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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. Billy Joe Royal dies, leaving fans "Down in the Boondocks"


    You always remember your first time. I was eight years old when it happened, during one of those summers that movies teach us children never forget.

    My first brush with celebrity.

    What did you think I meant?

    Anyway, it was 1965 at a record store in Anniston, Ala. where Billy Joe Royal autographed a 45 RPM record of his biggest hit, Down in the Boondocks. Two-minutes and 32 seconds of romantic pop anguish, a boy in love with a girl from the right side of the tracks, whose daddy is his boss man. One fine day he'll find a way to move from his old shack. Hold his head up like a king and never look back....

    Billy Joe Royal, 73, died in his sleep Tuesday in North Carolina
  2. Richard Dreyfuss show at Capitol Theatre postponed again


    Well, this is not a boat accident. Actually, it's recovery from recent back surgery that is postponing Richard Dreyfuss' appearance at Capitol Theatre for a second time.

    The Academy Award winner is now scheduled to appear Jan. 9, 2016, which means the 40th anniversary tribute to Jaws that Dreyfuss was booked to celebrate will be pushing 41.

    The program including a screening of Steven Spielberg's seminal summer blockbuster and a Q&A with Dreyfuss (moderated by yours truly) was originally slated for Sept. 10. That date was pushed to Nov. 7 when Dreyfuss' plans to undergo surgery were announced. A news release announced the most recent delay "with great regret."...

    We know how you feel, Richard Dreyfuss, after your 'Jaws' tribute is again postponed
  3. Mel Brooks talks 'Blazing Saddles,' a Broadway adaptation, being remembered and more


    Mel Brooks is having quite an 89th year, being reminded everywhere he goes that he's a comedy legend whose trickle-down genius inspires countless comedians, and that millions love him.

    Brooks sounds like he isn't buying it.

    "America is wrong," he said by telephone, raspy and rascally as ever. "Somebody, the populace, everybody's wrong."

    About what?

    "At this age there's something wrong about all this (adoration)," Brooks said. "I should've been forgotten, completely. Time passes, we remember only a few, like Mark Twain, you know?"...

  4. Review: '99 Homes' a psychological thrill set to Florida foreclosures


    99 Homes is a very American horror story, a red ink massacre of dreams during the great recession, when houses and hope were foreclosed.

    Set in 2010 at real estate's nadir, 99 Homes is both a tutorial in fraud and a suffocating thriller. Director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani researched his film in Florida (including Tampa Bay) and set it in Orlando, a sunny symbol of paradise stolen. 99 Homes skillfully lays out how it happened, one fictional story speaking for thousands of true ones....

    Laura Dern and Andrew Garfield star as an evicted mother and son in the foreclosure drama 99 Homes. The movie was researched in Florida, including in the Tampa Bay area.
Broad Green Pictures
  5. Florida's foreclosure crisis informed Ramin Bahrani's '99 Homes'


    Two years ago, filmmaker Ramin Bahrani visited Tampa Bay on a statewide search for inspiration.

    Bahrani, whom the late Roger Ebert deemed "the new great American director" after seeing his indies Man Push Cart and Chop Shop, believed Florida's foreclosure crisis held a story worth telling.

    The result is 99 Homes, opening nationwide Friday.

    Bahrani, 40, crossed Florida talking to families in foreclosure, attorneys on both sides and reporters, including those at the Tampa Bay Times....

    Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, left, and director Ramin Bahrani talk on the set of 99 Homes, which was filmed mostly around New Orleans.
  6. Movie Planner: Mel Brooks at the Straz, '99 Homes' opening



    Grab your Raisinets and get to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night. Mel Brooks is ridin' into town, a whompin' and a whumpin' every livin' thing that laughs within an inch of its life.

    The comedy treasure is bringing friends with him: Sheriff Bart, the Waco Kid and Mongo among them. Brooks' Back in the Saddle Again! tour includes a screening of his 1974 classic Blazing Saddles, followed by a moderated Q&A session with audience participation....

    Mel Brooks comes to the Straz Center on Wednesday for a screening of his film classic, Blazing Saddles, and a Q&A session.
  7. Interview: Mel Brooks and 'Blazing Saddles' both as brash as ever


    It's still good for Mel Brooks to be king.

    Brooks is having quite an 89th year, being reminded everywhere he goes that he's a comedy legend whose trickle-down genius inspires countless comedians, and that millions love him.

    Brooks sounds like he isn't buying it.

    "America is wrong," he said by telephone, raspy and rascally as ever. "Somebody, the populace, everybody's wrong."

    About what?...

    Legendary director-screenwriter-producer-actor-comedian Mel Brooks attends a 40th anniversary screening of Young Frankenstein, the 1974 film classic he co-wrote and directed.
  8. Review: 'Pan' another pointless branch of the Neverland family

    Happy thoughts are hard to conjure while watching Pan, a needless prequel to J.M. Barrie's fantasy about an ever-youthful boy who could fly.

    Director Joe Wright's movie barely gets off the ground, and gets old quickly.

    Pan attempts to fill in Peter's back story, before he earned the Pan surname by saving Neverland's fairy population from extinction at the hands of a wicked pirate. No, not Captain Hook; he's a good guy here, who has somehow seen his share of Indiana Jones movies, judging by Garret Hedlund's distracting Harrison Ford impersonation....

    Levi Miller and Garrett Hedlund in “Pan.” (Laurie Sparham/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.) 1174657
  9. Review: 'Big Stone Gap' corny, but a passion project for Patrick Wilson


    Big Stone Gap (PG) isn't everyone's cup of sweet tea. It's a homespun tale populated by broadly drawn characters and solid actors — Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Anthony LaPaglia — sounding like they gulped hush puppy batter.

    At the center is a pleasant romance between St. Petersburg product Patrick Wilson's coal mining hunk Jack MacChesney and Ashley Judd's pharmacist spinster Ave Maria Muligan. Around the edges is a lot of corn....

    Ashley Judd and St. Petersburg’s Patrick Wilson co-star in Big Stone Gap, based on the novel by Adriana Trigiani.
  10. Review: 'He Named Me Malala' shows humanity behind the icon


    Like her revolutionary namesake, women's rights activist Malala Yousafzai refuses to be silenced by oppression, or even a Taliban assassination attempt. The teenage Nobel laureate is reverently profiled in He Named Me Malala (PG-13), directed by Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth).

    The "he" in the title is Malala's father Ziauddin, and their relationship forms the beating heart of a biography that could be entirely didactic. Ziauddin dares to put faith in a daughter's will, against the conventions of Pakistan's Muslim society. He names Malala for a legendary teenager who exhorted her countrymen to stand and fight, hoping his daughter will do the same....

    Malala Yousafzai at the Kisaruni Girls School on May 26, 2014 in Massai Mara, Kenya.
  11. Review: 'The Martian' is smart sci-fi with a dose of humanity


    Ridley Scott's The Martian is a brainy blockbuster, melding genuine science and fiction into a rare popcorn epic that actually makes you feel smarter for watching.

    This is a movie whose only villain is pessimism, fought with weapons of scientific fact and a global can-do spirit. Scott's futuristic visions — Blade Runner, Alien and Prometheus among them — typically aren't this optimistic. Working from Andy Weir's novel, Scott restores humanism to a genre dominated by gods and monsters....

    Matt Damon in a scene from the film, "The Martian."  (Aidan Monaghan/20th Century Fox via AP)
  12. Movie Planner: Molly Ringwald at Capitol Theatre, 'The Martian' and Steve's Top 5 returns


    Molly Ringwald doesn't want anyone remaking The Breakfast Club, even if the late John Hughes' estate would allow it.

    "They would have to figure out some way to get rid of all the cell phones in the first scene, or it would be a very boring movie," Ringwald said by telephone from Toronto. "Everyone would just be texting the whole time."...

    Matt Damon stars as an astronaut stranded on Mars in The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, of Blade Runner fame.
  13. Review: 'The Walk' a high-wire exercise in waiting


    Tightrope legend and coincidental movie critic Karl Wallenda famously declared "life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting." Which pretty much sums up Robert Zemeckis' The Walk, a marvelous technical achievement when the director finally gets around to it.

    Zemeckis built his career on amazements, from Roger Rabbit and a DeLorean time machine to Lt. Dan's missing legs to Denzel flying an airliner upside down. The Walk offers him a new challenge, re-creating Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the then-new World Trade Center towers, an audacious piece of extreme performance art....

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays tightrope walker Philippe Petit and Charlotte Le Bon as Petit’s accomplice and love interest Annie Allix in The Walk. The movie brilliantly recreates Petit’s 1974 walk between the Twin Towers, but otherwise it’s a drawn-out, lazy biopic.
  14. 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah': And now, your moment of … when?


    So, it was all a joke, right? The idea that Jon Stewart would actually desert The Daily Show and a nation needing him, leaving the fate of topical comedy in the hands of a nobody named Trevor Noah.

    If so, it isn't funny. If Noah is what we're stuck with, even less.

    The Daily Show with Trevor Noah did, in fact, debut Monday night, playing a lot like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart albeit with a fill-in host because Stewart had some last-minute stomach virus, or was off directing another esoterically political movie no one will see. Same Dog on Fire intro music, a minorly refurbished set, identical format all the way to a closing moment of Zen....

    Trevor Noah debuted Monday as Jon Stewart's replacement on The Daily Show
  15. Review: 'Sicario' a thrilling drug cartel ride en route to Oscar season


    Sicario is a tentacled drug cartel thriller grabbing viewers by the throat and squeezing for two hours. This movie continually defies the conventions of its genre, from its hero's gender to the vagueness of its morality.

    Denis Villeneuve's third English-language film is even grimmer, bleaker than his first, the 2013 revenge drama Prisoners. Yet this time the purpose isn't sadistic rabble rousing. Sicario is a procedural in Mexican cartel strategy, the constant covering of tracks and eliminating competition. It's also a gripping indictment of U.S. measures that aren't enough to slow them, except for illegal actions....

    Emily Blunt is FBI agent Kate Macer and Victor Garber plays her boss, Dave Jennings.