Best Local Boy Makes Good On Screen 2016 | Travis Mills | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Jack Durant was a small-town gambler with loose ties to Vegas racketeers. He had a big, obstreperous personality, owned our city's most successful restaurant, and was listed among the FBI's most dangerous men in Phoenix. Jack liked women, eavesdropping on patrons of his restaurant bar, and golf. He might have seen one or two people being murdered. None of this makes for grand opera, but it did make for an independent feature film by local filmmaker Travis Mills. His stylish post-noir profile of one of Phoenix's bigger characters, Durant's Never Closes, increased Mills' profile as an indie filmmaker who shoots his low-budget, tightly shot movies right here in Phoenix. A new, young producer/director who can lure Hollywood A-listers like Tom Sizemore (who played the title role in the Durant picture) and director Peter Bogdanovich (who wanders through as a shady character trying to get Jack a spot in the local country club) is doing something right, and we're cheering him on.

If for no other reason than his comeback from a dreadful season opener, local theater bright spot and former wunderkind Damon Dering deserves accolades. Last fall, Nearly Naked Theatre founder Dering launched his new season with Monster, an adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Perhaps because Dering didn't helm the production himself, it stank. But this past master of camp knuckled down, leaping in to remind local theatergoers of his many visionary talents by directing a knockout world premiere of Buddy Thomas' Wonderland Wives, followed by an acclaimed production of Next to Normal that had critics and audiences swooning. These two winners more than made up for any transgressions, and reminded us that Dering is estimable in his talents — our very own Tyrone Guthrie.

She's nothing if not versatile. Mid-year, local star Johanna Carlisle delivered the best line of the play ("Just because I moved to Yorkshire doesn't mean I have to sit on it!" she bellowed when asked to take a seat on the ground) in Phoenix Theatre's Calendar Girls. As a British gal "of a certain age," she elevated a one-dimensional role with some subtle movement and more than a little wisecracking. A few months later, she stomped off with a well-polished production of Next to Normal at Nearly Naked Theatre, directed by company founder Damon Dering. As a suburban mom doing battle with bipolar disorder and trying to keep her family and life together, she sang and danced and emoted like crazy. Carlisle is a world of talent, all of it her own.

Terry Johnson's Hysteria requires a cast who can perform and respond to both broad slapstick and stagy melodrama, often in the same scene. Fortunately for theater audiences last fall, director Patrick Walsh assembled such a cast for the Southwest Shakespeare production of this peculiar masterpiece, which reimagines the meeting between psychologist Sigmund Freud and surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. Despite stiff competition from a gaggle of thespians, all of them running in and out of doorways and bellowing, Beau Heckman stood out as an especially fabulous Freud, both fearful of and besotted by his own knowledge of the emotional world.

There's a monumental shift happening in performance art, as companies grapple with the growing difficulty of getting butts in seats. Creatives are finding new ways to take performance art to the people, which is something dancer and choreographer Nicole Olson has mastered. Olson, who serves as assistant director and choreographer for Scorpius Dance Theatre in Phoenix, has performed at diverse locations including the Heard Museum, Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Art Museum, and several local art galleries. She's choreographed work for local theater companies, including Stray Cat Theatre and Nearly Naked Theatre, and served as director of dance for Metropolitan Arts Institute. She's best known for being the fierce queen of the vampires in Lisa Starry's A Vampire Tale, but has also performed in Center Dance Ensemble productions. As a lovely dancer with long, fluid lines and a choreographer skilled at storytelling through movement, Olson elevates the metro Phoenix dance scene. A true collaborator and trailblazer, Olson embraces the call for contemporary dancers to move outside their own art form to work with, and support, artists in myriad other fields.

Indie rock royalty and a fashion empire go together like Sam and Anita Means. Which is to say, almost annoyingly adorably. Sam is the musician, a solo artist formerly one half of the Format with Nate Ruess. He co-founded Hello Merch back in 2008 as a way for bands to sell T-shirts and assorted goods online and on tour without restrictive contracts. A spinoff of the rock-wear company is Hello Apparel, the brainchild of Anita, who wanted to sell leggings for babies on Etsy. Much like Sam's single "A Little Bit of Yeah Yeah," a bona fide hit in the Netherlands, the companies have taken off. What will the duo do next — besides share envy-inspiring pics of their home, pups, and preternaturally stylish kid on Instagram? We can only assume it'll be cool, cute, and worth wearing (or singing along with).

Whether it's her determination to improve health care, get dark money out of politics, or make Arizona a more environmentally friendly place, Debbie McCune Davis has been a progressive Democrat in a pool of conservative Republicans for decades. And she's kept her head above water. She's proven to be that rare breed of politician who can remain principled, yet also compromise and work with opponents to actually get laws passed, which is why we were so sad to learn she's retiring at the end of the year.

During her time in office, McCune Davis has sponsored plenty of bills and taken up many causes worth applauding, but it's been the work she's done as a member of the Child Safety Oversight Committee in the last two years that has really stood out. Time and again, she's the committee member holding the agency's feet to the fire, demanding its leaders be held accountable for the progress they often promise to deliver. In a state with a beleaguered child-safety agency, Arizona's children are better off with McCune Davis in office. We're sorry to see her retire.

It's more than fitting that Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan has appointed Arizona historian Jack August to serve as historian and director of institutional advancement in the Division of Library, Archives, and Public Records. Though Reagan is a Republican and August is a Democrat of the old-school New Deal variety, August is a public intellectual and bon vivant who can converse with Rs and Ds as well as commoners and kings. In turn, politicos of every stripe respect the mustachioed professor for his scholarly chops and his area of expertise: hydropolitics, a subject of perennial interest in our desert state. Also, we suspect, since August has authored books on U.S. senators such as Carl Hayden and Dennis DeConcini, and other political figures, such as former Arizona Governor Raul Castro, that some of these politicians hope August will one day help plant their names in history books. Dare to dream, pols, though you'll have to rise to a certain level before August shows an interest in you.

It takes stones to take on the gun lobby in Arizona, home to a Republican Party that believes the Second Amendment is one of the Ten Commandments. This state is home to some of the laxest gun laws in the nation, where you can carry firearms concealed, have them on you at a bar or at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, and despite being a prohibited possessor, can still purchase them openly from a private dealer at one of the state's many gun shows. Any restriction, no matter how common-sense, is guaranteed to engender a backlash among gun lovers here, so U.S. Senator Jeff Flake knew exactly what he was doing when he stood in support of a proposed federal law that would stop people on "no-fly" lists from purchasing a weapon. Even in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, when an ISIS-inspired, homegrown terrorist took out 49 souls and wounded 50 others at a gay bar in that city, the bipartisan proposal failed to get the votes needed to advance. Predictably, the far right pilloried Arizona's junior Republican senator on the issue, and it likely will be remembered by his detractors when he runs for re-election in 2018. Let's hope voters see it for what it is: an act of political courage that put public safety above the demands of a myopic, selfish few.

Talk about crappy journalism. CBS 5 News reporter Jonathan Lowe was on assignment in that toddlin' town of Goodyear in May, reporting on some dude who killed his family's dog and stuffed the remains in a barbecue smoker, when he felt the irresistible call of his innards and chose to relieve himself on a nearby front yard. A neighbor witnessed Lowe fertilize the lawn in question and head back to the TV van, leaving the evidence of his crime in the open for all to see. To Lowe's surprise, the Goodyear police responded to the neighbors' call, arrested Lowe, and cited him for public defecation. When the cops asked him why he didn't drive a mile or so to a local Fry's to use the facilities, Lowe replied that he couldn't leave because he had to report the dog-barbecue story, and so had to make like a canine on someone's lawn. Thing is, eyewitnesses to Lowe's squat said that if he had just knocked on their door, they would've let him enjoy the comforts of indoor plumbing. New Times was the first local outlet to report on this stinky tale, and Lowe was shit-canned by CBS 5 after the incident. Interestingly, other local news outlets present decided not to poop on one of their own, and so ignored the matter. But would they have looked the other way if a cop or local official had made the same mess? Oh, hell no.

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