The Will

A few days before Penny Long made her reality TV show debut last January on CBS' The Will, the Arizona Republic ran a feature on the Cave Creek woman predicting that "You will read about her in Us Weekly, . . . spot her on Access Hollywood, and come into work on Monday morning and talk Penny, Penny, Penny . . ."

The Republic was dead wrong. The Will was to have followed Penny, fourth wife of local developer Bill Long, as she battled a gaggle of relatives over who would inherit a ranch owned by her ancient and very wealthy (but not yet dead) husband. Instead, the network canceled the series after just one episode, making The Will one of the biggest flops in TV history. See ya later, Penny.

Standing nine feet tall, weighing in at five hundred pounds, this enormous monstrosity can put any bar mascot to shame. Set at the entrance of Hurricane Bay in north Phoenix, a giant replica of a volcano inspired by Mount Wannahockaloogy from the Disney movie Finding Nemo transports patrons directly to the Islands. Complete with a waterfall and smoke billowing from the top, the nameless sculpture overlooks a dance floor lighted in turquoise, and a grass-skirted bar, and can be seen from every point in the equally oversize nightspot. Some believe that if you touch the behemoth for good luck, you are destined to find the beautiful virgin before she is sacrificed to the gods.
Owned by local real estate investor Michael A. Pollack, this funky modern theater boasts a lobby filled with video games, autographed photos, and life-size cardboard figures of celebrities, which patrons love to use for funny photo ops. But the truly edgy stuff happens on the big screens, where award-winning indie films make their Valley premières, and artsy repertory films get exposure, too. Every summer, the theater hosts the "One Night Cinema" series, which presents first-run, award-winning foreign films such as Moolaadé, Lost Embrace, and Vodka Lemon. In January and February, the cinema hosts the Sun Lakes Jewish Film Festival, where acclaimed yarns such as Left Luggage and Zahor get a chance to shine on the silver screen. Tempe Pollack Cinemas is also a great place for local film companies to share their works; the theater recently hosted the world première of Phoenix Film Project's Laws of Deception.

We're happy to see one brave soul go up against the Valley's movie monopoly.

Jackie Mercandetti
Sure, you can see and be seen all night long in the clubs, but in some circles, gelato has become the new nightcap -- and everyone who's anyone is slurping it up. It's a true Experience, hanging at The Gelato Spot, which shares a strip mall with Zen 32, Delux, and Hava Java. On a recent visit we spotted Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb rubbing his tired, hard-worked brow over his little cup. Another time, Shelly Cohn and Mollie Trivers, Valley culture vulturettes, held court. The location is key, but it's the gelato and the accompanying service that make this place such a magnet. The fresh-fruit sorbets are lovely, as are the heavier selections -- the traditional Italian tiramisu (just like the dessert of the same name), bacio (chocolate-hazelnut) and torroncino (hazelnut, honey and almond). The worst-kept secret in town is that you don't actually have to buy any sorbet at The Gelato Spot: The friendly staff will give you so many tastes, you'll be full by the time someone asks for your order. But be a sport, buy something -- remember, people are watching.
Turns out Phoenicians prefer Ferris Bueller to The Birds. This completely unscientific observation took place this summer, during Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot's Moonlight Movies series. The movies, shown in the amphitheater at Steele Indian School Park, drew revelers of all ages, who picnicked before the movies, and munched on popcorn and ice cream for sale by vendors through the evening. Ferris Bueller's Day Off drew the largest crowd of the summer, with The Princess Bride a close second.

Simplot was there to canoodle at every showing this summer. He marvels at the diversity of the crowd -- single, married, gay, straight -- but yes, mostly families. (Who else really wants to see Shrek 2 again?) "Young families love these movies," Simplot says. "Date night with the kids, and nobody cares if the kids are rowdy."

We curse Dan Harkins every time some kid asks us to upsize our popcorn (didn't the movie magnate see Super Size Me?), but Dan, we're still glad your mother gave birth to you in the Valley Art Theatre, and that you held onto the space -- and the more than 200 theaters Harkins Theatres has subsequently opened since 1933.

Camelview in Scottsdale is consistently the best place to see that hard-to-find movie, and while we lament the bulldozing of the Ciné Capri, we have to admit that the new one's not so bad.

But the best part about Harkins is its ubiquity. We love knowing that just about wherever we are in the Valley, Harkins is there. (Try downtown Phoenix next, Dan -- hint, hint.)

This is a chain even Arizona Chain Reaction can love -- and it does. Harkins is a member.

Yes, sometimes more is more. Except when it comes to concessions. Tell your clerks to stop pushing Pepsi by the gallon, and we'll love you even more, Dan.

If you're up to no good and don't want the whole town to know about it, there's no better place to hide out than this funky, thoroughly dark central Phoenix watering hole. The Valley's version of Hernando's Hideaway has a great retro vibe, a thoroughly diverse clientele, and just enough smoke (and so little light) that total discretion is a given. If it's a busy night at Chez Nous and the music is loud, no one will ever know you were there.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
There's no explanation for a place like the Palo Verde. Dude, this place should be on an episode of Ripley's Believe It or Not. By everyone's admission, even the regulars, the PV is a dive. Outside, the junky brick building looks like it might house a meth lab or a massage parlor. Inside, it's bare bones: a jukebox, two pool tables operating at 50 cents a pop, a couple of electronic games in the back, one old-school Playboy pinball machine, and a seedy little bar area. And yet it draws one of the most diverse crowds in the Valley, including iron cowboys, college geeks, punk-rock chicks, tattoo artists, crusty old-timers, hip black guys -- you name it. Why do they all head for the Palo Verde? Aside from great drink specials, there's no easy answer, other than maybe it's like pulling on an ancient pair of jeans which, despite all the wear and tear, are comfy as hell. Got another theory? Meet us down at the PV, and we'll discuss it over a couple of pints, matey.
The director, star and co-writer of Never Been Thawed, a tiny masterpiece of an indie film, deserves nods not only for creating a sweetly acerbic, nicely acted local film, but for helping to bust up the post-PC etiquette that's still dogging us into the new millennium. Anders' snarky send-up of all things sacred about a collection of young losers who obsessively collect frozen TV dinners and hold meetings to discuss them, started small and built big all last year. Never Been Thawed made the film-festival circuit, played local art houses, and wound up going multiplex at Harkins Centerpoint, largely on the strength of Anders' (and co-writers Chuck LeVinus and John Morris) sly reinvention of the mockumentary, not to mention his hilarious performance as sexy nerd Shawn. Here's to Never Been Thawed II -- or at least another deeply irreverent feature from Anders and company.
When VH1 asked the musical question "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Laurie?", Phoenix ponied up with lovely young Emily Stone, who took off on a race to be the next Laurie Partridge. First, she appeared on the music network's In Search of The Partridge Family, a quasi-American Idol in which the original cast of the '70s sitcom introduced kids (and middle-aged Shirleys!) who competed to replace them. Emily easily whomped the hundreds of would-be Lauries competing against her, becoming the country's cutest air pianist and winning the chance to record a new Partridge single (which really sucked) and to appear in a pilot for The New Partridge Family (which aired, but wasn't picked up by VH1 or any other network). It didn't hurt that La Stone grabbed her lovely bosom during the acting contest and sang a memorable cover of Meredith Brooks' "Bitch" (as introduced by Shirley Jones, much to the horror of Partridge prudes everywhere). Even if the new Partridge program did lay an egg, we're confident that the lovely Miss Stone will be the next Lindsay Lohan. If not, there's always the adulation of thousands of weirdly obsessed, middle-aged Partridge fans to look forward to.

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