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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

Email: persall@tampabay.com

Twitter: @StevePersall

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  1. Review: Betting on 'The Gambler'? You lose

    Movies

    James Toback laid his cards on the table with the quasi-autobiographical screenplay for 1974's The Gambler, drawing on personal experience as a sketchy professor with a soul-killing gambling habit.

    Maybe he still owes money, which is the only logical explanation for the remake he approved.

    Forty years later, The Gambler is just another safe Hollywood bet, its existential edge blunted by Hollywood's insistence upon happy endings. The story as Toback wrote and lived it ended on a masochistic note of satisfaction. This one wraps up with the hoariest cliche in movies: the hero sprinting through city streets toward true love. Ten bucks says he makes it....

    Mark Wahlberg, left, takes a huge risk by borrowing money from John Goodman in The Gambler.
  2. Review: 'Big Eyes' is a real eye-opener

    Movies

    They were kitsch that became cool, paintings and prints hanging everywhere it seemed a half century ago. Women and children mostly, in sad surroundings with saucer eyes, copyrighted and signed by someone named Keane.

    Exactly which Keane painted them is the subject of Big Eyes, a true story much stranger than fiction, so Tim Burton is a natural to direct. Except Big Eyes is unusually bright and conventional for a Burton film, as if the artist, like Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), put his name on someone else's work....

     Amy Adams plays an artist whose talent is diminished by her husband (Christoph Waltz) and sexism.
  3. Review: 'Imitation Game' is a winner

    Movies

    The Imitation Game is a thoroughbred in the awards season sweepstakes, with the essence of what Hollywood admires coursing through its veins.

    It is stately British in the manner of The King's Speech and a true story set during World War II with topical associations, in fact each time we log onto a computer or ponder human rights. Holding the center is an impeccable performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, who may become in his time what Burton and O'Toole were to theirs. If there's a formula for an Oscar contender, The Imitation Game has the proper ingredients....

    Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a World War II mathematician and obsessive puzzle solver.
  4. Review: 'Unbroken," Angelina Jolie's passion, story of Olympian prisoner of war (w/video)

    Movies

    Angelina Jolie knows something about taking flak, feeling lost, adrift and imprisoned by fame. Doesn't compare to what Louis Zamperini endured during World War II but may explain why Jolie chose to direct Unbroken, a truncated adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's sprawling biography.

    "If you can take it, you can make it," was the advice from his older brother that Zamperini carried with him to the 1936 Olympics, to war in the Pacific as a bombardier, through 47 days in a life raft at sea, then two years as a Japanese POW....

    In this image released by Universal Pictures, Jack O’Connell portrays Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini in a scene from “Unbroken.”
  5. Top 10 movies of 2014 include 'Birdman,' 'Whiplash,' 'The Lego Movie'

    Movies

    2014 was a strange year for Hollywood, from the shocking deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to North Korea's hacking and Sony backing down. On the plus side, it's only a year until Kim Jong-Un allows us to see Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens. Here are my 10 (make that 11) favorite movies of the year, with American Sniper (opening Jan. 16) and Chris Rock's Top Five just missing the cut....

     Michael Keaten and Edward Norton in Birdman.
  6. Florida Film Critics Circle picks winners

    Movies

    Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was named 2014's best movie by the Florida Film Critics Circle, who also chose its star Michael Keaton as the year's best actor. However, the overall winner when results were announced Friday was Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, which claimed three awards for best original screenplay, ensemble cast and art direction/production design. Gone Girl won twice, for Rosamund Pike's lead performance and Gillian Flynn's screenplay, adapted from her novel. Richard Linklater was named best director for his 12-year project Boyhood, that also earned supporting actress honors for Patricia Arquette. The sci-fi epic Interstellar was honored for its cinematography and special effects, while Whiplash was cited for supporting actor J.K. Simmons and director Damien Chazelle breakthrough as director. Other winners include the Roger Ebert profile Life Itself (best documentary), The Lego Movie (animated film), The Raid 2 (foreign film) and Under the Skin (musical score). The list of winners and runners-up is available at floridadfilmcritics.com. The member includes 27 print and online reviewers, including Times movie critic Steve Persall. -- Times staff writer...

  7. Review: 'Annie' makeover is adorably different (w/video)

    Movies

    The first face on screen is the Annie to whom we're accustomed: carrot-haired, freckled and white. "Annie A.," to classmates ignoring her corny show and tell. Might be an orphan but not for long with that chipperness.

    "Annie B." follows, with a fresher vibe; natural on top, hip-hop frisky and black, a foster child with a hard-knock life closer to Jay-Z's hook than Broadway's book. As played by Golden Globe nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, the new Annie is streetwise and PR savvy, a waif on the make....

    Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) plays with Sandy the dog in Columbia Pictures’ Annie.
  8. Review: Reese Witherspoon carries 'Wild' (w/video)

    Movies

    Rather than running from her problems, Cheryl Strayed decided to walk — nearly 1,100 miles along the rugged Pacific Crest Trail.

    Cheryl's problems were plentiful: heroin and sex addiction, a ruined marriage, her mother's death. Her hike was cathartic, which isn't easily conveyed in movies but Jean-Marc Vallee's Wild comes close, its free-form, flashback structure kept interesting by Reese Witherspoon's raw, Golden Globe nominated portrayal of Cheryl....

    Laura Dern as “Bobbi” in WILD.
  9. Update: Sony cancels opening of 'The Interview' after threats

    Movies

    This time, the terrorists won.

    Bowing to the cyber-threat of a "Christmas Day surprise" at movie theaters, Sony announced Wednesday that The Interview will not debut Dec. 25, as planned.

    Never before has Hollywood's money train been derailed by a terrorist warning.

    The Interview stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as TV journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un....

    James Franco, left, and Seth Rogen star in the comedy "The Interview." 
(AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, Sony, Ed Araquel)
  10. Review: ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings' a plague on theaters (w/video)

    Movies

    Don't expect Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings to become an Easter television tradition like The Ten Commandments. The commercials likely would steal the show.

    This ponderous new version of the Moses legend scrupulously avoids comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's pious imagination, wrought a half-century before CGI. Even the Red Sea fails as spectacle, not majestically parting like Charlton Heston's but sinking to low tide, a symbol for the entire movie. No basket in the bull rushes, no serpent-staff miracles. Commandments are footnotes; the bush burns on low flame....

    Christian Bale as Moses leads the Egyptians into battle in Exodus: Gods and Kings.
  11. 'Birdman' nabs 7 Golden Globe nods; Jolie snubbed

    Movies

    Things got even better for Birdman while Angelina Jolie's week got worse when Golden Globes nominations were announced Thursday.

    Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) isn't only inspiring bird puns during awards season. It's also encouraging helpful parenthetical addendums (like this one).

    Let's see how many more we can find, spanning the Globes:

    For thoughts on the nominations for TV, click here. ...

    Birdman received seven Golden Globe nominations, including best picture in the comedy or musical category. [AP photo]
  12. 'Birdman' soars to the top of Screen Actors Guild nominations

    Movies

    'Birdman' soars with 4 SAG nominations

    Brace yourself for 10 weeks of bird puns until Oscar night 2015. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) flew above the competition when Screen Actors Guild award nominations were announced Wednesday. Birdman (for short) feathered its nest with four nominations: lead actor Michael Keaton, supporting actors Emma Stone and Edward Norton, and the ensemble award, the closest SAG gets to a best picture choice. Flying close behind with three nominations each are Boyhood, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, opening locally on Dec. 25. Those four movies are nesting along with The Grand Budapest Hotel in the ensemble category. Lots of familiar names in the mix — Meryl Streep, Robert Duvall, Reese Witherspoon — plus two TV comedians excelling in serious lead roles: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) and Jennifer Aniston (Cake), both arriving in January. The SAG prizes will be presented Jan. 25 in Los Angeles, about 9 miles from Hollywood as the crow flies. For the full list, go to sagaftra.org. ...

  13. Tim Burton to film in Tampa Bay next year

    News

    It isn't surprising that Tim Burton's next filmmaking project involves peculiar children.

    That the director of Beetlejuice, Batman and the upcoming Big Eyes will film a portion of the movie around Tampa Bay? Nobody saw that coming.

    Burton will spend an as-yet-undetermined amount of time here in 2015, filming scenes for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, based on the popular YA novel by Ransom Riggs....

    Director Tim Burton arrives at the premiere of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" in Los Angeles in 2007.  (AP Photo/ Matt Sayles)
  14. Tim Burton to film in Tampa Bay next year

    Movies

    It isn't surprising that Tim Burton's next filmmaking project involves peculiar children.

    That the morbid director of Beetlejuice, Batman and the upcoming Big Eyes will film a portion of the movie around sunny Tampa Bay? Nobody saw that happening again.

    Burton will return 25 years after filming Edward Scissorhands in Pasco County in 1990. He will spend an undetermined amount of time here in 2015, filming scenes for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, based on the popular young adult novel by Ransom Riggs....

    Tim Burton, pictured in 2007, will film scenes for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in Tampa Bay in 2015.
  15. Review: 'The Homesman' takes a few too many turns

    Movies

    The spectacle of Tommy Lee Jones dancing a jig while singing authentic frontier gibberish is nearly enough to recommend The Homesman. It's one of those awkward moments that directors shouldn't put actors through. Since Jones directed The Homesman, it suits the rest of this strange, tonally erratic Western.

    Jones goes grizzled and grumpy as George Briggs, a claim jumping rascal too "consarned likkered up" for anyone's comfort. Except for the old maid Mary Bee Cuddy, scripted as an affront to pioneer women's spirit and played "plain as a tin pail" by Hilary Swank. They're an odd coupling in the African Queen tradition, a rascal and a spinster bickering to the brink of romance during a dangerous journey....

    Tim Blake Nelson and Tommy Lee Jones engage in a fight in The Homesman.