed by Chris Gabriel.
Any movie that favorably compares itself to the work of Ed Wood and comes with instructions for its own drinking game is setting up some pretty high camp expectations, and S4 ultimately isn’t able to deliver on those promises. A silly sci-fi tale shot in stark black and white, the movie is too long on exposition and too short on humor to be particularly entertaining unless you’re following that drinking game very closely. Set in 1952 at Area 51, S4 concerns a pair of Marines, one of whom has been impregnated by aliens in collusion with the U.S. government, and the other of whom is assigned to keep tabs on his knocked-up colleague.
Lead actor Clarke delivers a surprisingly strong performance given the absurdity of the material, but his character merely plays out the same scenarios over and over again. There are a handful of inspired lines and set pieces, but most of the scenes feature characters talking in endless circles over the same topics. S4 was expanded from a short sketch created by its stars, and it proves resoundingly that what’s funny and endearing for three minutes can become excruciatingly tedious at more than 100.