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: persall@tampabay.com

Twitter: @StevePersall

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  1. Clearwater's Capitol Theatre showing '70s classic movies

    Movies

    Back in the 1970s the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater only showed movies, back when one screen was enough. Times change and so did the Cap, now resurrected and renovated primarily as a concert venue but that's also changing a bit. Through September the Capitol presents the '70s Movie Series, a slate of double features including some of the decade's biggest hits, many of which made their Tampa Bay debuts at the Cap. The series begins at 7 p.m. Saturday by pairing the first summer blockbuster ever, Steven Spielberg's Jaws, with Charlton Heston saving L.A. from an Earthquake. Future double features include an Aug. 16 tribute to Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein), the terror combo of Burnt Offerings and The Exorcist (Aug. 23), disaster classics The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno (Aug. 30), sci-fi milestones Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Alien (Sept. 6), throwback faves Grease and American Graffiti (Sept. 19), and the first two Rocky flicks (Sept. 27). Tickets are $7, available at the Capitol and Ruth Eckerd Hall box offices. Visit rutheckerdhall.com for details....

  2. Review: Roger Ebert biodoc 'Life Itself' impressive on any screen

    Movies

    After tweeting admiration for the Roger Ebert biodoc Life Itself, a colleague needled me for watching it at home, on demand, outside a movie theater. "Just doesn't seem right," he replied, and I had to agree. But it wasn't yet booked in a Tampa Bay theater.

    Then I was reminded that Ebert in 1987 predicted a future in which cinema gems deserving fairer shakes than Hollywood impatience offers — movies like Life Itself — would be available anywhere, practically anytime....

    Roger Ebert battled cancer in his thyroid and salivary glands and lost the ability to speak and eat after surgery.  (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
  3. Review: 'Lucy' is way too crazy

    Movies

    When he isn't making movies, I imagine director Luc Besson sitting alone and shabby in an all-night diner, arguing a deranged point with the salt shaker before heading out to wash windshields for tips. There's "out there" and there's Besson, whose latest wackadoodle Lucy makes as much sense as a caveman with a Zippo lighter. Which, of course, Besson includes.

    The anachronism is part of Besson's so-crazy-it-might-work twist on his girl with a gun routine, adding bogus even for sci-fi lessons in anthropology, biology and other -ologies, CGI'd into confusion like some kick-butt Cosmos episode. (Or, since Morgan Freeman does most of the lecturing, like his Through the Wormhole TV series). It is crazy. It doesn't work....

    Universal Pictures. Scarlett Johansson in "Lucy."
  4. Review: 'A Most Wanted Man' is fitting epitaph for Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Movies

    A Most Wanted Man is based on a novel by espionage ace John le Carré, which should tell you this isn't a Jason Bourne action flick filled with car crashes and hand-to-hand combat. Director Anton Corbijn's idea of action is a fat man in a foot chase.

    Neither is this the sort of cerebral somnambulism that the most recent le Carré adaptation — 2011's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — turned out to be. Part of the reason is topicality: contemporary terrorism, not the Cold War. And part of the reason is Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance, at once elegaic and thrilling....

    Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a German antiterrorism expert and Rachel McAdams is a human rights lawyer in the adaptation of John le Carré’s espionage thriller A Most Wanted Man.
  5. Get ready for authentic frontier gibberish in 'Blazing Saddles' at Tampa Theatre

    Movies

    There are two types of people in this world: Those who can quote Blazing Saddles at the drop of a 10-gallon hat, and those I'd never wish to hang around. In the authentic frontier gibberish of Gabby Johnson: "No sidewindin' bushwackin' hornswogglin' cracker croaker is gonna rowll my bishen cutter."

    Now, who can argue with that?

    As Seth MacFarlane learned the hard way this summer, there's a million ways to flop when poking fun at Wild West cliches. No movie did it successfully before or since Blazing Saddles, the 1974 spoof directed and co-written by Mel Brooks. From its Rawhide-inspired theme song to Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid's Cadillac limo ride into the sunset, Blazing Saddles remains a landmark of irreverence, political incorrectness and schnitzengruben (15 is my limit)....

    Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little star in Blazing Saddles, being shown at Tampa Theatre.  Warner Bros photo
  6. For free movies, they will gladly spend time

    Movies

    Quentin Parramore can't pick a favorite among the estimated 1,000 movies he watched in theaters over the past decade.

    Parramore can, however, say exactly how much all those tickets cost.

    "I've been doing this since '05 and I haven't paid for a movie since," said Parramore, 48, waiting outside AMC West Shore 14 to see another for free.

    Sitting in a canvas chair. Doing needlepoint. Seven hours before show time....

    Quentin Parramore  camps out outside AMC West Shore 14 to see a movie for free. Parramore benefits from the Hollywood strategy of screening new releases days before opening in theaters.
  7. Review: This 'Sex Tape' not much fun to watch

    Movies

    You get what you pay for with Sex Tape, if that's matinee prices: a little celebrity skin and recycled wink-wink comedy, teasing without much tickling. Dirty minded yet wholesomely executed, like a 6-year-old retelling a smutty joke he doesn't understand.

    Hard to imagine a cuter pair to hold this peep show together than Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, gamely exposing their backsides and dependency upon better material. This screenplay, co-written by Segel, is a flaccid assortment of restroom wall wit and not-wacky-enough sidekicks, re-explaining everything as it goes along — and this stuff isn't rocket science, people....

     Photo by Sony Pictures
  8. It's a 'Monty Python Live (Mostly)' reunion at bay area movie theaters

    Movies

    Clever wordplayers they are, the famed British comedy troupe naming their farewell concerts Monty Python Live (Mostly). The title may refer to a portion of the show at London's O2 arena that, according to reviews, is dedicated to Terry Gilliam's prerecorded, absurdist animation, a staple of the group's Flying Circus television show.

    Or it could be a cheeky nod to missing cast member Graham Chapman, whose death in 1989 effectively pooped the Python party until the current reunion. Such a joke would skirt the boundaries of good taste, scattering propriety to the winds. So, that's likely what the boys meant....

    Michael Palin, left, and Eric Idle perform on the opening night of  "Monty Python Live (Mostly)" in London. [Getty Images]
  9. 'Planet of the Apes' franchise is a rocky evolution

    Play

    By STEVE PERSALL | Times Movie Critic

    After seven movies over six decades, the Planet of the Apes franchise is one of Hollywood's enduring species. But it hasn't been a smooth evolution. After a big bang beginning in 1968, the Apes saga had its ups and downs, not the upward evolution that inspired a cool college dorm poster. We're tweaking that image "The Evolution of Man" to rank the Apes movies, not counting this weekend's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which wasn't screened in time for Weekend. A review of that one is available at tampabay.com/movies and will be published on Etc, Page 2B. Get your stinking paws on it....

    In this image released by Twentieth Century Fox, Caesar the chimp, a CG animal portrayed by Andy Serkis, and James Franco are shown in a scene from "Rise of the Planet of the Apes ." (AP Photo/Twentieth Century Fox) NYET904
  10. Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' is armed and extremely evolved

    Movies

    It's a good thing Charlton Heston didn't live to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This would've killed him.

    Heston famously detested being pawed by damn dirty apes, and as former president of the National Rifle Association he could appreciate standing ground against them. Seeing those paws wrapped around pistol grip triggers, firing back? That's some Second Amendment sci-fi, for sure....

    In a role that should be made eligible for the Oscars, Andy Serkis is the face behind Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ CGI Caesar, leading the gun-toting apes. It’s a bold subtext in Matt Reeves’ brilliantly conceived fantasy, showing a civilization’s disintegration with the introduction of firearms.
  11. 'Planet of the Apes' franchise is a rocky evolution

    Movies

    By STEVE PERSALL | Times Movie Critic

    After seven movies over six decades, the Planet of the Apes franchise is one of Hollywood's enduring species. But it hasn't been a smooth evolution. After a big bang beginning in 1968, the Apes saga had its ups and downs, not the upward evolution that inspired a cool college dorm poster. We're tweaking that image "The Evolution of Man" to rank the Apes movies, not counting this weekend's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which wasn't screened in time for Weekend. A review of that one is available at tampabay.com/movies and will be published on Etc, Page 2B. Get your stinking paws on it....

    2011’s reboot stars James Franco and CGI.
  12. St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Commission taps new leader

    Movies

    Tony Armer, co-founder of the Sunscreen Film Festival, was recently hired to lead the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Commission — a job made more difficult in recent years when state funding dried up.

    Armer, 44, replaces Jennifer Parramore, who retired in April after nearly 21 years as head of the film commission, a division of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater Convention & Visitors Bureau....

  13. Review: 'Begin Again' is like 'Once' again

    Movies

    Begin Again begins like a lot of movies about musicians, but because it comes from John Carney, it isn't ordinary for long. Carney is the Irish filmmaker who made Once, a slight romance fortified by music, now a Broadway hit. Begin Again is set in a vastly different place and level of success, but Carney's faith in the emotional power of song remains the same.

    Rather than Dublin buskers, the Los Angeles characters in Begin Again are familiar folks. There's Gretta (Keira Knightley), a recent arrival from England with her boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine), who is getting attention as a next big thing. One night, Gretta is coaxed on stage by a friend to perform one of her songs, and nobody cares much except one disheveled, clapping guy....

    CeeLo Green, left, plays a hip-hop star who owes his success to music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) in Begin Again.
  14. Review: 'Tammy' is a whammy of a mistake for Melissa McCarthy

    Play

    This summer's hands-down disappointment is Tammy, a mistake we should've seen coming. Looking back at the clues, it was right under our noses.

    First, the poster art showing Melissa McCarthy's face, declaring Tammy is entirely her show after Roman candle success, swapping punchlines and punches with established movie stars. Tammy shows McCarthy's rolling boulder comedy isn't enough — not with this lazily semi-improvised material — to carry a movie on its own....

    Susan Sarandon as Pearl, left, and Melissa McCarthy as Tammy in New Line Cinema's comedy "Tammy," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Courtesy Michael Tackett/MCT) 1154518
  15. Review: 'Tammy' is a whammy of a mistake for Melissa McCarthy

    Movies

    This summer's hands-down disappointment is Tammy, a mistake we should've seen coming. Looking back at the clues, it was right under our noses.

    First, the poster art showing Melissa McCarthy's face, declaring Tammy is entirely her show after Roman candle success, swapping punchlines and punches with established movie stars. Tammy shows McCarthy's rolling boulder comedy isn't enough — not with this lazily semi-improvised material — to carry a movie on its own....

    Susan Sarandon as Pearl, left, and Melissa McCarthy as Tammy in Tammy.