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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. In theaters this week: 'Beatriz at Dinner,' 'The Hero,' 'A Very Sordid Wedding'




    Miguel Arteta's culture war comedy Beatriz at Dinner (R) gets a lot off its chest in just 80 minutes. "Comedy" is a term loosely used since the laughs stick in your throat, using indelicate topics for sly purpose.

    Salma Hayek is a quiet storm as Beatriz, an otherworldy health therapist whose car won't start after a session at a longtime customer's mansion. Cathy (Connie Britton) is a one-percenter with a heart and deep affection for Beatriz. Cathy is hosting a dinner for her pushy husband's law partner and wife (Jay Duplass, Chloe Sevigny) to welcome an enormously wealthy new client....

    Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.”
  2. Somehow, 'Transformers: The Last Knight' isn't as painful as others


    Lord Megatron help me, Michael Bay has finally pummeled this viewer into submission.

    That's the only way to explain the feeling that Transformers: The Last Knight isn't nearly as painful to sit through as Bay's four previous exploding toy boxes. All that destruction, from Soldier Field to Shia LeBeouf's career. Nearly 10 hours of cacophonous action wrapped around insipid dialogue over the past decade has broken me, hands lowered in masochistic surrender. Just take the beating. It'll be over soon, although with Transformers' brand of Bay-hem never soon enough....

    Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager in a scene from, “Transformers: The Last Knight.”
  3. 'Rough Night' flips through hangover movie cliches tweaked for women


    June has been a big month for women in movies with Wonder Woman, Megan Leavey and even Cars 3 putting them on equal or better footing than men.

    Now comes Rough Night, proving women are just as capable as men of shaping mediocre comedies.

    A catnip cast and director Lucia Aniello's Broad City instincts are drowned by gender-flipped formula not shaken up enough. If girls will be boys then show boys how they can do raunchy better. Rough Night wouldn't be fresh or funny no matter what gender it's written about or for....

    Zoe Kravitz, left, Jillian Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon have a bachelorette party go horribly wrong in Rough Night.
  4. What's in theaters this weekend: 'Cars 3,' 'Rough Night,' 'All Eyez on Me'



    CARS 3

    We'll see if Disney-Pixar's Cars franchise has anything left in its tank this weekend, after a 2011 sequel that skidded off-track. Cars 3 (G) continues the Hollywood fallacy that every successful idea deserves a trilogy.

    Owen Wilson, at least his voice, returns as Lightning McQueen, the popular, profitable Dale Jr. of animated racing in the homestretch of his career. A new generation of anthropomorphic race cars is taking over, led by musclehead car Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Lightning must prove he still has what it takes to win....

    Gal Gadot in a scene from Wonder Woman.
  5. 'Cars 3' puts Lightning back on the right track by getting under the emotional hood


    Lightning McQueen's racing career comes full oval in Cars 3, returning to his quasi-NASCAR roots after a not-so-Grand Prix detour.

    Disney-Pixar's autos franchise isn't truly beloved like toy stories and fish tales before. The 2006 original did have a folksy quality in its desolate Radiator Springs setting that balanced Lightning's Piston Cup commotion. That goodwill was smoked by Cars 2 and Formula One, its Eurocentric nothingness making even Tow Mater less fun....

    Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) gets training from youngster Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to beat newer, higher-tech cars in Cars 3.
  6. What does 'The Mummy' reveal about Dark Universe future? Shaking up convention and Easter eggs


    While The Mummy isn't the big bang preferred to start the Dark Universe of classic monsters, it's a serviceable popcorn flick dangling hints of promising things to come.

    That's more than expected from another take on Universal's least scary feature creature, whose most recent movies resembled bad theme park ride ideas on a drawing board. Swapping out Brendan Fraser for Tom Cruise was already a step in the right action hero direction. Or anti-hero, as it turns out....

    Swapping out Brendan Fraser for Tom Cruise was a step in the right action hero direction. Cruise stars as a soldier of fortune anti-hero.
  7. In theaters this week: 'The Mummy,' 'Megan Leavey,' 'Chris Brown: Welcome to My Life'




    Spoiler alert: Nothing comes at night in Trey Edward Shults' It Comes at Night, which is basically a zombie movie without zombies involved. This movie is about cannibalism of the fearful soul, a lofty conceit played as uninterestingly as it sounds.

    It Comes at Night is purposely vague about the deadly virus wiping out humans, its grisly effects and hazmat euthanasia echoing countless nights of the living dead. Shults begins with such a mercy killing, a bullet and bonfire for an elderly man. "Goodbye, grandpa," a gas-masked mourner says....

    Joel Edgerton, left, and Christopher Abbott in a scene from It Comes At Night.
  8. 'My Cousin Rachel' is a Victorian black widow mystery so classy it's practically defiant


    Roger Michell's revival of My Cousin Rachel is a graceful note amid summer's movie din, adapting Daphne du Maurier's black widow mystery with class bordering on defiance.

    Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz plays enigmatic Rachel Ashley, returning to the farming estate of her recently deceased husband. Awaiting her is second cousin Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), who suspects she may have poisoned his friend and mentor....

    Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz in the film, "My Cousin Rachel." (Fox Searchlight)
  9. 'Megan Leavey' is matter-of-fact statement on feminism, war's toll and canine companionship


    Comic books aren't the only place Hollywood can find warrior women to make movies about. Megan Leavey is as real and heroic as it gets.

    Her story could inspire a more rote movie than director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has in mind. Leavey was a social misfit who found a home in the U.S. Marines, earned a Purple Heart in Iraq then resigned with depression and a purpose. She served as a K9 handler, forging a lifelong bond with her German shepherd partner Rex, also wounded and decorated....

    Megan Leavey, starring Kate Mara, is the true story of a Marine corporal who served as a K9 handler, and her lifelong bond with her German shepherd partner Rex.
Bleecker Street Media
  10. Review: 'Wonder Woman' does the job better than the DC dudes and duds who tried before


    Once again, a woman does the job better than dudes who tried before.

    Not only Wonder Woman winning World War I, but director Patty Jenkins righting a DC Universe burdened by Batfleck and other less-than-super men. Jenkins crafts a superhero flick defying the dark DC template, not only with gender but by rousing core comic book values that have nothing to do with gloom. Truth, justice and the American way (a century ago) defended by a pure-of-heart champion isn't hokey; it's about time....

    As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot cuts an iconic figure throughout, each purposeful stride a symbol in motion.
  11. 'Wonder Woman' is only the fourth woman-headlined superhero movie. And it'll stand out




    Sight unseen, here's a prediction about Wonder Woman (PG-13) that you can take to the bank:

    It's the best superhero movie ever that doesn't need a man.

    There's really no competition. Wonder Woman is only the fourth superhero adventure toplined by a woman since Christopher Reeve's Superman carved out the blockbuster template in 1978....

    Gal Gadot is poised for icon status as the star of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.
  12. Please, let 'Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales' be the last


    Zombie sharks are jumped by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, our fifth and hopefully final ride through Disney's theme park franchise. You can cut in line ahead of me, if you like.

    Dead Men Tell No Tales appears to bring closure to a saga cobbled on the fly after 2003's opener genuinely surprised. Back when Capt. Jack Sparrow was a fresh costume for Halloween and Johnny Depp seemed like Brando's second coming. Were we ever so young?...

    In this image released by Disney, Johnny Depp portrays Jack Sparrow in a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” 
  13. In theaters this weekend: 'Pirates of the Caribbean 5,' which no one needs more than Johnny Depp



    New this week:

    Pirates of the Caribbean: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

    Johnny Depp's stormy career seeks safe harbor this weekend in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (PG-13), a sequel no one demanded more than its star....

    Jabaar Edmond wrote and directed Art in the City, premiering Tuesday at Studio@620.
  14. The new 'Baywatch' movie is basically about hot people in swimsuits


    Baywatch is a running gag in slow motion, a thong-in-cheek TV retread swapping wholesome jiggles for dirty giggles. There are places for such humor but beaches don't have gutters.

    What Baywatch has in its favor is Dwayne Johnson fireman-carrying a dead weight comedy to safety. Johnson handles comedy as effortlessly as any prop weapon, evidenced by his recent SNL hosting gig, Moana and upstaging Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence....

    Kelly Rohrbach as CJ Parker, Alexandra Daddario as Summer, Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie Holden, Dwayne Johnson as Mitch Buchannon, Zac Efron as Matt Brody and Jon Bass as Ronnie in the film, "Baywatch."
  15. Tampa teenager gets rescued by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in 'Baywatch'


    For child actor L.J. Ruth, meeting his idol was easy as falling off a pier.

    Ruth, 13, winds up safely in the arms of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in Baywatch, an updated version of the 90's TV series opening Wednesday.

    The seventh grader at Tampa's Villa Madonna School is billed as "Pier Boy," one of several beach rescues performed by Johnson's lifeguard hero.

    "Actually, I auditioned for another role as 'Shark Bite Boy,'" Ruth said Monday after school. "They liked me so they picked me for Pier Boy instead, which is a little more screen time sort of thing."...

    L.J. Ruth, 13, was born and raised in Tampa. He is a child actor/model/voice artist and is currently in the movie Baywatch alongside Dwayne Johnson. Courtesy of Ruth family.