Make us your home page

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: Tense and clear-cut, 'Jason Bourne' is best of the series


    Jason Bourne begins with a montage of the CIA assassin's greatest, grisliest hits, in case you're suffering from franchise amnesia. Details can be sketchy, nearly a decade after everything about this conflicted killing machine appeared settled, at least as far as Matt Damon was concerned.

    Nine years and a misbegotten spinoff later, Damon and director Paul Greengrass return, now without the late author Robert Ludlum's storyline to set the stage. What could be a cash grab turns out to be the series' finest chapter, with the same piano-wire tension plus a narrative clarity lacking before....

    Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and ex-partner Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) are battling a sinister network that mixes terror with technology.
Universal Pictures
  2. Movie Planner: Woody Allen's blah 'Cafe Society,' 'Jason Bourne,' 'Bad Moms,' 'Nerve'



    Woody Allen has directed a movie each year since 1982, a remarkable streak that, like Joe DiMaggio's, may never be equalled in modern times. Allen's contribution this year is Cafe Society (PG-13), which unfortunately feels crafted by an obligated artist, merely to keep his streak going.

    Cafe Society is a lovely yet thematically colorless recycling of elements Allen has incorporated many times before: show biz puffery and disenchantment, mobsters, bicoastal neuroses, an older man dating a much younger woman, existential guilt, transient emotions. Hardly a scene passes without a swatch of this material reminding viewers when Allen did it better....

    Matt Damon returns as Jason Bourne nine years later.
  3. Review: 'Captain Fantastic' is one of the summer's nicest movie surprises


    Ben's five children are savages. That's the way he wants them. Brutal and cunning enough to stalk, kill and dress a deer. Able to climb sheer rock walls, know the deadliest spots to stab an opponent, stitch themselves if needed. Ben wants them ready for whatever is out there.

    That's why Ben's children are also incredibly smart, homeschooled off the grid in their Pacfic Northwest wilderness home. Campfires are for reading classics and drum circle recess. The youngest, Zaja, knows the Bill of Rights beyond mere recitation; oldest Bodevan has Ivy League acceptance Ben knows nothing about....

    Samantha Isler, Shree Crooks, Viggo Mortensen, Charlie Shotwell, Annalise Basso and George MacKay.
  4. Review: 'Star Trek Beyond' surprises with humor and action


    After losing its captain to that other space jockey franchise, odds were stacked against Star Trek living and prospering much longer.

    Turns out that J.J. Abrams left the franchise in fast, furious and sure hands, and there's still life in Star Trek Beyond.

    Director Justin Lin supercharged the Fast & Furious franchise in the same 2009 summer when Abrams relaunched the USS Enterprise. Different high-speed action, same thrilling-to-the-brink-of-exhaustion results....

    Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin, left), Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Sulu (John Cho) take the USS Enterprise off on a rescue mission when a spaceship is stranded.
  5. 48 Hour Film Project returns this weekend


    Not every tween rushing around Tampa Bay this weekend will be playing Pokemon Go.

    They could be making a movie, with only two days to do it.

    The Movie Makers Club, comprised of children ages 18 and younger, is an entry in the 10th annual 48 Hour Film Project. Tampa Bay is one of 130 cities worldwide putting filmmakers on the clock, making short films in a single weekend. 

    Rewards are miniscule by Hollywood standards. Bragging rights, mainly. Judges decide awards called the Quickies. No money for winners, just freebies from sponsors. Each completed movie staying within the rules gets a local screening for friends and family, and lottery odds of being shown at Filmapalooza, the project's annual gathering in Los Angeles....

    Filmmakers make a movie in a single weekend, in the 48 Hour Film Project.
  6. Review: Dinesh D'Souza horrorshow 'Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party' stokes GOP convention


    Before the first gavel fell Monday at the Republican National Convention, filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza roiled the conservative pot.

    D'Souza's latest documentary, Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, stoked partisan fire among nearly 2,000 viewers with nothing better to do on a Sunday night in Cleveland. Seriously, a dip in the Cuyahoga - while on fire - would be a more pleasant experience....

    A scene from 'Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party.'
  7. As Coconuts Comedy Club turns 30, comics who started there look back and laugh


    Walls at Coconuts Comedy Club in St. Pete Beach are lined with photographs of successful comedians who worked there: Billy Gardell, Larry the Cable Guy, Saturday Night Live's Jim Breuer.

    Many were just starting out when owner Bob Shoemaker boosted them to headliner status, what he then called a "K-mart of comedy" approach.

    "As long as you were funny, (Shoemaker) didn't give you any grief," said Danny Bevins, a Coconuts favorite since 1996. "Bob was just like, 'Get up there, do what you do, and you're not going to be beaten up for it if it doesn't go well every time.' Because of that, it became a place the guys loved."...

  8. Movie planner: Filmme Guild screens 'Safe'; 'Star Trek Beyond' and yet more 'Ice Age'



    These are defiant times for women in movies, from Jennifer Aniston's scathing open letter to prying paparazzi to shushing Ghostbusters bias; from protesting the industry's salary gap between men and women to demanding better roles.

    As the tide turns in Hollywood, cinematic feminism is on display right here in Tampa Bay.

    Allie Gemmill, 26, of Tampa founded the Filmme Guild, inspired by European salons where communities gather and conversation reigns. The group is focused on intersecting film and feminist themes, like Thursday's offering, Todd Haynes' 1995 drama Safe, starring Julianne Moore, right....

    Maria Bello in Lights Out.
  9. Coconuts Comedy Club celebrates 30 years of laughs in St. Pete Beach


    Thirty years ago B.C. (before comedy), Bob Shoemaker managed a rock and roll band, and all the baggage coming with it.

    "I was so used to going to Europe with seven or eight guys, a sound man," Shoemaker said. "We'd have 60 road cases, all this crap, and everybody complaining about their hotel rooms. Then I'm looking at comedy, seeing one guy up there with a mic stand, and I'm going, hey, this is easy."...

    Headliner Lance Montalto does his routine at Coconut's Comedy club in 1996. Times Photo by Brian Baer.
  10. Review: 'Ghostbusters' is back and it's not bad — get used to it (w/video)


    Relax, trolls. Your precious Ghostbusters are in good hands. Not great mitts like Bill Murray's but good enough to silence the online rabble, a backward, sexist bunch.

    We should now hold the truth as self-evident, that all Ghostbusters are created equal, even women, especially those as comically gifted as those in Paul Feig's reboot. Sure, Melissa McCarthy has ripped into funnier material, Kristen Wiig shouldn't get stuck playing straight woman, and Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are rough diamonds....

    Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones are your new comically gifted Ghostbusters. What Paul Fieg and Katie Dippold’s screenplay doesn’t conjure is anyone outside the Ghostbusters to propel the narrative.
Sony Pictures
  11. Movie planner: 'The Infiltrator,' 'Ghostbusters,' 'Wilderpeople'



    Not even Tampa Bay locales steal scenes in The Infiltrator (R) from Bryan Cranston, finally getting a Hollywood showcase to match his iconic Breaking Bad role.

    Cranston's coiled portrayal of Tampa resident and former federal undercover agent Robert Mazur has the actor in awards discussions, but it's early. Mazur's infiltration of Pablo Escobar's cocaine cartel and money laundering network inspires its share of genre cliches, smoothed by a terrific cast including John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger and Benjamin Bratt....

    Sam Neill, left, and Julian Dennison co-star in the adventure Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
  12. Review: Bryan Cranston dominates in evocative crime drama 'The Infiltrator'


    No matter what area code they live in, moviegoers will enjoy The Infiltrator, and another terrific Bryan Cranston performance.

    Expectations are higher around Tampa Bay. This is largely our story, with a local hero, filmed here last year and feted in Tampa last week. Exciting stuff.

    Overall, The Infiltrator lives up to those provincial expectations. It's a sturdy true crime drama Cranston quietly dominates, in the dual-life vein of Breaking Bad....

    Bryan Cranston stars as undercover U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur in THE INFILTRATOR, a Broad Green Pictures release.
  13. Documentary 'Pervert Park' on Pinellas sex offenders comes to PBS (w/video)

    The Feed

    Art seldom challenges to the extent of Pervert Park, a documentary filmed in a Pinellas County mobile home park for registered sex offenders.

    Pervert Park casts an unblinking eye on these residents, describing their crimes upon children, or else falling for online stings. A few suggest they could do it again.

    The documentary, debuting tonight on PBS, asks viewers to empathize with them, adjusting to pariah life after prison....

    “We didn’t know what we would walk into, what kind of people we would meet.”
Lasse Barkfors, 
  14. Bryan Cranston and Tampa Bay share starring roles in 'The Infiltrator'


    Florida is a special place for Emmy and Tony winner Bryan Cranston, not only because his new movie The Infiltrator was largely filmed in Tampa Bay.

    There's also the fact that Cranston made his stage debut nearly 40 years ago at the Daytona Playhouse, and his cousins live in Fort Lauderdale.

    Then there's Uncle Bob.

    "Ah, yes, Uncle Bob," Cranston said backstage before Wednesday's U.S. premiere of The Infiltrator at Tampa Theatre. "Eighty-seven years old, and a nudist in Lutz."...

    From left, Bryan Cranston, star of The Infiltrator, director Brad Furman and co-star Benjamin Bratt visit the Tampa Theatre on Wednesday for a screening of the movie.
  15. Tampa's Robert Mazur talks about the life behind 'The Infiltrator'


    Are you still in danger?"

    It's a fair question for Tampa resident Robert Mazur, whose undercover work as a special federal agent made enemies in the 1980s.

    Eight years after retiring, Mazur, 65, still won't allow photographs to be taken for interviews like this.

    He's fine with letting people think he looks like Bryan Cranston, the Emmy- and Tony-winning actor playing Mazur in The Infiltrator, which opens Wednesday nationwide....

    Emmy- and Tony-winning actor Bryan Cranston plays Mazur in The Infiltrator, which features scenes from across the bay area, including this one at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel.