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. Interview: Bill Maher doesn't hold back on politics, pot


    The last time political gadfly Bill Maher came to town, the 2012 Republican National Convention was his opening act. Clint Eastwood's chair, Michele Bachmann. Good times for a comedian. Just in time for midterm elections Maher returns, so the Tampa Bay Times wondered what he thinks about Florida's hottest topics — the race for governor (alas, we talked to him a day before "fangate") and a medical marijuana referendum. As usual the host of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher didn't hold back....

    Bill Maher.
  2. Review: 'Fury' with Brad Pitt more blood and guts than glory (w/video)


    "It will end, soon. But before it does a lot more people have to die."

    Brad Pitt's battle-weary tank commander in the exceedingly grim Fury gets it half right with that line. Nothing happens soon in David Ayer's movie except war being hell, which the movie graphically portrays to numbing effect, with heads exploded and limbs severed by heavy artillery, flesh chunks raining down at one point in the carnage....

    Brad Pitt plays Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a World War II tank commander who is brutal without charm, introduced in a very violent movie by stabbing an enemy in the eye socket.
  3. Review: 'Book of Life' is full of surprises (w/video)


    Sometimes just being different is all it takes. That's the case with The Book of Life, an animated movie that when stripped of its wildly imaginative sights and sounds delivers the same tired lessons of being yourself and following your dreams, set to radio-tired pop songs.

    Yet The Book of Life expresses the usual in extraordinary fashion, set in a mythology more morbidly colorful than any animated through Hollywood channels before. The screenplay by director Jorge R. Gutierrez and Douglas Langdale is inspired by Mexico's annual Day of the Dead — a better title for the movie but appropriated by George Romero's zombies....

    Manolo, voiced by Diego Luna, woos the independent Maria, voiced by Zoe Saldana, in The Book of Life.
  4. Aasif Mandvi talks cultural frustration in 'No Land's Man'


    Aasif Mandvi is funnier than a man without a country should be, an Indo-Muslim-British-American outsider whose wit stems from peering in and poking.

    No wonder Florida, with all its blunders, is the one place the Obie-winning actor and Daily Show correspondent feels at home. Specifically Tampa, where in the 1980s Chamberlain High School and the University of South Florida offered him plenty of opportunities for marginalization as a brown-skinned immigrant teenager....

    Aasif Mandvi’s  work on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart brought him back to the Tampa Bay area in 2012 for Republican National Convention coverage.
  5. Review: ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day' is just mediocre (w/video)


    The best thing about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is that it doesn't live down to its title. It is merely mediocre, which when it comes to shelling out today's ticket prices is just as bad.

    Having little to do with Judith Viorst's illustrated children's book, the movie is barely longer than its title, 81 minutes including end credits, so we can't even say viewers get their money's worth in volume. The first half is nothing but silly setups for a stretch run that admittedly has its moments of wacky pandemonium, just not enough....

    Wacky pandemonium — just not enough — ensues when bad-luck-prone Alexander, left, wishes his family knew what a lousy day feels like in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
  6. Review: Mixed verdict for 'The Judge'


    Of all the objections raised to The Judge, acting intensity certainly isn't one of them. The reason this overstuffed movie remains tolerable is the inspired casting of Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. as a combative father and son, and their determination to out-thespian each other.

    It is a momentous clash, with Downey pitting "that hyper-verbal vocabulary vomit thing," as a character in The Judge describes his style, against Duvall's impeccable grump. A more dramatically focused movie, easier on the obvious, would do justice to their performances. Director David Dobkin works as if he's being faithful to a dense John Grisham novel that was never written....

    Robert Downey Jr. plays a high-priced lawyer who defends his small-town judge father, Robert Duvall.
  7. Bryan Cranston to star in 'Infiltrator,' filming in Tampa


    Tampa is breaking back into movies, and breaking bad with a star.

    Emmy and Tony Award winner Bryan Cranston will star in The Infiltrator, which will be partly filmed locally. The movie is based on the memoirs of Tampa resident Robert Mazur, a former DEA agent who worked undercover to bust drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's money laundering system.

    Filming will begin in February, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission. London and Paris are also slated as filming locations....

    Bryan Cranston, famous for his role as Walter White on Breaking Bad, will play Robert Mazur, a former DEA agent.
  8. Review: Just pray for 'Left Behind' to be over


    The spiritual lesson of the Rapture disaster Left Behind is simple: If actors pray enough, they can get out of this movie.

    Lo and behold, the first faith-baseless movie, conceived primarily for churchgoers then not doing much religiously besides passing the collection plate. Director Vic Armstrong covers only the first couple of chapters of the popular book, leaving all the Antichrist stuff for a sequel that may not come to pass....

    With Nicolas Cage as your pilot in Left Behind, what could possibly go wrong?
  9. University of Tampa graduate screening his 'Invisible Man' movie in Tampa


    Now you'll see him and then you won't. A modern-day version of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man is showing one time only tonight, at Muvico Starlight 20 in Tampa. It's the latest example of how some independent filmmakers without distribution deals beg attention these days, renting a theater auditorium on an off night and calling it a world premiere. The Invisible Man is produced and directed by 2007 University of Tampa graduate Timothy Compton, now working in Los Angeles, and Sean Malone, a former teacher at the college. Both attended the University of Miami's film school. The Kickstarter-funded project was filmed in Colorado, North Carolina, and reportedly Tampa, although you can't tell from the snowbound trailer, available at The production is hoping for a Netflix deal. Malone and actor John Hightower (Burn Notice, Covert Ops) will do a Q&A after the movie. A $10 donation is suggested for admission, with a reception to follow. Tickets can be reserved at

  10. Review: 'The Good Lie' is not what you think


    Movies about cooperating Africans and Americans often take a condescending risk of great white saviors making everything better for poor black folks. The Good Lie isn't that sort of movie, except in its marketing.

    Trailers and posters for The Good Lie are dominated by the plucky presence of Reese Witherspoon, who doesn't show up for nearly 40 minutes and isn't needed then. She's a white savior of another sort, a mainstream audience draw for a movie that wouldn't be helped by more truthful advertising....

    From left, Arnold Oceng, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Baker appear in a scene from The Good Lie.
  11. Review: 'Gone Girl' lives up to the book (w/video)


    Gillian Flynn's twisty novel Gone Girl was a movie waiting to happen, practically smelling of popcorn with each compulsively turned page. It's less of a whodunit than a whodunwhat that's easier to spoil than egg salad at a picnic, so we'll tread lightly.

    If you read the book, you'll be thrilled by David Fincher's movie, rife and lively with all the right deceptions. If you didn't, I envy your ignorance of Gone Girl's course....

    Rosamund Pike is Amy Dunne, whose disappearance turns her husband, played by Ben Affleck, into a murder suspect in Gone Girl.
  12. Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival celebrates 25 years


    The past 25 years brought an abundance of change for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities worldwide. Yet in Tampa Bay one thing remained constant: A celebration of cinema reflecting LGBT lives, dreams and desires, a quarter century of pride through projector lenses.

    Starting Friday, the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival celebrates its silver anniversary, updating a past slogan, that's 25 straight years of queer cinema....

    Admission is free for the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival’s opener, Blackbird, with Mo’Nique and Julian Walker.
  13. After 25 years, is Tampa's gay film festival still relevant?


    Twenty-five years ago, Tampa's shunned gay and lesbian community drew a line in the sand using a film festival.

    A cultural tide shifting toward the mainstream has smoothed the line since then, raising a silver anniversary question:

    How can the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival stay relevant? Or even necessary?

    "If the gay struggle continues successfully there won't be gay bars or gay film festivals," said filmmaker, actor and author John Waters, who will appear Saturday at Tampa Theatre. "You simply won't need them anymore." ...

    John Waters presents his one-man show at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Tampa Theatre as part of the 25th annual Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
  14. Review: 'The Equalizer' takes hammer to the bad guys (w/trailer)


    It isn't often that we see a two-time Academy Award winner dragging a bad guy's face across broken glass, and maiming another with a nail gun. Denzel Washington goes there with gusto in The Equalizer, a bloody study in vigilante justice.

    Taking its title and premise from an '80s television series, The Equalizer casts Washington as Robert McCall, now an unassuming clerk at a home improvement store but formerly a government black ops agent. Circumstances lead to his violent instincts returning, sticking up for helpless victims....

    Denzel Washington, as Robert McCall, leaves the shipyard amid an explosion in The Equalizer.
  15. Review: 'The Boxtrolls' is one boring monstrosity (w/trailer)


    The Boxtrolls is a visually repellent pile of stop-motion animation, populated by grotesques and filmed in the palette of an exhumed casket's interior. It can frighten small children and bore anyone, with its cracked, cackled British wit. Pip pip, dreary-o.

    Inflicted by Laika, the studio behind the better Coraline and Paranorman, The Boxtrolls takes the goosebumpy look of those movies to its illogical end. What seemed refreshing before — an antidote to Disney and DreamWorks' chummy moneymakers — is now gross indulgence, artists having sick fun whether we do or not....

    Eggs (center, voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright) is a human raised by the boxtrolls, squat in stature and gibberished in speech — Minions without personality — who wear boxes as clothes.