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Nolan's Pop Culture Review, 2006!
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The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part Two áby Will Moriaty
"Eragon" áby Mike Smith
"Charlotte's Web" áby Mike Smith
First Screening: Creature Productions' "Dark Dimensions" áby Nolan B. Canova
The Tampa Film Review for December áby Nolan B. Canova and Chris Woods
Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! Part 3 áby Drew Reiber
DVD Grindhouse: Horror Classics - 50 Movie Pack DVD Collection (Part 1)....Peter Boyle is Gone áby Andy Lalino
The Globes....Texas Boud....Passing On....Next Year....My Favorite Films, Part 50: "1941" áby Mike Smith
Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Established A.D. 2000, March 19. Now in our seventh calendar year!
Number 351  (Vol. 7, No. 50). This edition is for the week of December 11--17, 2006.

Creature Productions' First Screening of
"Dark Dimensions"

         By Nolan B. Canova

Creature Productions' Dark Dimensions
Written and directed by John Lewis
Produced by Ashley Lauren Lewis
Screening Saturday, December 9, 2006
Mason Lodge, corner of 4th St and 2nd Ave. S., St. Petersburg, FL

To my knowledge, this is the fourth time this year a long-awaited Bay-area picture has premiered to an invitation-only crowd and, once everyone was seated, was told that the work is still "in progress" and much of it "still missing". I don't remember such a preponderence of this sort of thing happening before this year. I can only assume ambitions are getting bigger, but schedules aren't. The best intentions of Creature Productions' John and Ashley Lewis was to have their epic Dark Dimensions ready to premiere by year's end, and they did it....sort of.

So, this is a difficult review for me to write. Difficult because of various parameters that disqualify this exhibition as anything other than a screening. Difficult also because I've known most of the players for years and don't know how to break in criticism that won't immediately be rejected as "well, the movie isn't done yet". That being said, although Dark Dimensions has been at least a year in the making (closer to two counting writing and pre-production) and involved seemingly hundreds of talented and dedicated people, whatever is left to put into the movie is second priority to what needs to be adjusted to the somewhat confusing business that's already there.

View from the snack table towards the entryway. Pretty big hall.
Fellow indie film patrons Terence Nuzum, Gustavo Perez and I arrived at the Mason Lodge in St. Pete about 7:30pm. A small group from the event was mingling outside. We offered a couple casual hellos and went in.

Cordially greeted by John and Ashley Lewis, we were led into the main ballroom (or whatever it's called at the lodge), a HUGE room (I can see a convention fit in there) with several rows of fold-out tables and chairs ready. At the head of the room was a long table with snacks: spaghetti and sauce, veggie-snack tray, a to-die-for pasta salad (I mean it, my compliments to the chef), chips & dip, and soft drinks. Obviously, this was a pretty big deal for the Lewises. Terence and I loaded a couple plates and settled in while Gus was off creating mischief somewhere.

As we ate, the place got populated quickly, as we spotted several familiar CP staples. Tim Gordon from the Doubletree Conventions was one surprise. CP Assistants Doug and Wanda Vaters were milling around and, as always, were very friendly. Nick Cuti (pronounced "cutty"), former comics writer for Warren magazines (CP's "GRUB" is based on his story from Creepy magazine) was lurking around, dressed for Oscar night. A pleasant surprise was seeing video editor/airline pilot, Mike Bronson, who I haven't seen since our heavy metal days when he was a guitarist for John Lewis's band, Black Velvet. Missing was CP Exec Producer Phil Frank who was attending his daughter's recital of The Nutcracker.

Walking away from the food and looking back toward where the movie will be shown.
Awaiting late arrivals delayed introductions until about 8:15pm when Ashley Lewis took the floor to thank everyone for coming and introduced the movie. It was Ashley who took the most trouble to define the "work in progress" status.

John then took center stage, a place he always feels at home (which prompted him to belt out a few heavy metal lyrics), told a little history (including his involvement with our band BLADE, thanks John!) and made his personal introduction to Dark Dimensions as "about a book....but it's a hell of a book".

(If that sounds familiar, there are several elements in Dark Dimensions that may remind you of previous movies with similar themes. More on that in a bit.)

After some flashy CGI company credits, we find ourselves in B&W medieval England where a sword-fight is taking place between several rival factions over possession of a mysterious and ancient book of magic. If memory serves, it is here that there are implications the book was hidden by the Catholic Church as some sort of heretical text. The fight is evidently over the book's ownership bestowing great power. This sword-fight goes on about 10 minutes before the opening production credits appear.

From left, editor/guitarist/pilot Mike Bronson, writer/director John Lewis, and yours truly at the screening of Dark Dimensions, December 9, 2006.
The following elements may not be in exact chronological order as I don't have a copy of the movie so this is all from memory.

Back in modern day, it is established that there is a used-book store in St. Pete called "Dark Dimensions". It is owned and operated by Darrel Roberts (Andrew Vingo). Meanwhile, a gangster related to the bookstore owner, mob boss Tony Bedario (Al Rosenthal), sends his boys to a NY City auction to bid on the newly-discovered ancient book. It falls to Darrel and one of his customers, a pudgy young goth girl named Wendy Warren (Natasha Raabe), to facilitate translation of the book.

Terence and I were in disagreement about what the translation was supposed to accomplish. I could've sworn the mob boss (I like to call him "Fat Tony", after the Simpsons character of the same name) said it was about unlimited power. Terence said it was established through another character that it was about robbing heaven of its treasures, i.e., pulling a heist!

Introduced along the way is a seedy mercenary type, "Louis", played with charateristically devilish aplomb by Joel D. Wynkoop, who is also after the book, but we couldn't exactly figure out why or how he figures into the plot. Joel, as always, manages to steal every scene he's in. (His character is a pop-eye type, so cracks one-eye jokes like, "You might say...I'm keeping my EYE on the situation...HAHAHAHAHAHAAH!") Confusing or not, he makes the most of it.

Possibly my favorite performer in the whole movie: Al Rosenthal (left) plays mob boss Tony Bedario with such "Goodfellas" panache, I was shocked to discover he doesn't talk like that in real life! Together with Joel Wynkoop, they virtually steal the show from Andrew Vingo. Director John Lewis on right.
For the next solid hour or so, there's lots and lots and lots and lots of talk about the book and its history and the plot to get it secured. I confess that between that and the medium-level, infinitely-repeating bakground music, my attention drifted and I eventually nodded off during much of this, Terence reminded me of some filler material later. Finally toward the end, as the main characters read from the "scripture" to open the gates to heaven, Fat Tony's horrified to discover a devil-in-the-details, possibly relating to missing pages lost during the translation process.

Erica Heflin plays Vingo's patient girlfriend Peggy. Strangely, Erica, a very attractive girl in real life, is subjected to the least flattering angles possible, rendering her character almost plain.

McKae Dietrich plays Amy Garrett who also is involved in helping Vingo's character. She initially claimed to be a reporter and has some weird connection to Wynkoop, otherwise I've forgotten her significance. Her high, squeaky Betty Boop voice was very distracting in taking her character seriously.

The most confusing thing none of us could figure out (or remember) was how did the FBI get involved in the story? CP staple Nick Cuti plays the local FBI chief who's out to get....the mobster, I guess. How they were alerted we're not sure, but it led to some gratuitous gunplay near the film's end. For those of you familiar with The Incredible Hulk comics, Cuti is the spitting image of General "Thunderbolt" Ross.

Speaking of the FBI, the strongest performer besides Wynkoop and Rosenthal was (I hope I got this right) Darla Delgado as an FBI agent, sent after Wynkoop. Not sure where I've seen her before, but I think I have.

Creature and me and baby makes three. From left, Ashley Lauren Lewis, John Lewis (father & daughter in case anyone's wondering), and yours truly pose by the Christmas tree after the show.
While its trailer implied an action-adventure film, Dark Dimensions has little to no action, (except for the brief gunplay already mentioned) emphasizing dialogue and plot. But if you're not paying strict attention, it's easy to get lost.

There are some obvious salutes to past films, some may not be so obvious or may be unintentional:

  • The most glaring, especially in light of Ashley's crazed fandom of anything Johnny Depp, is Depp's The Ninth Gate (1999), also about a rare ancient book with great power. It also emphasizes dialogue over action. Coincidentally, where many viewers found Depp's cavalier handling of the rare book off-putting, similarly, in Dark Dimensions, Fat Tony takes an awfully devil-may-care attitude about this ultra-rare tome, discussing it in public, and leaving it unattended at Vingo's house!
  • For those who've seen Craig Kovach's Unearthed, substitute Joel Wynkoop for the alien mercenary, the FBI honchos for buddy cops Joe Davison and Tom Savini, and the mobsters/booksellers for the archeologists.
  • Demonic trickery via missing pages recalls (of all people) Terence Nuzum's The Missing Page.

    Terence noticed that Tony's secretary's wardrobe changed from shot to shot. (I could swear hair color changed on McKae Dietrich, too.)

    If memory serves, the opening sword fight was filmed in a wooded area near Orlando with local members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. There is a film look on some scenes (including faux scratches) but not on others. When I brought this up to John I got a vacant stare. Doug Vaters indicated some effects weren't in place yet.

    Terence and I continued to argue whether this was all about "gangsters sticking up heaven". I think it was about a power grab.

    At one point a different portal is opened that is not heaven. No explanation, at least none clear enough as to why, was offered. (After the screening, the Lewises merely commented it was "another dimension". John added a CGI dragon is to be inserted later.)

    Audio problems are being addressed. In some shots with Wynkoop, female actors were completely inaudible.

    Cast and crew credit misspellings are being addressed.

    John and Ashley brought a box of DVDs, set them on the snack table and walked away. Terence and Gus walked over and saw they were copies of Creature Productions' GRUB and Captain Cosmos. Figuring these were giveaways, they each picked one up. IMMEDIATELY, Nick Cuti swung into action and got in the boys' faces:

    "HEY! Were either of you in those movies?"

    Gus and Terence look at each other. "No..."

    Cuti: "OK, THEN (snatches the discs out of their hands) and says, "NICE TRY, GUYS! NICE TRY!"

    There was no sign or announcement that these were for cast and crew only. Now, I know our foul reputation precedes us, but to be treated as high school shoplifters by the still-in-character Nick Cuti was insulting.

    Note to Nick: I know there's no business like show business, but for chrissake, it's only a movie. Tone it down a notch.

    As he followed us out to the car, John had little to say about the incident except I'd get a copy of Dark Dimensions when it's done.

    Irrespective of the Cuti incident, on the way home, Terence and Gus had little positive praise for Dark Dimensions (Gus has so many axes to grind with the Lewises, his opinion barely counts anyway). But they can write their own columns.

    I think the main ideas in the movie are great. I'm a sucker for this kind of screenplay. We just need to tighten things waaaaaay up!

    Ashley responds to the above review in this week's Lettercol

    All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ę2006 by Nolan B. Canova.

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