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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

Email: spersall@tampabay.com

Twitter: @StevePersall

  1. Review: New Griswolds 'Vacation' bawdier and less likable


    Comedy today works in cruder fashion than the '80s, so why should it be expected to Vacation any differently?

    That's what 32 years of eroding filters, losing Harold Ramis and John Hughes along the way, have done to the second-greatest movie National Lampoon ever presented. The new, unimproved Vacation tries being funny differently, more abrasively even than the original's (unseen) dragging of a Griswold family dog behind a car, or a dead aunt tied atop....

    Christina Applegate, left, as Debbie Griswold and Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold go swimming in septic springs in Vacation. (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  2. Movie Planner: Hollywood's best physical transformations like 'Southpaw'



    Southpaw debuts this weekend, starring bulked-up Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who appears to have eaten Donnie Darko. (Read our full review of Southpaw here.) Gyllenhaal's transformation got us thinking about others sacrificing movie star looks — not to mention possibly endangering their health — for their acting craft....

    Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope in Southpaw.
  3. Indie review: Mark Ruffalo charms in 'Infinitely Polar Bear,' about bipolar disorder


    Infinitely Polar Bear (R) stars Mark Ruffalo as Cameron, a Boston husband and father struggling to reconnect with his family. The title is his youngest daughter's mispronunciation of Cameron's bipolar disorder, leaving him unemployed and living in a halfway house after a nervous breakdown. His wife, Maggie (an affecting Zoe Saldana), seeks a job in New York, leaving the children in the care of a careless man....

    Mark Ruffalo as Cam Stuart, Imogene Wolodarsky as Amelia Stuart and Ashley Aufderheide as Faith Stuart in "Infinitely Polar Bear."
  4. Review: 'Pixels' is a video game movie undeserving of your quarters


    Pixels is either a kiddie flick for children born 40 years too late, or a '80s nostalgia-com for infantile Gen Xers. Either way, it's a fitfully amusing mess.

    Based on a two-minute short in which video arcade characters attack New York, Pixels packs only slightly more ingenuity into its feature length. Basically it's Ghostbusters meets Wreck-It Ralph, without the sustained charm or wit of either....

    As for spectacle, moviegoers are advised to look elsewhere. Here, Mini Coopers make cheaper Pac-Man ghosts than CGI.  (Sony Pictures via AP)
  5. Review: 'Southpaw' packs a violent and emotional punch


    An old boxing punchline: Fighter goes 12 rounds, gets beaten to a pulp, broken nose, the works, then says: "But you should see the other guy."

    Billy Hope is the other guy, eyes swollen shut, leaking blood like a meat locker, maybe a little brain damaged. He's also the undefeated light heavyweight champion in masochistic fashion, leading with his chin, taunting opponents into more punishment....

    From left, Miguel Gomez, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams star in Southpaw.
  6. Review: 'Sharknado 3' is the worst, and the best


    Straining the boundaries of good taste and mediocre (at best) filmmaking, Sharknado 3 lives down to its subtitle: Oh Hell No!, dripping with cheap gore, cheaper gags and a squish list of below C-level celebrities.

    Not so bad that it's good; so bad that it's epic.

    This is a horror movie that in its most terrifying moments presents Ann Coulter as veep to U.S. president Mark Cuban, skeet-shark shooting, an Iwo Jima-style impaling, and Bo Derek downgraded to an 8. Nothing can be taken seriously; the polished amateurism and eagerness to sleaze is to be embraced....

    Once again defending humanity with only wits and a golden chainsaw is Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering).
  7. Molly Ringwald bringing 'Breakfast Club' anniversary tour to Clearwater


    Raise your fist in a triumphant salute and cue the Simple Minds song. Former Brat Packer and enduring '80s icon Molly Ringwald is bringing The Breakfast Club to Clearwater. Ringwald, 47, is marking the 30th anniversary of John Hughes' touchstone dramedy with a national tour stopping at Capitol Theatre on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. General admission tickets ($60-$75) go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m, available at the Ruth Eckerd Hall box office, online at atthecap.com, or by calling (727) 791-7400. A limited number of VIP tickets including premium seating and a meet-and-greet with Ringwald are available for $175. Titled Molly Ringwald Revisits the Club, the audience-interactive event includes a screening of The Breakfast Club followed by a Q&A session. Hot off the success of Sixteen Candles, Ringwald played the "princess" among socially diverse misfits — a group including a brain, jock, criminal and basket case — spending a Saturday in detention, learning they're not so different after all. Should be fun. Don't you forget about this. Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

    Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club (1985) as Claire Standish. Courtesy of A&M Films.
  8. Movie Planner: Amy Schumer in 'Trainwreck,' plus fine indie 'Mr. Holmes'



    For two weeks we've been thrilled to tears by the downbeat Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy.

    Time to lighten up a lot with a much funnier Amy, as in Schumer, making her movie-starring debut in Trainwreck, which, if you've known her comedy style, should earn its R rating in the first 30 seconds.

    Schumer also wrote Trainwreck, so well that for the first time, comedy overachiever Judd Apatow is directing another person's screenplay. That says something considering how blindly faithful he has been to his own words. (Funny People and This Is 40, anyone? I didn't think so.)...

    Ian McKellen plays a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in Mr. Holmes.
  9. Review: Amy Schumer's 'Trainwreck' a funny, if conventional, rom-com


    Leave it to a man to soften Amy Schumer, after all the feminist daggers tossed on her Comedy Central television show.

    Trainwreck is Schumer's funny movie star debut that could've been hilarious, if director Judd Apatow would just say "cut" a bit sooner once in a while.

    Being a film editor must be the easiest job on one of Apatow's movies. Just let the footage roll until the improv dries up, splice and paste to the previous shagginess. Fine for comedy, which Apatow is second to none in appreciating, but not helpful for telling a story through filmmaking....

    Amy Schumer plays writer Amy Townsend, who is assigned a story on sports doctor Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), and falls for him despite an aversion to commitment. It ends up being the kind of rom-com you wouldn’t expect Schumer to take seriously.
  10. Review: 'Ant-Man' lacks the appeal of his superhero peers


    Think all the way back to 2008, which is an eternity in movie trends. Marvel releases a superhero movie — only its third production — that seems like a risk.

    Iron Man doesn't have the no-introduction-needed status of Spider-Man or even the Fantastic Four. Robert Downey Jr. isn't anyone's idea of an action hero, or a hero of any sort, with that attitude. But the movie works for precisely that reason....

    Corey Stoll, left, as Darren Cross, and Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne in Ant-Man.
  11. Movie Planner: 'Minions,' murder and doomed musicians




    Inside Out finally gets competition for summer kid dollars this weekend with the release of MINIONS (PG), starring those yellow, thumb-shaped havoc wreakers who stole two Despicables Me's from Steve Carell.

    Personally, I've never understood the appeal of these gibberish-squealing sidekicks for anyone over 10, unless you're video-babysitting someone under that age. Armchair psychologists would explain them as manifestations of pure id, doing whatever they please and laughing past consequences. Stadium-seated moviegoers simply explain them as fun....

    Maggie features Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin.
  12. Review: 'Minions' is a plotless cash grab starring annoying Twinkies


    Minions is despicable, or maybe it's just me.

    Money-grab movies are never my thing, coming from filmmakers knowing whatever viewers think when they exit the theater doesn't matter as long as they paid to get in. Movies that have no business being made in the first place, except show business as usual.

    Introduced as wacky distractions in 2010's Despicable Me, these babbling yellow suppositories on legs were amusing. They were a hit, especially with small children of approximately the same balancing and linguistic skills. Their role expanded in the sequel, as did the box office take. Why not a whole movie about Minions?...

    "Minions" takes place before the Minions served Gru in "Despicable Me."
  13. Review: 'Self/less' has a few interesting twists but twice as many dumb ones


    Every summer movie season includes a "so what?" release, one without a snowball's chance in Key West of competing at the box office, a block chipper rather than a buster.

    Meet Self/less, which is more or less an okay movie debuting at the worst possible time. It may be remembered as a career peak for director Tarsem Singh, which is tempered by the fact that his most recent works are Mirror, Mirror and Immortals, laying waste to Julia Roberts and Greek mythology, respectively. He tries, bless his heart....

    Ben Kingsley stars as billionaire industrialist Damian Hale, but not for long.  His Trump-like attitude gets transferred into what he thinks is an artificially cultivated body.
  14. Review: Documentary 'Amy' captures tragic flameout of bright star


    In the opening minutes of Asif Kapadia's superb documentary, we see Amy Winehouse at her most innocent; 16 years old, a bit "gobby" as she later describes this self, singing Happy Birthday to a friend. The alley cat voice is already there. The innocence won't be for long, and neither will Winehouse.

    Hailed as one of the most unique musical talents in years, Winehouse also is among the most tragic. Dead at age 27 of alcohol poisoning, it's a wonder something else didn't claim her before that. She was hurt by the ones she loved, turning that pain into searing lyrics Kapadia cursively provides on screen while she sings. And, oh, how that woman could sing....

    Amy Winehouse, right, appears in a scene from the film Amy.
  15. Review: 'The Overnight' swings between intimate and uncomfortable


    Movies about swinging haven't changed much since Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice got cold feet in bed together, way back in '69. From The Ice Storm's key party to A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, swapping sexual partners is usually portrayed as either shameful or a source of nervous laughter.

    In Patrick Brice's The Overnight, it's a little of both.

    The Overnight begins as comically mannered as casting Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) and Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) would suggest. They play Alex and Emily, wed parents newly moved from Seattle to Los Angeles, uncertain how to fit in. Visiting a playground with their son, they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and his son. Everyone hits it off....

    Adam Scott, left, and Taylor Schilling play Alex and Emily, married parents newly moved from Seattle to Los Angeles. 
The Orchard