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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. Review: 'The BFG' is visual giant, but emotionally lacking


    Steven Spielberg's second childhood in movies is proceeding like many do in real life. Serious stuff keeps getting in the way of acting (or directing) like a kid again. It's likely you'll appear old-fashioned when you do.

    The BFG is one of Spielberg's rare excursions in childish whimsy these days, as sweet and big-hearted as you'd expect from the maker of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. Technically speaking, it's a motion capture marvel, with Academy Award winner Mark Rylance in line for another nomination, in the title role of Big Friendly Giant....

    Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance in "The BFG ." (Photo courtesy Disney/TNS)
  2. Review: 'The Shallows' a shallow, but efficient, thriller


    Filmed like the sexiest dolphin alive, Blake Lively is shark bait in The Shallows, an efficiently preposterous thriller. The predator may not be hungry; he just wants a closer look.

    Lively plays Nancy Adams, an adventurous medical school dropout after her mother's death by cancer. Nancy is grieving by visiting a secret Mexican beach where they surfed. She's gonna need a bigger board....

    Nancy (Blake Lively) gets a nasty bite from a shark and has to plan her escape before the tides rise.
  3. Bryan Cranston, Benjamin Bratt to walk red carpet for 'Infiltrator' screening at Tampa Theatre


    Academy Award nominee Bryan Cranston returns to Tampa Bay on July 6 for an invitation-only screening of The Infiltrator, filmed locally in 2015.

    Anyone who isn't among the VIPs scoring those invites will wait another week until The Infiltrator opens in theaters nationwide.

    However, you may get a glimpse of Cranston, co-star Benjamin Bratt and director Brad Furman on the red carpet outside Tampa Theatre. The red carpet opens at 5 p.m., and the screening begins at 7:30....

    Bryan Cranston uses a prop telephone booth at the Don CeSar Hotel while filming a scene for The Infiltrator.
  4. Movie Planner: 'Independence Day: Resurgence,' 'The Shallows,' 'Free State of Jones'


    OPENING Thursday: Independence Day: Resurgence

    Aliens invade Earth again in Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13), and this time it's a sneak attack.

    Not the extraterrestrial assault itself; those ginormous spaceships couldn't sneak past anyone. Incredibly, 20th Century Fox declined to show this sequel to critics until Thursday's screenings nationwide....

    Jeff Goldblum, left, and Bill Pullman return in the 1996 blockbuster’s sequel.
  5. Review: 'The Neon Demon' shocks but doesn't sustain


    Equal parts lurid and ludicrous, Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon chased more moviegoers from Monday's screening than any movie I've seen lately.

    For some, lesbian necrophilia was too much to handle. For others, the cannibalism and regurgitation took things over the edge. A nonexistent plot and vapid dialogue certainly didn't help viewers remain seated.

    Once again, Refn is an overeager provocateur, after 2013's reviled Only God Forgives took all the fun out of Ryan Gosling and Bangkok kink. The Neon Demon returns Refn to Los Angeles where Drive and Gosling made him a filmmaker to watch. Nobody guessed it would be through your fingers, in disgust....

    The Neon Demon is set amid the decadence of L.A. fashion scene, where 16-year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning) will slowly transform into a diva.
  6. Hollywood producer Will Packer comes home to St. Pete for BurgBorn


    ST. PETERSBURG — Will Packer heard "no" plenty of times on his unlikely path from St. Petersburg to Hollywood. He just never listened.

    The producer of Straight Outta Compton, Ride Along and the recent remake of Roots urged other dreamers to do the same at Thursday's inaugural BurgBorn, showcasing a dozen homegrown businesses known far outside city limits.

    Packer, 42, revisited his birthplace to deliver BurgBorn's keynote address, setting an inspiring tone for the day's panel discussions of grass roots success stories....

    St. Petersburg native and filmmaker Will Packer hugs Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at the Mahaffey Theater on Thursday.
  7. Review: 'Central Intelligence' is genius teaming of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart


    Central Intelligence is a welcome intrusion on reality, a comedy sorely needed after Orlando's tragedy. It's a buddy action flick so amiable that even gunfire sprayed for entertainment on a day when the last victims were identified didn't faze me. Much.

    What makes Central Intelligence appealing in appalling times is volcanic chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. Ignore the generic caper at hand, involving stolen computer codes threatening national security, blah, blah. Focus on this genius teaming, classically mismatched in size but not charisma....

    Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson are an unlikely fighting duo, mismatched in size but not charisma.
  8. Review: 'Finding Dory' just keeps swimming, swimming, swimming


    Like its memory-challenged hero, Finding Dory just keeps swimming, swimming, swimming, losing track of why it's here. This is a dimmer adventure than its beloved predecessor Finding Nemo in theme, pacing and palette. A teachable moment kneaded to feature length.

    Finding Dory is a good sequel to a great film, and perhaps that's all fans could hope for. The year 2003 is an eternity ago in Disney-Pixar's relationship, in technology and profit motive. After the past decade's animation glut, Finding Dory feels packaged like the rest, unavoidably absent the original's freshness....

    In Finding Dory, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) goes searching for her parents, an improbable journey assisted by sea critters including a chameleonic octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill).
  9. Movie Planner: Jaw-dropping documentary 'Weiner' opens Friday, 'Genius' and 'Finding Dory'


    INDIE FLICKS: Weiner

    "Why have you let me film this?" a voice behind the camera asks disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, who for a change can't spin an answer. It's a question the jaw-dropping documentary Weiner (R) raises repeatedly.

    Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg initially planned to cover Weiner's comeback from a sexting scandal that forced the seven-term congressman to resign. Then Weiner's 2013 run for mayor of New York was derailed when other women came forward with sexting details. His marriage to Huma Abedin, longtime right-hand woman to Hillary Clinton, was shaken. The cameras kept rolling....

    A scene from “Finding Dory.”
  10. Review: 'Now You See Me 2' makes all the good of the original disappear


    For their next act, the illusionist con artists from Now You See Me will make every ounce of goodwill that movie earned disappear.

    Now You See Me 2 is everything its opening act avoided, a frenetic procession of willfully impossible fakeouts. We seek more cleverly executed stings from the Four Horsemen and wind up stung.

    The first movie worked because it offered explanations of what amazed. Even if an explanation was baloney, a layer of possibility was established for anything the movie and its characters wanted to do. Now You See Me operated like its heroes: genial, and so open about its intent to deceive that viewers like me bought into it. Now You See Me was like watching Penn and Teller embrace and expose the illusionary arts. The sequel is an America's Got Talent washout waving a cape....

    This time, Woody Harrelson and the other Horsemen over-tax our suspension of disbelief.
  11. Movie Planner: 'Maggie's Plan' charms, plus 'Now You See Me 2,' 'Warcraft,' 'Conjuring 2'



    Greta Gerwig excels at playing irresistibly selfish women, the flame moths can't stop circling until burned. Characters like hers in Maggie's Plan (R) don't intend to hurt but invariably do, with a bittersweet charm that helps. Maggie's Plan is Gerwig at the top of her neo-screwball game.

    Maggie's original plan is to be artificially inseminated by a dim, sweet donor (Travis Fimmel) and raise her child alone. That changes when Maggie meets John (Ethan Hawke), an erudite professor and author married to the icy intellectual Georgette (Julianne Moore, with a Baba Wawa speech impediment). Now Maggie's plan is to steal away John, and have a child with him....

    Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke star in Maggie’s Plan.
  12. Review: 'The Conjuring 2' starts strong, falls back on cliches


    Past is prologue in The Conjuring 2, and it's the most effective sequence in James Wan's movie. The sequel to 2013's surprise hit opens with the infamous paranormal investigation that made Ed and Lorraine Warren household names, if those households subscribed to the National Enquirer.

    The name says it all: Amityville, in an allegedly haunted house that spawned 14 horror flicks, mostly rubbish. Wan stages a chilling re-enactment of the house's factual mojo-spoiling event, in the context of a seance shaking the Warrens' resolve to bust ghosts. The passage thumps with dread, and suddenly a 15th version of Amityville's horror would be just fine....

    Vera Farmiga, Simon McBurney, Frances O'Connor and Patrick Wilson in "The Conjuring 2." (Matt Kennedy/Warner Bros. Entertainment/TNS)
  13. Finding Dory, Indpendence Day 2 relying on double-dip debuts


    Independence Day and Finding Nemo are returning to select multiplexes for one night only, setting the table for their sequels.

    Each is being paired in double features with their cinematic successors, Independence Day: Resurgence and Finding Dory, a day before the "official" release dates. One ticket, two movies.

    The double feature tactic worked well before, in grander marathons with multi-chapter franchises and ravenous fan bases, like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Twilight....

    Finding Dory debuts a day earlier than expected, on June 16 paired with 2003's Finding Nemo.
  14. League of Women Voters hosts gun violence survivor, documentary, discussion at freeFall Theatre


    In 2012, Kate Ranta was dealing with a contentious divorce when her estranged husband Thomas Maffei arrived at her apartment, demanding to be admitted. She refused, struggling to hold the door shut.

    Maffei was armed. He fired a gun through the door, striking Ranta in her right hand and left breast. Maffei kept firing, Ranta's visiting father took two bullets. Both victims survived, and Maffei was arrested at the scene....

    A scene from Making a Killin: Guns, Greed and the NRA
  15. Review: 'Popstar' skillfully spoofs the music industry


    Graphically thinking outside the box, the Lonely Island comedy team makes a decent splash with Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, an SNL spinoff that generally works.

    The Lonely Island is Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, whose SNL digital shorts like D--- in a Box and I'm on a Boat went viral faster than bird flu. Popstar offers a proper format to string together such infectious raunch-pop riffs, swirling around a Spotify star (Samberg) on the schneid....

    Andy Samberg in “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.”