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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

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  1. Review: 'How to Be Single' is decent indecent date flick for Valentine's Day

    Movies

    How to Be Single, a guide to life, liberty and the pursuit of free drinks in clubs, is Carrie Bradshaw brand sex, but funnier, messier and closer to real.

    Keeping only the title of Liz Tuccillo's book, How to Be Single creates four relationship arcs, each a variation on familiar romantic issues in movies. None would be a good movie idea at feature length but juggled like dates and sprinkled with crude wit, these cliches mostly entertain....

    Robin (Rebel Wilson), right, is a perpetual party girl who guides newly single Alice (Dakota Johnson) in How to Be Single.
  2. Movie planner: Michael Moore's 'Where to Invade Next' is soft, 'Zoolander 2' and 'How to Be Single' open

    Movies

    INDIE FLICKS: Where to Invade Next

    Michael Moore is going soft, judging by his latest docu-gripe, Where to Invade Next (R). Moore retreats from ax-grinding insolence to butter-knife sarcasm, not angry but politely perturbed that the United States of America isn't doing all it can for citizens. Which means not doing things like other nations he cherry-picked.

    The Oscar-winning documentarian imagines a scenario in which the Pentagon is tired of losing wars, dispatching Moore to locate countries with social ideas to appropriate: France's school lunch program, Finland's education reforms, Norway's prisons, Slovenia's free college tuition, Iceland's finances, among others. At each stop Moore ceremoniously plants an American flag to inform amused "enemies" they've been invaded and their ideas stolen....

    From left, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Penelope Cruz are ready for their closeups in Zoolander 2.
  3. Clearwater band dives into Deadpool soundtrack

    Blog

    Keep your ears open when watching the Marvel superhero movie Deadpool this weekend. Something may sound familiar.

    Clearwater rock and roll band Four Star Riot has a song - the 2003 composition Something So Right -  making a cameo in Deadpool, according to the end credits.

    "It's an old song that's been a staple of our shows for years," said Four Star Riot frontman Steve Alex in a telephone interview. "You knock on enough doors and sometimes they open."...

    Clearwater rockers Four Star Riot landed a song on the Deadpool movie soundtrack.
  4. Review: 'Deadpool' is subversive, profane and so perfectly self-aware

    Movies

    Don't bother complaining about what's wrong with the super-antihero movie Deadpool or comic book flicks in general. This movie will do it for you, so subversive and profane that admiring its aggro-honesty is easy.

    This juvenile Marvel delinquent could join the X-Men, if he weren't such a triple-X power tool, mutated to ultra-agility and rapid self-healing. The moldy pepperoni complexion is an unfortunate side effect. Deadpool is the strong, wish-he'd-be-silent type with a brash, fourth wall-breaking line for any kinetic or kinky occasion....

    Ryan Reynolds in "Deadpool." (20th Century Fox)
  5. Review: Coen brothers can't keep 'Hail, Caesar!' together

    Movies

    The big book of Joel and Ethan Coen's characters must be stuffed with ideas, paper scraps jotted with traits and scrapes for the next Dude, Barton or Marge to get into and out of.

    Hail, Caesar! is what happens when that book is dumped open, its contents fluttering into randomness.

    Pick any piece and there's a spark of familiar creativity: the same golden era Hollywood studio that drove Barton Fink mad, a kidnapping a la The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man's ironic Jewish theology and various tones or subtexts. Plus that undeniably Coen dialogue, in which a project is "suckled by a she-wolf and nurturing us in return" and a sex scandal is a "possible French postcard."...

    George Clooney plays matinee idol Baird Whitlock, who disappears off the set of his biblical epic knock-off of The Robe.
  6. Movie planner: Handicapping the Oscars; 'Hail, Caesar!,' 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' open

    Movies

    OSCARS HANDICAPPING: Directors Guild of America edition

    Continuing our assembly of awards show jigsaw pieces, the final Academy Awards picture is getting clearer. The key group weighing in before Oscar voters' final deadline on Feb. 23 is the Directors Guild of America, announcing winners Saturday night in film and television categories.

    The only one mattering for our purposes is direction of a feature film, in another case of domino logic....

    It’s perfect timing for The Choice, with Ben Walker and Teresa Palmer.
  7. Review: 'The Finest Hours' coasts by on patriotic bluster

    Features

    Truth is duller than fiction in The Finest Hours, a story of real-life Coast Guard heroism coasting on patriotic goodwill.

    In February 1952, the New England coast was battered by a blizzard leaving two oil tankers sheared in two, sinking in the Atlantic Ocean. One ship, the Pendleton, wasn't noticed until most Coast Guard resources were already devoted to the other rescue mission. That left a crew of four in a relatively small boat as the only hope for 33 sailors stranded at sea....

    Casey Affleck plays the Pendleton’s engine rat Ray Sybert, whose knowledge of the ship — or half of it — is vital to survival when the tanker begins to sink in a blizzard.
  8. Movie planner: Letters from readers, Oscars shorts and William Shatner

    Movies

    READER MAILBAG: EVERYONE'S A CRITIC

    Typing Hillary Clinton's name in a review of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, I knew what to expect. Same feeling while writing about this year's Oscars lacking diversity.

    Nothing waves a red flag in some readers' faces like bringing politics and race into a movie discussion. Especially those wishing movie critics would adore 13 Hours and ignore the academy's issue....

    Leonardo DiCaprio stars as explorer Hugh Glass in The Revenant.
  9. Derrick Brooks assists 'The Birth of a Nation' at Sundance

    Blog

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks keeps adding to his illustrious list of off-the-field accomplishments.

    Brooks is an executive producer of Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, the Sundance Film Festival's most acclaimed offering, already touted as a 2016 Oscar contender before the 2015 prizes are handed out. 

    The Birth of a Nation recounts the 1831 slave revolt in Virginia led by Nat Turner, and bloody retaliation by slave owners. Parker directed and wrote the screenplay, and stars as Turner. Parker was seen last year in the stage door romance Beyond the Lights....

    Writer-director Nate Parker stars as Nat Turner in 'The Birth of a Nation'
  10. RIP Abe Vigoda: It wasn't only business; it was a pleasure

    Blog

    "Can you get me off the hook, God? For old times' sake?"

    Abe Vigoda's fans can imagine the late actor trying to talk his way out of dying, the way he tried making Tom Hagen call off his character's execution in The Godfather.

    Mr. Vigoda couldn't dodge that cinematic fate, or a mortal one. The character actor with a dourly distinct face and grumble  died Tuesday at age 94, at his daughter's New Jersey home....

    The late Abe Vigoda's breakout role was Tessio the hit man in 'The Godfather'
  11. Review: 'Kung Fu Panda 3' marks well-constructed end to a charming animated series

    Movies

    Kung Fu Panda 3 wraps up the finest animation trilogy ever that isn't about toys.

    Dreamworks' franchise built upon the silliest of premises has continually progressed, in cultural palette and themes, from its surprising 2008 inauguration. It has briefly fallen back on familiarity, as sequels tend to do. Yet there's always something next to surprise, tickle or move in a fresh manner....

    New panda Li (voice of Bryan Cranston) arrives, saying he’s father to Po (Jack Black) in Kung Fu Panda 3.
  12. Tampa Theatre presents Oscar's short (films) list of nominees

    Blog

    Each year Tampa Theatre does Academy Awards predictors a favor by showcasing two categories few know much about.

    Short films are rarely booked in multiplexes, and seldom in independent venues unless they're Oscar nominated. Heck, the documentary shorts aren't even included here, just the live action and animated contenders.

    Starting Saturday through Feb. 10, Tampa Theatre presents each collection of shorts on a schedule you'd better double-check before going. The venue alternates the live action and animated sessions, and sometimes combines them in double features, filling dates between concerts and private events. ...

    Collections of animated and live action Oscar nominated shorts begin Saturday at Tampa Theatre
  13. 'Dark Night' from Sarasota makes Sundance splash

    Blog

    One buzzed-about title at this year's Sundance Film Festival is Dark Night, filmed in Sarasota and assisted by a dozen Ringling College of Art and Design students.

    Directed by Brooklyn resident Tim Sutton, Dark Night is inspired by the 2012 shootings at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater showing the Batman action flick The Dark Knight Rises. In the movie, six strangers live through the hours before a night at the movies turns horrific. Sutton reportedly doesn't stage the massacre, although confessed mass murderer James Holmes is referenced, with his psychological traits apparently divided among the strangers' lives....

    Filmed in Sarasota,  'Dark Night' is inspired by 2012's Aurora Colo. movie theater massacre
  14. Tampa native brings Bosnian drama to Sundial in St. Pete

    Blog

    A culture-clash romance after the Bosnian War is the focus of Sabina K., a film by Tampa native Cristobal Krusen getting its U.S. premiere Feb. 27 at St, Petersburg's Sundial 19.

    Admission is free for the 3 p.m. screening. Moviegoers must RSVP to foundry@fumcsp.org by Feb. 20 to secure seating.

    Krusen, 63, was born in Tampa, attending Berkely Preparatory School through ninth grade before relocating....

    'Sabina K.' sets romance in the aftermath of the Bosnian War
  15. Oscar takes a first, cosmetic step with diversity reform

    Blog

    And the Oscar for best achievement in makeup goes to... the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for a rushed attempt Friday to conceal its bruised image.

    Pilloried for a week after its nominations exposed a lack of diversity in membership and thinking, the academy announced its first steps addressing the issue - none making much difference to moviegoers.

    Those are the folks tuning in to ABC's telecast, making big ad bucks for the academy, and who spent a record $11 billion at box offices last year....

    Chris Rock is hosting this year's Oscars, or as he tweeted: "The white BET awards."