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Steve Persall, Times Movie Critic

Steve Persall

Steve Persall's movie reviews usually appear in Thursday's Weekend section but — like his columns, features and interviews — can pop up anywhere in the Tampa Bay Times, any day of the week. Persall was conceived behind a Tarpon Springs drive-in theater his father managed, making him practically born for this job. He lives in Clearwater with his wife, Dianne (a.k.a. the right side of his brain), and trusty dog, Mojo.

Phone: (727) 893-8365


Twitter: @StevePersall

  1. Review: Jim Parsons' 'Home' not exactly out of this world


    Home is where my heart wasn't Saturday morning, at a screening where even children didn't seem excited to be. The father snoring next to me had the right idea at the wrong volume. Hiding a catnap behind 3-D glasses only works if you don't give yourself away.

    Staying awake behind mine, I saw that Home was like a drab dream with squirmy-cuddly aliens, floating space bubbles and too many Rihanna musical interludes. It's the kind of fantasy that not even Steve Martin can make funny, much less Jim Parsons and his Big Bang nerd squeals....

    Oh, voiced by Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), and Tip, voiced by Rihanna, get close in Home.
  2. Review: 'Get Hard' sends Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart's talent down the drain (w/video)


    Will Ferrell's butt is the butt of most jokes in Get Hard, and not just in his signature exhibitionism. Ferrell gets that tiresome booty flash routine out of the way before the opening credits roll. Twice.

    For the remainder of this willfully offensive comedy, the punchline is how desperately Ferrell's character — a 1-percenter so white he shakes an offered fist bump — wants to enable or prevent objects from entering his butt. When that gag needs a break, the attention shifts lasciviously to his mouth. Little of this is funny, and then only with a shock that doesn't last....

    Kevin Hart, left, and Will Ferrell appear in a scene from “Get Hard.”
  3. 'It Follows' is refreshing take on the horror flick


    Someone who took a film course in college once told me the first shot in any movie is its most important. Seldom is that more evident than with It Follows, which opens with a doozy.

    One setup, with a rotating camera tracking a terrified young woman shattering the normalcy of her neighborhood, running away from something unseen. Brushing off those trying to help, she climbs into a car and races away. It's a grabber, followed by a gagger when the woman's corpse is discovered. Welcome to the latest example of 21st century retro-terror, with writer-director David Robert Mitchell doing a nifty John Carpenter impersonation, circa Halloween....

Maika Monroe in a scene from "It Follows."
  4. Baseball movie made in Tampa Bay in 1986 is 'Long Gone'


    Long Gone is a baseball movie that didn't last in the major leagues.

    Filmed around Tampa Bay in 1986, the $5 million HBO project changed the rules as one of the cable giant's first in-house productions, paving the way for today's Emmy superiority.

    Then it disappeared, like a hanging curve crushed by Cecil "Stud" Cantrell, player-manager for the fictional Tampico Stogies, owned by Deep South shysters in a town resembling old Ybor City....

    William Petersen and Virginia Madsen played Stud Cantrell and Dixie Lee Boxx in Long Gone (1987).
  5. ''71' a thoughtful thriller set in Northern Ireland


    '71 (R) (99 min.) — Being caught behind enemy lines is a common trap in war movies, given a unique spin in Yann Demange's debut feature. Jack O'Connell (Unbroken) stars as an English soldier abandoned by his unit on the rebellious streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, at the height of tensions between the countries. The soldier must escape undetected by the Irish Republican Army or die....

    Jack O’Connell stars in ’71.
  6. Argentina's 'Wild Tales' focuses on people behaving badly


    Wild Tales (R) (122 min.) — Argentina's recent Oscar nominee for best foreign language film is an anthology of six sketches, with the tenuously linking theme of how poorly people treat each other. Road rage, wedding day infidelity and various revenges are presented by writer-director Damian Szifron.

    Village Voice film critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote: "Wild Tales is loose-limbed, rowdy, and exhilarating — in its vibrant lunacy, and with its cartoonishly brash violence, it's a little bit Almodóvar, a little bit Tarantino." Zacharek went on to praise Szifron for imbuing his film with "so much feral, prickly energy that it gives off warmth rather than coldness."...

    Erica Rivas is Romina and Diego Gentile is Ariel in “Til Death Do Us Part,” one of the stories in Wild Tales.
  7. Sarasota Film Festival lineup features Blythe Danner, Jane Seymour


    A touch of gray suits the 17th annual Sarasota Film Festival, which on Monday announced its opening and closing selections, starring a pair of silver-haired celebrities.

    Kicking off the festival April 10 is Richard Gere starring in Time Out of Mind as a homeless New Yorker trying to reconcile with his daughter, played by Jena Malone. Gere isn't expected to attend the festival but director Oren Moverman will, accepting the Hearts and Minds of Independent Film award and introducing the 6:30 p.m. screening....

  8. Bobcat Goldthwait talks about his new film and old friend Robin Williams


    Bobcat Goldthwait wants me to clean his litter box. Actually, it belongs to Anderson Cooper.

    His cat, not the newsman.

    "I know that's probably not cool to ask you, but my new cat c---- like a mountain lion," Goldthwait says, kicking off a telephone interview. "I don't what's going on but he's certainly healthy."

    Goldthwait leaves Anderson behind this weekend, bringing his latest directing effort to the Gasparilla International Film Festival. Long known as a comedian and actor, Goldthwait has spent much of the last decade directing films. Call Me Lucky is a documentary about longtime friend Barry Crimmins, whose standup comedy and political activism are born from an abusive childhood the movie lays bare....

    Getty Images (2011)
  9. Review: 'Insurgent,' part two of four 'Divergent' films, entertainingly bides time (w/trailer)


    Armed with divergent skills and a freshly self-inflicted, no-fuss hairdo, Tris Prior is feeling Insurgent, and we're down with that. This franchise is one of the more entertaining examples of three popular books stretched to four movies when two would do.

    Insurgent is part two, with all the biding-time pitfalls that implies. Part twos are when viewers who skipped part one are caught up to speed, when stakes are raised but not too much. Everything teases something coming next year to a theater near you. And then greedily the year after that....

    The stakes are raised, the tension is higher in Insurgent, the second in the Divergent series.
  10. Review: In 'The Gunman,' Sean Penn aims at action-hero career revival (w/trailer)


    Now that Liam Neeson's stint as an AARP action hero seems to have Run All Night into the ground, you won't believe who's buff, sweaty and ready to take over.

    None other than Sean Penn, sensitive artiste, third world benefactor and gun control advocate, showing he's adept at neck-snapping, point-blank blasting, knife-impaling mayhem in The Gunman.

    The title can refer either to his character's favorite weapon or the vein-popping arms Penn displays, doffing his shirt whenever possible, if not necessary. Penn also gets a screenwriting credit, suggesting he added the geopolitical soapboxing woven into the violence and edited to an afterthought. Less Blood Diamond than bloodbath....

    Javier Bardem as Felix, Sean Penn as Jim Terrier and Jasmine Trinca as Annie in The Gunman.
  11. Gasparilla International Film Festival opens with 'The Surface'; much to follow


    Doing just fine in year nine, the Gasparilla International Film Festival opens Tuesday, and the next day reopens a shuttered Tampa movie venue. • Tuesday's opening gala will again be held at historic Tampa Theatre, but beginning Wednesday, all screenings are scheduled at Channelside Cinemas in Channelside Bay Plaza, a venue closed in 2012. The festival runs through March 29. • Like any cinema showcase worth its popcorn, Gasparilla is too expansive to cover in one article. But here are the highlights, in film and fun. For a complete listing of screenings and events, visit

    Gasparilla's closing night selection Mar. 29 is Preggoland, starring writer-director Sonja Bennett as a woman faking pregnancy.
  12. Sean Astin comes to Gasparilla Film Festival with 'The Surface'


    "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood," sings Sean Astin when asked how he's doing. Fine as Fred Rogers sounds like the answer.

    Anything other than awesome would be a surprise. Name another actor with such an optimistic persona after facing up to orcs, Sloth and Touchdown Jesus in three movie roles that are Hollywood legend and lore.

    Trusty soul Samwise Gangee in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mikey Walsh leading The Goonies and Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger. If actors were paid for film clip montages at award shows, Astin would be collecting forever....

    Sean Astin will be at the Gasparilla International Film Festival on Tuesday for the southeastern U.S. premiere of his new movie.
  13. Review: Adam Sandler stitches together a winning performance in 'The Cobbler'


    The Cobbler (PG-13) (99 min.) — Adam Sandler stars in a watchable movie so, yes, there's a miracle involved. Sandler tamps down the moron act to play Max Simkin, a Bronx cobbler with a magical stitching machine that enables him to transform into his customers by slipping on their shoes. Stick with me here.

    The Cobbler is written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, with the same gentle touch he brought to The Station Agent and The Visitor. Much more schmaltz, too. The Cobbler isn't shy about wanting us to cry, while Max uses his chameleon talent to be less lonely and repair estranged daddy issues. The notion of walking in another person's shoes isn't fully explored, since Max can look like a man, woman, cross-dresser or corpse, but still thinks and feels for himself. McCarthy still turns a high concept into low-key art....

    Adam Sandler as Max Simkin in the indie dramedy The Cobbler. It’s not the usual Sandler comedy.
  14. Review: Not much magic to Disney's new 'Cinderella' (w/trailer)


    As a director, Kenneth Branagh wields a camera like a quill pen, mannered and dull, seeking Shakespeare where he isn't.

    After he dehydrated the pulpy fun from a Marvel superhero and Tom Clancy spies, you can imagine how Branagh mishandles Cinderella, so reverent and corny when a touch of mockery wouldn't hurt.

    We don't expect a rollicking fairy tale spoof like Enchanted or an abomination like Snow White and the Huntsman. But this Cinderella is achingly old-fashioned, with scant humor, a regressive heroine and godmother effects that aren't special. ...

    Lily James is Cinderella and Richard Madden is the Prince in Disney's live-action CINDERELLA, directed by Kenneth Branagh.
  15. Persall review: Not much magic to Disney's new 'Cinderella' (w/trailer)


    As a director, Kenneth Branagh wields a camera like a quill pen, mannered and dull, seeking Shakespeare where he isn't.

    After he dehydrated the pulpy fun from a Marvel superhero and Tom Clancy spies, you can imagine how Branagh mishandles Cinderella, so reverent and corny when a touch of mockery wouldn't hurt.

    We don't expect a rollicking fairy tale spoof like Enchanted or an abomination like Snow White and the Huntsman. But this Cinderella is achingly old-fashioned, with scant humor, a regressive heroine and godmother effects that aren't special. ...

     Lily James as Cinderella finds her Prince (Richard Madden) in Disney’s live-action Cinderella.