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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: 'Equity' rises above corporate melodrama with staunchly feminine perspective


    Acting life after Breaking Bad is going well for Anna Gunn, with a key role in the upcoming Sully and her shrewd portrayal of a she-wolf of Wall Street in Equity.

    Gunn brings Skyler White steeliness to the role of Naomi Bishop, a senior investment banker on the rebound from a failed bid to underwrite a lucrative IPO. Another deal is in the works, with a software developer whose social media privacy program is going public. Naomi's ambition and caution give Gunn ample shades of don't-mess-with-me to play....

    Anna Gunn stars as a she-wolf of Wall Street in "Equity." (Sony Pictures Classics)
  2. Movie Planner: Two local horror shows, plus 'Hands of Stone,' 'Mechanic Resurrection' opening



    Robert De Niro is starring in another boxing movie, so the immediate question is: How does it measure up to the Oscar winner's previous boxing flick?

    I'm referring, of course, to 2013's Grudge Match with Sylvester Stallone.

    There's no way the Roberto Durán biopic Hands of Stone (R) can go toe-to-toe with Raging Bull....

    Sony Pictures
  3. Interview: 'Southside With You' director Richard Tanne talks casting the perfect Obamas


    What this election year needs now is love, sweet love.

    Richard Tanne's feature debut Southside With You, dramatizing the first date of first couple Barack and Michelle Obama, could have moviegoers holding hands across the aisle.

    Tanne, 31, wrote and directed his $1.5 million indie with bipartisan romance in mind. Days prior to its release, Tanne's film hadn't been targeted much in social media by politically motivated critics of his subjects....

    Writer-director Richard Tanne, center, poses with cast member and producer Tika Sumpter, left, and cast member Parker Sawyers , from the film, "Southside With You" at The London West Hollywood hotel in West Hollywood, Calif. The film opens in theaters on Friday, Aug. 26. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
  4. Review: 'Southside With You' a sweet romance that just happens to be about the Obamas


    Even if their names were John and Mary, the two people soon to be a couple at the center of Southside With You could make viewers swoon. Richard Tanne's walk-and-talk slice of budding romantic life is that good at expressing those small moments when love begins taking hold.

    Their names, however, are Barack and Michelle — Obama and, for now, Robinson, destined within two decades to be U.S. president and first lady. On this summertime Chicago day in 1989 she's a law office associate mentoring a summer associate, joining Barack at a community meeting about a thwarted inner city rec center....

    Tika Sumpter, left, and Parker Sawyers play Michelle and Barack Obama on a date in Southside With You.
  5. Review: 'Ben-Hur' has little to offer besides that chariot race


    Let's cut to the chariot chase. The latest screen version of Ben-Hur would be little more than a condensed miniseries without it, framed for small television screens, with performances to fit.

    Director Timur Bekmambetov, no slouch in the action department, knows that's what this remake has going for it, that and the church crowd. Lew Wallace's 1880 novel is regarded as a Christian cultural influence, but a little crashing and smiting never hurts the box office....

    Rodrigo Santoro plays Jesus, foreground left, and Nazanin Boniadi as Esther in Ben-Hur.
  6. Political documentaries have a hard time keeping up in 2016


    Where is Michael Moore when we need him?

    Conservatives insist we don't. Liberals wish Moore had a Fahrenheit 9/11 up his flannel sleeve for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

    Those of us in the middle miss the days when a political documentary could rile the electorate, when filmmakers like Moore and Citizens United founder David Bossie could be both reviled and revered as enemies of the state....

    Donald Trump, left, reacts to the crowd as he shakes hands with South Carolina Freedom Summit co-host David Bossie, founder of Citizens United, which has a Hillary: The Movie sequel in the works.
  7. Review: Irreverent 'War Dogs' splendidly pairs Jonah Hill and Miles Teller


    The American dream smells like gunpowder in War Dogs, a story too good to be made up.

    Rolling Stone told it in 2011, profiling two 20-something Miami stoners turned international arms dealers, scamming the Pentagon for millions. The story was also too good to be passed up by director and co-writer Todd Phillips, an expert detailer of masculine misbehavior after Old School and the Hangover trilogy....

    War Dogs features the genius teaming of Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as Miami stoners turned high rolling gun runners making up everything as they go, based on a true story.
  8. Movie planner: 'Don't Think Twice,' 'Ben-Hur,' movies with causes



    A close-knit improvisational troupe falls apart in writer-director Mike Birbiglia's Don't Think Twice (R), an uncommonly wise movie about comedian psyches, their propelling egos and extrovert fragility. Birbiglia's standup experiences made 2012's Sleepwalk With Me the finest nondocumentary ever about the serious art of comedy; this one is right there with it....

    An improv team is disrupted when a member hits the big time in Don’t Think Twice.
  9. Review: 'Kubo and the Two Strings' an art piece masquerading as a kids' movie


    Kubo and the Two Strings is lovely to behold, if viewers manage to keep their eyes open. It's an animated doozy and drowser at once, an uncomfortable mix of Miyazaki-style imagination and generic dullness. Snooze and you don't necessarily lose.

    Aesthetically speaking, Kubo and the Two Strings is a step up for Laika, the Oregon-based animation studio that previously inflicted The Boxtrolls on audiences. Like that grotesquerie, Kubo — no title strings attached — beams with the self-congratulation of its stop-motion animators: Look at what we can do....

    Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson, right, and Monkey, voiced by Charlize Theron in a scene from the animated film, "Kubo and the Two Strings." (Laika Studios/Focus Features via AP)
  10. Former Miss Tampa Charleene Closshey makes a movie in hometown Plant City


    Home is where Charleene Closshey's heart and movie are, a Plant City native with a Hollywood dream.

    Earlier this month, Closshey, 35, began filming No Postage Necessary, a dramedy for which she produces and stars. She expects to wrap principal photography on Aug. 23 on the low budget indie produduction.

    Making her movie practically in her childhood backyard is icing on the strawberry shortcake....

    Former Miss Tampa Charleene Closshey produces and stars in No Postage Necessary, currently filming in Plant City.
  11. Review: 'Hell or High Water' is a movie with perfect Lone Star swagger


    West Texas as depicted in David Mackenzie's crime drama Hell or High Water is no country for unarmed men. It's a parched place of desperate characters and Texas Rangers chasing them, with bystanders willing to lend a truck or gun to the pursuit.

    Welcome to the wild new West, where modern economics collide with frontier swagger, resulting in a spree of bank robberies and a cagey manhunt. The culprits are the Howard brothers: Toby (Chris Pine) with his looks should've been something more; Tanner (Ben Foster) is nothing more than a temperamental ex-con....

    Jeff Bridges, left, and Gil Birmingham play Texas Rangers pursuing bank robbers in Hell or High Water. 
  12. On 'Deepwater Horizon' movie set, survivors meet a Hollywood portrayal

    Human Interest

    NEW ORLEANS — On a balmy night on dry land, hell breaks out again on the Deepwater Horizon.

    Not the British Petroleum-leased oil rig that exploded on April 20, 2010, unleashing an environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, but a partial replica built nearly to scale in an abandoned amusement park.

    This time, the holocaust is controlled. Nobody is going to die.

    Only in the movies....

    Mark Wahlberg, below, portrays chief electronics technician Mike Williams in the true-life disaster movie, Deepwater Horizon.
  13. Review: 'Indignation' is an oasis of summer movie intelligence


    After success as a producer and Ang Lee's favorite screenwriter, James Schamus makes an impressive directing debut with Indignation, an oasis of summer movie intelligence.

    Based on Philip Roth's novel, Indignation is the story of Marcus Messner, who is, like many Roth protagonists, young, Jewish and sexually curious. Marcus is the son of a Brooklyn butcher and put-upon mother, escaping to a small, mostly gentile Ohio college in 1951. He's a bright student, perhaps too aware of usually being the smartest person in the room. Grades come first, with sociability lagging behind....

    Jewish boy Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) meets Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) at a small, mostly gentile college in 1951, and her first-date sexuality throws him for a loop.
  14. Movie Planner: 'Wiener-Dog,' 'Gleason,' 'Pete's Dragon'



    Todd Solondz returns to spiky form with Wiener-Dog (R), a quartet of character studies linked by a dachshund and mordant dramedy. It's the filmmaker's most divisive work since Happiness two decades ago, after its finale ignited jeers at the Sundance premiere. No spoilers, but if a romantic camera pan along a trail of doggie diarrhea didn't set them off earlier, you can imagine what occurs....

    Cillian Murphy portrays an assassin in Anthropoid.
  15. Review: 'Florence Foster Jenkins' lets Meryl Streep showboat


    Like its titular, tone deaf heroine, Florence Foster Jenkins shouldn't entertain as much as it does. The movie is broadly written and performed, gliding past any issues that would distract from the spectacle this shaky chanteuse makes of herself.

    Florence, as the movie's marketers scramble to explain, was a 20th century New York City heiress and patron of the arts, and all she wanted in return was to sing opera. The problem was that she couldn't, in any sense of the art. She did concerts, badly, and recordings worse....

    Meryl Streep plays Florence Foster Jenkins and Hugh Grant her manager and husband, St. Clair Bayfield.