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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: 'Little Boy' movie offers faith in a real world


    Evolution isn't a popular topic among Christians, but that's exactly what is happening with their movies, leaving room for doubt and placing limitations on what pure faith can accomplish.

    Sure, everything is solved by the fade-out and a deity gets most of the credit. But an increasing number of faith-based movies are reaching secular audiences by simply not preaching to them, while acknowledging humanism. That includes movies like Little Boy, an innocuous, charming drama about coincidences making a child's faith seem divine, amid racist patriotism during World War II....

    David Henrie is one of the stars of Little Boy.
  2. Bryan Cranston films 'Infiltrator' at the Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach



    Before sunrise Thursday, the Don CeSar Hotel's beachfront was transported to another time, another place.

    Dozens of crew members for The Infiltrator, a $47.5 million production starring Bryan Cranston, assembled lighting reflectors and camera dolly tracks in a palm tree-shrouded walkway near the swimming pool. Extras were herded to waiting areas, dressed in 1980s beachwear....

    Cranston uses a prop pay phone — it’s the ’80s, after all, in The Infiltrator — in a scene shot Thursday at the Don CeSar.
  3. Review: In 'The Age of Adaline', ageless Blake Lively gets old fast


    Poor Adaline Bowman, sentenced to an eternity of looking like Blake Lively, by a movie premise more preposterous than anything Vin Diesel tried lately. Thanks to scientific hoo-hah that won't be discovered until 2035, Adaline never ages.

    Her movie gets old quickly.

    The Age of Adaline is a lunkheaded fantasy romance, gliding over expectations at first, simply because it's somewhat original. Lively is lovely as an heiress widow whose drowning in 1930 was prevented by cold water and hot lightning that would cause electrocution anywhere else....

    Blake Lively and Michiel Huisman star in this lunkheaded fantasy romance in which Adaline doesn’t age after 29.
  4. Actor Bryan Cranston spotted at Tampa Bay Rays game


    There was a celebrity Infiltrator at Tropicana Field for Tuesday's game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. Emmy and Tony winning actor Bryan Cranston — sporting a Red Sox cap — watched his team shutout the Rays 1-0. The star of Breaking Bad is visiting Tampa Bay to film scenes for The Infiltrator, a true crime drama based on the memoirs of Tampa resident and former federal agent Robert Mazur. Filming is set to begin Thursday, and expected to continue for less than 10 days. — Steve Persall, Times Movie Critic...

     Actor Bryan Cranston, best known for portraying Walter White in the crime drama Breaking Bad, watches the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Boston Red Sox on the visitors side of the field Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
  5. Review: 'Ex Machina' intelligently explores feminism in a sci-fi setting


    Alex Garland's Ex Machina is a fascinating addition to the sci-fi trend of science feminism, in which concepts of womanhood in patriarchal culture are explored far deeper than Ripley battling aliens in her underwear.

    Ex Machina joins Her and Under the Skin in viewing women as strangers in a strange land, created by technology or sent from the stars and craftier, more in control than men believe or want. Sci-fem women evolve from products of how men view them — sexuality is a key component — and fantasy becomes trenchant allegory, as fine science fiction will....

    Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, brought into a mad scientist’s designs on artificial intelligence, in Alex Garland’s directorial debut.
  6. 'One-Man Star Wars Trilogy' star Charles Ross uses the Force on stage


    How are you preparing for the Force awakening this December? • Fans can binge-watch all six Star Wars movies, or watch Charles Ross boil them down to 75 minutes of theater, giving Episodes I, II and III the short shrift they deserve. • Ross' One-Man Star Wars Trilogy — even the title doesn't acknowledge Anakin Skywalker's early years — is an energetic spoof of sci-fi's greatest mythology. Since its 2001 debut, the Canadian actor's hyper-speed impersonations of Star Wars characters, sound effects, even John Williams' musical score has thrilled Jedi geeks worldwide. • Later, Ross gave similar treatment to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. • "The funny thing about Star Wars is that it doesn't change," Ross said in a recent telephone interview. "There's an eternal little story, so I think I've gotten a lot cleaner; I don't injure myself as much during the show because I've learned how not to land directly on my face." • In these excerpts, Ross reveals what he has discovered about Star Wars over 14 years, why he doesn't care if Greedo shot first, and why he's lucky to have fallen in love before all this:...

    Since 2001, Charles Ross has performed hyper-speed impersonations from the Star Wars movies on stage for his traveling One-Man Star Wars Trilogy. (That’s the original trilogy, cutting fluff from Episodes I-III.)
  7. Opening Friday: 'The Age of Adaline'


    Staying 29 years old forever isn't all it's cracked up to be for the heroine of The Age of Adaline (PG-13). Sure, she can look like Blake Lively forever but Ryan Reynolds doesn't come with the package. Long-term romance is hard when you could wind up both as a cougar and a PYT for the same guy.

    Adaline Bowman finds herself in that chrono-crisis after a car accident in the 1930s, submerging her into frozen waters. Thanks to a fortuitous bolt of lightning, Adaline becomes immortal but never ages; kind of like a vampire, but this isn't that kind of movie. This one is for viewers believing Nicholas Sparks isn't romantic enough....

    Michiel Huisman and Blake Lively co-star in The Age of Adaline.
  8. Travolta thrills Clearwater crowd with donation


    CLEARWATER — John Travolta was complimenting Saturday's audience at the Capitol Theatre for supporting the arts with their attendance, when the announcement came that $38,000 was raised for the Marcia P. Hoffman School for the Arts.

    Recognizing a cue as actors do, the two-time Academy Award nominee sweetened the pot.

    "Because of your generosity," Travolta said, "I would like to add another 12 (thousand) to make it $50,000."...

    Actor John Travolta appears on the red carpet on Saturday evening at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater for a screening of his new movie, The Forger.
  9. Review: 'True Story' is remarkably literate cat-and-mouse game


    True Story is stranger than fiction, which is what got Michael Finkel fired in the first place. As a New York Times reporter, Finkel was entrusted to write the truth. He blew it in 2001, passing off a composite character as one real victim.

    Soon after, an Oregon husband and father named Christian Longo went on the lam after brutally murdering his family. Captured in Mexico, Longo initially gave authorities a false identity: Michael Finkel, New York Times reporter. The real Finkel, professionally humiliated and financially strapped, was intrigued....

    In an adaptation of, well, a true story, Jonah Hill plays journalist Mike Finkel and James Franco plays murderer Christian Longo, forming a prickly jailhouse partnership in True Story.
  10. John Travolta presents 'The Forger' at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre (w/trailer)


    By his count, John Travolta visits Clearwater five days a week when possible yet hasn't entered the revitalized Capitol Theatre.

    That changes Saturday when the star of Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction appears at the Cap with his new film, The Forger, with proceeds benefitting the Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

    It's the latest example of the two-time Academy Award nominee using his movies as fundraisers for causes. Mostly these red carpet events occur in Ocala where he lives....

    John Travolta plays Raymond Cutter, an art forger attempting to steal a Monet painting, in The Forger. During filming, Travolta tried to craft his own forgery. “I wanted to know what it would feel like to be under the gun literally to paint a masterpiece, and what kind of stress that would put the character through, even though he’s good at it.”
  11. 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,' 'Mad Max,' 'Unfriended' and more come to theaters


    This weekend, the Furious 7 gang gets pulled over by a mall cop, while a barrel of monkeys is more fun than Tina Fey, and Mad Max is only slightly irritated. • Welcome to potluck weekend at Tampa Bay theaters, when Hollywood serves six new dishes kept covered from critics. Not a single new release was made available in time for Weekend review, but audiences can see them starting Friday. • That doesn't prevent guessing which one moviegoers will prefer, even if critics won't....

    MONKEY KINGDOM: Tina Fey is the narrator in the latest wildlife documentary from Disneynature.
  12. Sunscreen Film Festival will open with documentary starring Rowdies coach Thomas Rongen


    The world's worst soccer team scored the opening night spotlight for the tenth annual Sunscreen Film Festival, with a familiar face coaching.

    Before Thomas Rongen took charge of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, he coached American Samoa's World Cup team, which had previously racked up international soccer's worst loss ever: 31-0 to Australia. Rongen's quest to turn around the program is chronicled in Next Goal Wins, a documentary kicking off Sunscreen on April 30....

    Coach Thomas Rongen with his American Samoa soccer team in Next Goal Wins.
  13. 'The Longest Ride' sounds like the same old Sparks


    Any movie opening this week is road kill under the still-squealing tires of Furious 7. Please welcome The Longest Ride (PG-13), a weeper set in the rodeo world, so it's probably an armadillo.

    The Longest Ride is the latest formulaic romance from author Nicholas Sparks, who deals in pretty white lovers with an obstacle keeping them apart (parents, social status), an unexpected calamity (usually death) and, if we're lucky, cool old people like James Garner and Gena Rowlands in The Notebook, or Paul Newman in Message in a Bottle....

    The Longest Ride, based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, stars Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood.
  14. Review: 'While We're Young' a clever comedy about age (w/video)


    Youth isn't only wasted on the young; it can be misspent by middle-agers catching up on what they missed. People like Josh and Cornelia, rat racers seduced into hipsterism in Noah Baumbach's paper-cut comedy While We're Young.

    They're artsy enough by Manhattan standards. Josh is a filmmaker working too long on a documentary no one will see. Cornelia is a producer of documentaries but not his. Nice life, no kids. Josh and Cornelia are selfish that way. What they're missing is what new friends Jamie and Darby have: the spontaneous freedom of youth. Not to mention jaunty hats, hip-hop dance class and ironic tees....

    In While We’re Young, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a middle-aged couple seduced by the hipster life.
  15. John Travolta happy with Scientology, won't see 'Going Clear' (w/video)


    John Travolta said Monday he hasn't viewed the HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, currently shining an accusatory light on his church.

    "No, I haven't," the star of Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction said in a telephone interview, "and I don't really care to."

    Going Clear, is directed by Alex Gibney, and based on Lawrence Wright's similarly titled book alleging improprieties in Scientology, including physical abuse and blackmail using members' confessions against them. (Read our review at )...

    Actor John Travolta says he won’t see the film criticizing the Church of Scientology. Watching it would be a personal crime, he says.