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: Weird, wobbly 'Tusk' is good for sick fun


    Tusk (R) (100 min.) — Kevin Smith whips up a shaggy walrus story, a horror comedy that's weird and wobbly, but winds up being pretty good, sick fun. And, yes, Fleetwood Mac's creepy song figures into it.

    Quentin Tarantino's reclamation project Michael Parks is impressively deranged as Howard Howe, a basement-level Frankenstein turning a smug podcaster (Justin Long) into a flippered marine mammal. The idea comes from an episode of Smith's own podcast, and no matter how stupid it sounds that's exactly how Tusk plays it....

    Justin Long, left, is a podcaster who is transformed into a marine mammal by Michael Parks’ Frankensteinlike character in Tusk.
  2. 'No Good Deed,' 'Dolphin Tale 2' give bay area top weekend box office slots


    Someone from Pinellas County was bound to win Hollywood's weekend box office race. The surprise was who finished on top: Will Packer, not Winter the dolphin.

    Packer, a 1991 St. Petersburg High graduate turned Hollywood producer, scored his seventh No. 1 debut with No Good Deed, starring Idris Elba as an escaped murderer terrorizing a mother and her children. No Good Deed earned an estimated $24.5 million on 2,175 screens, despite a dismal 9 percent approval rating from critics on

    "Dolphin Tale 2," filmed at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and a few other locations in the bay area, came in No. 2 at the box office to another local film powerhouse, Will Packer, who produced  "No Good Deed," starring Idris Elba. Packer is a St. Petersburg High graduate. [Warner Bros.]
  3. Review: 'No Good Deed' does no good, despite twist


    There's a climactic twist as promised in No Good Deed, but it doesn't make a difference except adding one more cue to applaud, if you feel so inclined.

    It certainly isn't juicy enough to be the reason Screen Gems took the unusual step of canceling this week's advance screenings, after moviegoers already had tickets. Plus the movie already had been sneaked numerous times nationwide, so spoiling the twist was already possible....

    Terri (Taraji P. Henson) opens her door to Colin (Idris Elba), who turns out to be an escaped convict in No Good Deed. That then sets off a series of brutal attacks on the movie’s women, in a movie built on a deplorable notion that the women ask for the abuse they’re getting.
Screen Gems
  4. 'Dolphin Tale 2' director has animal movies licked


    From a toad to a wolf to a dog to a dolphin, Charles Martin Smith's acting and filmmaking career is marked by one animal after another.

    Smith's acting breakthrough came 41 years ago in American Graffiti, playing lovesick teenager Terry "the Toad" Fields. A decade later he starred in Carroll Ballard's outdoor adventure Never Cry Wolf, learning from the maker of The Black Stallion how to make animals into movie stars....

    Charles Martin Smith, center, directs a scene of Dolphin Tale 2. His previous directorial successes include Air Bud.
  5. Review: Puppy might be best part of 'The Drop'


    Put yourself in Dennis Lehane's gumshoes. You're a celebrated mystery writer, among the best in the game, yet when Hollywood turns your books into movies someone else does the writing. Sooner or later that itch for full credit — or blame — needs scratching.

    Lehane, an Eckerd College graduate, chose modestly for starters, adapting a short story titled Animal Rescue into The Drop. It's a crime flick that would be generic except for the fact that every single character is about as sharp as a bowling ball. This is dumb noir, with a hero apparently one noggin bump away from brain damage, so the pacing plods with him....

    James Gandolfini, left, plays Cousin Marv and Tom Hardy is Bob in a story filled with dim bulbs and unnecessary detours.
  6. 'Dolphin Tale 2' films in few spots besides Clearwater Marine Aquarium


    Sequels have a reputation for repetition, and although Dolphin Tale 2 differs from the original in some respects, the filming locations generally remain the same.

    Once again, the majority of the action — perhaps as much as 90 percent — occurs at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where Winter and Hope reside, showing off the $12 million renovation that resulted from the first movie's tourism impact. A few well-planned crane and dolly shots make the facility seem more expansive than it is in real life, while updated examination rooms and rescue vehicles speak to the aquarium's success in real and reel life....

    From left, Juliana Harkavy, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff work with a sea turtle in this scene from the sequel Dolphin Tale 2.
  7. Review: 'Dolphin Tale 2' goes along swimmingly (w/video)


    An easy sequel to Dolphin Tale would simply do again what worked before, finishing what it adorably started. The grownups hook up and the kids share a first kiss while tailless Winter offers more underwater uplift. Only the last part happens in Dolphin Tale 2, and likely not the way you expect. "Inspired by true events" that Tampa Bay residents know well, writer-director Charles Martin Smith reshapes the story of Winter, her late mentor Panama and her protege Hope into smart, lightly challenging family entertainment. It's a different sort of fun from the 2011 original, matured a bit like its adolescent human stars. What hasn't changed is this franchise's knack for making Pinellas County — especially the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where most of the action occurs — appear as a postcard perfect destination. Dolphin Tale 2 isn't artful like Spring Breakers or bold as Magic Mike, but which do you prefer representing where we live?...

    Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) have grown up, and the human focus is now on their friendship as a new aquatic relationship grows between Winter and Hope.
  8. Before 'Dolphin Tale' wrap party ended, Hope suddenly appeared


    On the night of Dec. 11, 2010, Dolphin Tale wasn't finished when its sequel practically wrote itself. At a cast and crew wrap party, at Island Way Grill near the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, news came of a dolphin pup's rescue five years and a day after Winter had been saved in nearly the same Space Coast spot. With timeline tweaks and some creative license, writer-director Charles Martin Smith turned those circumstances into Dolphin Tale 2. He didn't think sequel right away. Neither did Harry Connick Jr., or anyone else except as a joke: "There you go," actor Austin Stowell recalled someone saying at the party, "there's Dolphin Tale 2." Here are more recollections of what may be the first night ever to wrap one movie and inspire another....

    Ashley Judd says she was thrilled to hear about Hope.
  9. 'Dolphin Tale 2' puts faith in Christian marketing


    Dolphin Tale 2 features a new aquatic star named Hope, and a box office future banking on faith.

    Not that the story of tailless Winter and her bottlenose friend Hope takes an overtly Christian turn. But the Clearwater-based sequel's marketing strategy includes courting that segment of moviegoers, who in recent years have proven their box office worth.

    Last month's Dolphin Tale 2 media weekend in Clearwater included 15 Christian news outlets, spreading the promotional gospel of stars including Harry Connick Jr. and Morgan Freeman. "The largest, most influential Christian press in the country," according to Gary Schneeberger, who made sure they got there....

    Winter and Hope are the dolphin stars in Alcon Entertainment’s family adventure Dolphin Tale 2, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
  10. Review: 'The Last of Robin Hood' feels too small screen


    The Last of Robin Hood (R) (94 min.) — The wicked ways of Hollywood legend Errol Flynn could fill a few movies of varying tones, all of which co-writers and directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland try cramming into one. Focused on Flynn's final fling, with a 15-year-old starlet, the movie veers between disapproval, farce and something uncomfortably close to envy, with a trio of game performances barely holding things together....

    Kevin Kline portrays Hollywood legend Errol Flynn, in a final fling with 15-year-old starlet Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning).
  11. Tampa ER doctor pens script for film 'Mantervention'


    The script doctor is in.

    Not Hollywood's usual kind, patching up other people's screenplays. Juan Gallego writes his from scratch, and he's a real doctor, to boot.

    Gallego, 39, is an emergency room physician for Emergency Medical Associates of Tampa Bay, now working at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. He's also the first-time screenwriter and executive producer of Mantervention, an unrated low-budget sex comedy as frivolous as his day-and-night job is grave....

    Spencer (Nick Roux) is a jilted romantic whose best friend Coke (Travis Van Winkle) stages a “mantervention” to help.
Scatena & Rosner Films
  12. Fall Movie Guide: Hope after dismal summer


    Now is the summer of Hollywood's discontent, made inglorious by a run of movies underperforming at the box office.

    The numbers are numbing: Not a single summertime release grossed more than $300 million domestically, for the first time since 2001. An estimated drop of 15 percent in summer ticket sales compared to 2013, the largest year-to-year decline in three decades.

    Yet after the fall comes, well, the fall....

    Michael Keaton, left, with Edward Norton, is a burned-out movie star who is famous for playing a comic book hero in Birdman. He wants to make a comeback on Broadway, but there is complication.
  13. Review: In 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,' noir style is everything


    Style is everything in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, whether it's the clothes women barely wear or their men's silhouetted beatdowns. The town is like a newspaper: black and white and red all over, except this blood is white. Save the reds for what's urgent: a police siren or a looker hooker's lips.

    Substance is another matter. For all of its lurid action and hardboiled soliloquies, the dangers that screenwriter Frank Miller assembled from his graphic novels are thin as the paper they were printed upon. There is a brutal, misogynist sameness to the noir that Miller and co-director Robert Rodriguez can't episodically shuffle away....

    In a movie that has more style than substance, Jessica Alba is unconvincing as Nancy, a stripper who has a grudge against a corrupt senator.
  14. 'Sex Ed' filming at former Catholic school in Tampa 'mortifies' bishop


    Faith-based films are hot in Hollywood, but a local bishop is "mortified" about what he considers a faith-debasing movie.

    Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch blogged a blistering response Tuesday to a report that "an apparently raunchy and sleazy movie" titled Sex Ed was partly filmed at Sacred Heart Academy in Tampa, a parochial school that closed in 2012, more than a year before production began....

    Academy Award nominee Haley Joel Osment plays a teacher in Sex Ed. The filmmakers did some shooting at the closed Sacred Heart Academy in Tampa.
  15. Review: Just too hard to believe in 'Calvary'


    Calvary (R) (100 min.) — John Michael McDonagh's bleak movie begins in gripping fashion, in a seaside Irish village where bearish Father James (Brendan Gleeson) hears a chilling confession.

    The penitent was sexually abused as a child by a priest, and now wants to kill.

    Not the abuser but Father James, because murdering a good priest will get more attention. In seven days, on the beach. It's a date....

    Brendan Gleeson does well with an absurd plot as Father James, a priest hunted in an Irish village.