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 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.
  2. Review: 'Gone Girl' lives up to the book


    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....

    Ben Affleck, left, and Rosamund Pike appear in a scene from “Gone Girl.” The film is based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel. 
  3. 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....

    Eliot (Teddy Chen Culver) and Ian (Aidan Bristow) are lovers in the closing night film, Eat With Me, at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
  4. 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.
  5. 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....

    Teddy, played by Maton Csokas, right, pays Mandy, played by Haley Bennett, a visit in The Equalizer.
  6. 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....

    Lord Portley-Rind (center, voiced by Jared Harris) is the aristocratic mayor of Cheesebridge, an apt name for this movie.
  7. George Takei returning to bay area for St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission benefit


    Oh, myyyy. Star Trek legend, author and social media gadabout George Takei brings back his unique brand of fabulous Oct. 4, benefitting the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission. An Evening with George Takei is an informal Q&A moderated by Times movie critic Steve Persall, covering a boundary-breaking career showing no sign of slowing down. Takei, 77, famously played Lt. Sulu on the original Star Trek television series, and more recently advocates marriage equality while producing Allegiance, a musical about his youth in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. The 7 p.m. event will be held at Sullivan Studios, a digital production facility owned by OxiClean pitchman Anthony Sullivan, located at 11286 47th St. N in Clearwater. Tickets are $25, available at A cash bar reception follows the 90-minute conversation, with Takei mingling and sharing kitten memes, if we're lucky. At the same time, filmmaker and provocateur John Waters appears across the bay at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, temporarily making this the epicenter of gay pop culture. — Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

    HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 17:  Actor George Takei poses for a portrait in the TV Guide Portrait Studio at the 3rd Annual Streamy Awards at Hollywood Palladium on February 17, 2013 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images for TV Guide)
  8. Review: 'The Maze Runner' feels refreshingly low-tech


    When I was a kid we called The Maze Runner idea "playing fort," and Rodney Weaver down the street made the rules. There weren't many since imagination always made the calls. Our heroics bounced off woods instead of this fantasy's walls, inspired by plucky B-movies just like it.

    The Maze Runner is based on a popular YA novel but don't hold that against it. This is a confidently low-tech production, unlike the Hunger Games saga and its divergent imitators. No time for mushy stuff; no girls allowed until Act 3. The design is muted, the special effects comparably restrained, yet they distract from the genuine flesh and blood tension developing....

    Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is dropped in the center of a maze of towering walls, without memory of life before in The Maze Runner.
  9. Review: 'This Is Where I Leave You' needs to leave out a bit


    Sooner or later, dysfunctional family reunions in movies wind up with relatives wrestling in the yard, living room, wherever the cliche takes them. Whether viewers groan, grin or something in between says a lot about how well the movie works up to that point.

    This Is Where I Leave You is no exception. Just when you most expect it, middle-aged brothers start tussling over bones that families always dig up at the wrong time. This wrong time was a funeral, the father's as usual in ensemble dramedies. "Widow" is the go-to role in Hollywood for women over 70....

    The reassembled Altman siblings are, from left, Phillip (Adam Driver), Paul (Corey Stoll), Wendy (Tina Fey) and Judd (Jason Bateman).
  10. Review: Weird, wobbly 'Tusk' is good for sick fun


    Tusk (R) (100 min.) — Kevin Smith whips up a shaggy walrus story, a horror comedy that's weird and wobbly, but winds up being pretty good, sick fun. And, yes, Fleetwood Mac's creepy song figures into it.

    Quentin Tarantino's reclamation project Michael Parks is impressively deranged as Howard Howe, a basement-level Frankenstein turning a smug podcaster (Justin Long) into a flippered marine mammal. The idea comes from an episode of Smith's own podcast, and no matter how stupid it sounds that's exactly how Tusk plays it....

    Justin Long, left, is a podcaster who is transformed into a marine mammal by Michael Parks’ Frankensteinlike character in Tusk.
  11. 'No Good Deed,' 'Dolphin Tale 2' give bay area top weekend box office slots


    Someone from Pinellas County was bound to win Hollywood's weekend box office race. The surprise was who finished on top: Will Packer, not Winter the dolphin.

    Packer, a 1991 St. Petersburg High graduate turned Hollywood producer, scored his seventh No. 1 debut with No Good Deed, starring Idris Elba as an escaped murderer terrorizing a mother and her children. No Good Deed earned an estimated $24.5 million on 2,175 screens, despite a dismal 9 percent approval rating from critics on

    "Dolphin Tale 2," filmed at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and a few other locations in the bay area, came in No. 2 at the box office to another local film powerhouse, Will Packer, who produced  "No Good Deed," starring Idris Elba. Packer is a St. Petersburg High graduate. [Warner Bros.]
  12. Review: 'No Good Deed' does no good, despite twist


    There's a climactic twist as promised in No Good Deed, but it doesn't make a difference except adding one more cue to applaud, if you feel so inclined.

    It certainly isn't juicy enough to be the reason Screen Gems took the unusual step of canceling this week's advance screenings, after moviegoers already had tickets. Plus the movie already had been sneaked numerous times nationwide, so spoiling the twist was already possible....

    Terri (Taraji P. Henson) opens her door to Colin (Idris Elba), who turns out to be an escaped convict in No Good Deed. That then sets off a series of brutal attacks on the movie’s women, in a movie built on a deplorable notion that the women ask for the abuse they’re getting.
Screen Gems
  13. 'Dolphin Tale 2' director has animal movies licked


    From a toad to a wolf to a dog to a dolphin, Charles Martin Smith's acting and filmmaking career is marked by one animal after another.

    Smith's acting breakthrough came 41 years ago in American Graffiti, playing lovesick teenager Terry "the Toad" Fields. A decade later he starred in Carroll Ballard's outdoor adventure Never Cry Wolf, learning from the maker of The Black Stallion how to make animals into movie stars....

    Charles Martin Smith, center, directs a scene of Dolphin Tale 2. His previous directorial successes include Air Bud.
  14. Review: Puppy might be best part of 'The Drop'


    Put yourself in Dennis Lehane's gumshoes. You're a celebrated mystery writer, among the best in the game, yet when Hollywood turns your books into movies someone else does the writing. Sooner or later that itch for full credit — or blame — needs scratching.

    Lehane, an Eckerd College graduate, chose modestly for starters, adapting a short story titled Animal Rescue into The Drop. It's a crime flick that would be generic except for the fact that every single character is about as sharp as a bowling ball. This is dumb noir, with a hero apparently one noggin bump away from brain damage, so the pacing plods with him....

    James Gandolfini, left, plays Cousin Marv and Tom Hardy is Bob in a story filled with dim bulbs and unnecessary detours.
  15. 'Dolphin Tale 2' films in few spots besides Clearwater Marine Aquarium


    Sequels have a reputation for repetition, and although Dolphin Tale 2 differs from the original in some respects, the filming locations generally remain the same.

    Once again, the majority of the action — perhaps as much as 90 percent — occurs at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where Winter and Hope reside, showing off the $12 million renovation that resulted from the first movie's tourism impact. A few well-planned crane and dolly shots make the facility seem more expansive than it is in real life, while updated examination rooms and rescue vehicles speak to the aquarium's success in real and reel life....

    From left, Juliana Harkavy, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff work with a sea turtle in this scene from the sequel Dolphin Tale 2.