If you're tired of paying 10 bucks for a cinematic crapshoot, it's time to join Valley Movie Group, a meetup.com club for film lovers. Don't worry; this isn't the movie version of a book club. You won't be bored by subtitled foreign flicks about umbrellas or highbrow indie shit that makes sense to only three people on the planet. Organizer Jayson Hoffer has managed to attract more than 1,000 members to his group by focusing on blockbusters like When in Rome (for the chick-flick set) and The A-Team (for dudes). What you don't find out until you sign up is that Hoffer has discounted tickets for as little as $5 — and sometimes a few freebies — available on a first-come, first-served basis. Considering there's no cost to join the group, that's one smokin' deal.
Scottsdale 6 Drive-In
Established in 1977, the Scottsdale 6 Drive-In retains all the charm and romance of an old-school drive-in but has, thankfully, lost the bulky speaker boxes and replaced them with the drive-in's own FM radio frequency. The price of admission is cheap, too ($6.25 for adults — $4 on Tuesdays — and $1 for children ages 5 through 11), saving patrons big dollars compared to what's spent at a regular theater. The movies at Scottsdale 6 aren't your typical dollar movies that have been out for months, either — each night includes a double feature of new-release films.The real best-kept secret of the drive-in, though, is what it offers for families. We've seen folks pack up the kids and a picnic (you have to feed them at home anyway, right? Just pack it up and take it with you), a cooler full of kid and adult beverages, camp tables, even blow-up beds with kids in jammies in the truck bed. The kidlets can run around before and between flicks, and they won't bother anyone, while everyone sits out under the stars and experiences the grandiosity of that huge screen. Believe it or not, this location stays cool even in the summer heat at night.
This kind of thing could go either way: a couple of cinema nerds deciding to show artsy films in their Central Phoenix backyard with a screen and a projector. But this thing went the way of cool. Two guys named Krzysztof and John started this project humbly with a sheet tacked to the wall of a freestanding garage in the backyard of one of their humble homes, and now it's turned into a "waiting list only" monthly event. What looks like an ordinary, sparsely landscaped small backyard becomes a wonderland at night for these monthly double features. With three-tiered seating they built themselves, the large "side of a building"-size screen, and state-of-the-art projection equipment that rivals any movie theater's picture and sound system, the gentlemen share their love of art-house films with a growing list of fans. They snagged some chairs left over "from some municipal building." Overflow viewers can bring a chair or blanket, sit under the twinkle lights strung from trees, and watch curious and interesting films typically only found at festivals. All these fellas ask is a donation for their efforts and snacks/drinks to add to the shared concessions table. In the heat, they take a summer hiatus and transition to Madcap in Tempe, but in the fall they will be back up and rollin' the reels in the backyard again.
If you missed filmmaker Pedro Ultreras' brutal, uncompromising 7 Soles, which chronicles a tragic border-crossing through the Sonoran Desert by an ill-fated group of Mexican migrants, you missed a humdinger. Filmed in Arizona, the Spanish-language film received only a limited release, ironically showing to sold-out houses during its short run. Starring as one of the coyotes leading the group was Luis Avila, a Phoenix playwright and director known as much for his sweet disposition as his talent. But Avila transformed himself for the role of the backstabbing, irredeemable gun-bearing Gavilan, packing on pounds and dirtying himself up considerably in the process. Gavilan rapes, pillages, murders, and betrays his charges all the way to a Phoenix drop-house, where he's finally arrested by the Phoenix cops and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Indeed, if they handed out Academy Awards just for playing a-holes, Avila would have that Oscar on his mantelpiece right now.
Simply put, the main goal of AZ Costumed Revelers is to dress up in wacky, elaborate outfits and party. Apparently, this is a ton of fun, as illustrated by the group's numbers. Since its founding in July 2009, the group has more than 157 registered members and has participated in more than 77 events. AZ Costumed Revelers love a good theme, too, and they've incorporated all kinds of costumes into their parties and pub crawls, from zombies and pirates to gladiators and showgirls. Some of their biggest events have included the "Epic Superheroes vs. Villains" battle at Tempe Beach Park, and the "Brides of March" pub crawl, in which participants (including men) donned bridal dresses and went bar-hopping along Mill Avenue. Currently, the group is gearing up for its steampunk-themed Wild Wild West Con in Tucson next year.
Local social groups Arizona Costumed Revelers and the Arizona Cacophony Society love to dress up and drink, and what better way to celebrate nothing in particular than to wear bridal gowns and invade Mill Avenue on a Saturday afternoon? More than 30 "brides" participated in this pub crawl, which started at the entrance to Tempe Beach Park and worked its way down Mill, with drinking stops at places like Margarita Rocks and Gordon Biersch. They reportedly were refused service at Hooters, where management apparently had no idea how to handle a massive influx of drunken brides. Or it could have been the men wearing dresses and nothing underneath them — not exactly balcony-friendly fashion. Either way, the thirsty Brides of March would not be thwarted, so they finished their pub crawl near Mill and University. We can't wait to see what the "newlyweds" will do for an encore.
If you want your mug painted by a bona fide artisan, you'd be wise to seek out the services of Anna Ramsey. Whether it's a house party, concert, hoedown, or kid's birthday party, the local artist/musician will doll up your mug free of charge (though she'll accept tips and donations). Ramsey, born and raised in El Paso, Texas, learned her face painting skills in Flagstaff, where she honed her craft at events like the county fair. Since moving to the Valley, Ramsey has painted all sorts of designs — ranging from minimalist shapes to a complete face-full of color — for folks hanging out at Conspire as well as partygoers at Scottsdale's The Rogue Bar and Angels & Outlaws.
At 36 years old, LepreCon is the second-oldest sci-fi convention in Arizona, behind only the TusCon in Tucson. But in many ways, LepreCon is bigger: It draws about 500 fans annually and regularly hosts some of the biggest names in science fiction. Previous guests included Charles Vess (the artist for the popular Sandman comics), George R.R. Martin (Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire), and acclaimed Lord of the Isles author David Drake. But it's not just the guests that make LepreCon great; there are also sci-fi and fantasy art shows, gaming rooms, a Masquerade Ball, and even live music (the performer in 2010 was author and former Flash Girls folk rocker Emma Bull). With all its spacey, fantastic ambiance, LepreCon is heaven for sci-fi geeks, and a great introduction for newbies.
Saboten-Con is entering just its third year, but this annual anime convention has already outdone its primary local competition, AniZona, which was canceled this year because of budgetary woes. From the looks and size of Saboten-Con, it's not suffering similar problems. This year's event drew about 300 people to the Hilton Phoenix East for a plethora of anime programming, including a Japanese fashion show, a costuming masquerade, and a "Maid Cafe" hosted by cute female cosplayers. Saboten-Con also hosts guests from the world of anime, including most recently voice actor Steve Blum (Spike in Cowboy Bebop and dozens of characters from Digimon) and artist Maura Aum, who's worked on such Tokyopop titles as Dark Moon Diaries and Silky Pink. But one of the best things about Saboten-Con is the people-watching — we just love to see ninjas with hot pink hair dancing with fuzzy bunnies.
The Citadel
In some ways, The Citadel is like any other live-action role-playing game (LARP) — players pretend to be certain characters and enact scenes within a story (à la Vampire: The Masquerade), and they are often prone to paranoia (à la Assassin). But The Citadel is unique in that players are given a mystery to solve, and game play takes place at various locations throughout Central Phoenix. The premise is that players are agents for The Citadel, a fictional international spy organization. Each game is a chapter in an ongoing story, and game play begins with the story that a double agent has infiltrated The Citadel. Over the course of three or four hours, players try to find out who the intruder is by visiting places around the Valley, examining clues, and interacting with actors who've been planted at different places. It's incredibly immersive (and slightly creepy), which makes it the perfect game to play in downtown Phoenix at night.

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