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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: persall@tampabay.com

Twitter: @StevePersall

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  1. Review: 'True Story' is remarkably literate cat-and-mouse game

    Movies

    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.
  2. John Travolta presents 'The Forger' at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre (w/trailer)

    Movies

    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.”
  3. 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,' 'Mad Max,' 'Unfriended' and more come to theaters

    Movies

    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.
  4. Sunscreen Film Festival will open with documentary starring Rowdies coach Thomas Rongen

    Movies

    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.
  5. 'The Longest Ride' sounds like the same old Sparks

    Movies

    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.
  6. Review: 'While We're Young' a clever comedy about age (w/video)

    Movies

    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.
  7. John Travolta happy with Scientology, won't see 'Going Clear' (w/video)

    Movies

    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 tbtim.es/fx4 )...

    Actor John Travolta says he won’t see the film criticizing the Church of Scientology. Watching it would be a personal crime, he says.
  8. Bryan Cranston-starrer 'The Infiltrator' holding Tampa casting call Saturday

    Movies

    Here's the news that Tampa Bay residents with stars in their eyes have awaited: An open casting call for extras 18 and older to appear in The Infiltrator, starring Bryan Cranston, will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St.

    A few lucky applicants may even be hired as stand-ins for actors.

    All positions will be paid, from $64 for an 8-hour shift to $112 for a 12-hour overtime work day....

    Actor Bryan Cranston is starring in 'The Infiltrator,' to be filmed in Tampa Bay.  Getty Images (2013)
  9. Jameis Winston's accuser 'wanted her side told,' 'Hunting Ground' director says

    Movies

    Writer-director Kirby Dick, whose new documentary examining campus sexual assaults is getting national attention, says Erica Kinsman "wanted her side told."

    Kinsman, 20, of Zephyrhills makes her first public comments in The Hunting Ground as she describes a violent, possibly drug-impaired encounter with a man she later identified as Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston....

    Director Kirby Dick recently visited Tallahassee to talk at a screening there.
  10. Review: 'Furious 7' is a Grade A behemoth amusement ride

    Movies

    Vin Diesel has a point in a recent, ridiculed prediction about his new movie. Not about Furious 7 winning the best picture Oscar — fat chance — but that the Academy would become relevant by making it so.

    Furious 7 is exactly what most popular movies are today: behemoth amusement rides adding more preposterous loop-de-loops with each sequel because nothing succeeds like excess. No brand — not even James Bond — does that better than the Fast & Furious franchise. ...

    Furious 7 pits Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel, left) and his “family” of street racers against killing machine Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who’s seeking vengeance for his brother, who was left brain dead by Dom’s crew in Part 6.
  11. Review: 'Danny Collins' comeback story is Al Pacino's, too

    Movies

    What a pleasure to see Al Pacino cut loose in Danny Collins, having fun acting again. Not that he hasn't enjoyed performing, but sitting through much of his past decade of movie work has been a chore.

    Pacino is back in boisterous style, in a role that could be pitched as Scent of a Woman with sight. Playing the last hoo-rah of a fading '70s rock star, Pacino burns the screen as he hasn't in years, not like a flamethrower but the softer heat of a lighter lifted at a concert. He even sings a little, and it's sweeter to the ear than you'd think....

    Al Pacino turns in a terrific, restrained performance as a fading ’70s rock star in Danny Collins.
  12. John Travolta to host premiere of 'The Forger' at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre (w/trailer)

    Movies

    John Travolta has strutted red carpets at movie premieres his entire career but never in Tampa Bay. Not even for The Punisher, which he filmed here in 2003.

    That changes April 18 when Travolta presents the U.S. theatrical premiere of his latest film, The Forger, at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre. All proceeds from the premiere benefit the Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts at Ruth Eckerd Hall....

    John Travolta attended the Indian International Film Academy Awards in Tampa in 2014. He’s been a frequent visitor to Clearwater over the years, often flying a personal airplane from Ocala to attend functions at the Church of Scientology.
  13. Review: 'The Hunting Ground' a devastating look at rape on campus (w/video)

    Movies

    The Hunting Ground (R) (90 min.) — Kirby Dick's documentary begins with a montage of jubilant high school seniors, learning they're accepted to the college of their dreams and, in some cases, nightmares. Nearly one in five female students will be sexually assaulted before graduating, and practically all their attackers will get away with it, in a campus culture of indulgence, entitlement and unconscionable neglect....

    The documentary identifies four reasons why sexual abuse is so prevalent on college campuses.
  14. Review: Jim Parsons' 'Home' not exactly out of this world

    Movies

    Home is where my heart wasn't Saturday morning, at a screening where even children didn't seem excited to be. The father snoring next to me had the right idea at the wrong volume. Hiding a catnap behind 3-D glasses only works if you don't give yourself away.

    Staying awake behind mine, I saw that Home was like a drab dream with squirmy-cuddly aliens, floating space bubbles and too many Rihanna musical interludes. It's the kind of fantasy that not even Steve Martin can make funny, much less Jim Parsons and his Big Bang nerd squeals....

    Oh, voiced by Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), and Tip, voiced by Rihanna, get close in Home.
  15. Review: 'Get Hard' sends Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart's talent down the drain (w/video)

    Movies

    Will Ferrell's butt is the butt of most jokes in Get Hard, and not just in his signature exhibitionism. Ferrell gets that tiresome booty flash routine out of the way before the opening credits roll. Twice.

    For the remainder of this willfully offensive comedy, the punchline is how desperately Ferrell's character — a 1-percenter so white he shakes an offered fist bump — wants to enable or prevent objects from entering his butt. When that gag needs a break, the attention shifts lasciviously to his mouth. Little of this is funny, and then only with a shock that doesn't last....

    Will Ferrell appears in a scene from “Get Hard.”