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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: 'Aloha' wastes a good cast in a clumsy disaster


    How bad is Cameron Crowe's ho-hum rom-com Aloha?

    Bad enough for Sony to hear accusations of "white-washing" Hawaiian culture for weeks from natives, rather than show anyone Aloha to prove them wrong. Better to suffer baseless criticism than allow disparaging word-of-mouth to spread too soon, curbing the box office take.

    All Crowe's movie has going for it is casting, a lineup of favored actors wasted in a screenplay unsure of what it wants to be. Aloha is by turns a love quadrangle that never materializes, an ode to Hawaiian sovereignty, an opposites-attract cliche and an outer-space weapons caper, all of which is clumsily executed. The story's second half barely makes sense from scene-to-scene, likely a result of late tampering to salvage Sony's investment....

    Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams lead a cast of favored actors that sadly can’t salvage the mess of a script that is Aloha.
  2. Review: 'San Andreas' old-school disaster flick boasting state-of-the-CGI destruction


    If you're caught in a movie between a rock and a hard place, choose the Rock every time.

    Dwayne Johnson keeps his rescue record as perfect as his physique in San Andreas, an old-school disaster flick boasting state-of-the-CGI destruction, plus the nagging aspects of such rumbling, tumble-down entertainment.

    Of course, Johnson can't save everyone in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the largest earthquake ever recorded is wreaking havoc. So, screenwriter Carlton Cuse narrows down the hero's to-rescue list to the genre's essentials: estranged wife, beloved daughter, her potential boyfriend and his kid brother. Something for every summertime demographic....

    Dwayne Johnson, left, as Ray, our hero, and Alexandra Daddario as Blake, his daughter, in a scene from San Andreas. 
  3. Review: 'I'll See You in My Dreams'


    I'll See You in My Dreams (PG-13) (92 min.) — Why has it taken Blythe Danner so long to get a movie role this good? At 72, after a career mostly spent on stage, television and the sidelines, Danner is an immediate awards contender, thanks to director and co-writer Brett Haley recognizing rich potential in the lives of older women, and certainly her performance.

    Danner plays Carol Petersen, a 20-year widow choosing to keep her home alone, rather than joining her small gaggle of friends at a Sun City Center-style retirement community. Haley establishes her condition with small touches, everyday activities when Danner subtly conveys a sense of something or someone missing. When her loving companion passes away, her face alone is enough devastation, and Haley lets it do the work....

    Blythe Danner, in a fine performance, and Martin Starr find themselves as kindred spirits in the film I’ll See You in My Dreams.
  4. Review: 'Tomorrowland' full of ambitious ideas kids probably won't get


    It's a small-minded world in Disney's Tomorrowland, a world of disasters, a world of tears with little hope and plenty of fears. All because the human race is dumbing down.

    "It's hard to have ideas and easy to give up," someone says in director Brad Bird's ambitiously flawed movie. The theme is vital to Tomorrowland, one of the more challenging pieces of family entertainment you're likely to find this summer, more like Interstellar Lite than a comic book rumble....

    “It’s hard to have ideas and easy to give up,” says Casey Newton, a teenaged optimist played well by rising star Britt Robertson. Casey is more dreamer than genius in Tomorrowland, one of the more challenging pieces of family entertainment you’re likely to find this summer.
  5. David Letterman makes a classic, assured exit from late night TV


    David Letterman left late night television early Thursday morning with a wave and no doubt:

    "For the last time on a television program: Thank you and good night," Letterman said, signing off on a monumental television career with a farewell show not that different but much more special than the 6,027 broadcast before.

    Unlike his variety show mentor Johnny Carson, Letterman's farewell was without heavy sentiment yet bursting with appreciation. Call it part of the difference Letterman made, not only in the way such shows were hosted and people spotlighted but what is funny....

    David Letterman at the end of the final taping of "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Wednesday. After 33 years in late night television, 6,028 broadcasts, nearly 20,000 total guest appearances, 16 Emmy Awards and more than 4,600 career Top Ten Lists, Letterman said goodbye to late night television audiences. The show was taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York.
  6. David Letterman speaks his heart on surgery, future after 'Late Show' (w/video)

    The Feed

    "I'm tired, I'm very tired. I'm so tired," David Letterman jokes with late night verve during an early evening phone call. "How are you?"

    Fine, thanks, but why so tired?

    "Well, I'm 68 years old, number one," Letterman says. "And number two: I'M 68 YEARS OLD."

    Minutes before, the abdicating king of late night heard another round of salty/sweet good-byes, taping The Late Show with David Letterman. Julia Roberts kissed him. Six thousand twenty-three pillow time talk shows down. Five more to go....

    Signing off: The final broadcast of Late Show with David Letterman airs at 11:35 p.m. Wednesday on CBS.
  7. Documentary 'An Honest Liar' to screen in Brandon thanks to Lutz man


    Moviegoers often wonder why certain independently produced films aren't shown in Tampa Bay theaters. Barry Silber of Lutz did something about it. Intrigued by reading about the documentary An Honest Liar, Silber contacted the tiny distributor Abramorama and arranged a one-time screening on May 28 at 7:30 p.m. at AMC Regency 20 in Brandon. An Honest Liar profiles James "The Amazing" Randi, pictured, professional skeptic and noted debunker of psychic phenomena. Silber attempted to book Randi, 86, to speak at the screening but the author and former magician, who lives in Plantation, has a previous commitment. A post-show discussion is planned. Tickets are $11 at For the record, esoteric movies like An Honest Liar with limited financial backing often skip mid-sized markets like Tampa Bay. Not because we wouldn't enjoy or understand them but simply because distributors can't afford wider releases. Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

    James Randi, a Plantation resident, is considered the grandfather of skeptics. He made a career as a magician before becoming a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellow and devoting his life to debunking the work of psychics, spiritual healers, astrologers and the like. (Associated Press, 2007)
  8. Review: 'Clouds of Sils Maria' shows Kristen Stewart can act (really!)


    This is not a joke: Kristen Stewart won an acting prize that isn't voted upon by teenaged Twihards. A real, honest-to-gosh grown-up acting award.

    Contrary to possibly unpopular opinion Stewart earned it, for her meta portrayal in Clouds of Sils Maria, an English language but oh, so French, Swiss and German indie. Stewart was named best supporting actress at the Cesars, France's version of the Academy Awards....

    Kristen Stewart won a major acting award for her role in Clouds of Sils Maria.
  9. Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival moving out of Tampa Theatre


    After 25 years housed at Tampa Theatre, the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is moving to new venues.

    In a news release Thursday, festival executive director Margaret Murray announced the change, citing a changing media culture as the reason.

    "We regularly compete with Netflix, Amazon, and the multiplex for original LGBT programming — and space in your schedule," the release said. "The lure of laptops, cellphones, and on-demand means that there's less incentive to rush to the festival — historically the only place you'd see the best in LGBT film."...

    The Tampa Theatre.
  10. Review: 'Pitch Perfect 2' more extravagant, yet less charming


    Remember that third season of Glee when singers who made us love the show in the first place graduated, with lesser newbies shoved into the spotlight to take their places?

    Well, the same thing happens to the Pitch Perfect franchise in only Part 2, and like Glee it feels like the beginning of the end of something special.

    Don't get me wrong. Pitch Perfect 2 has its fair share of a cappella clarity and girl power hilarity, certainly enough to satisfy its core audience. However, it misses much of the original's grassroots charm by succumbing to the sequel rule that everything must be bigger than before. This time the fun isn't discovered but foisted upon us, which is easier to resist....

    Original Barden Bellas like Beca (Anna Kendrick), center, and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), second from right, pass the whistle to a new set of aca-recruits in Pitch Perfect 2.
  11. Review: Charlize Theron is the one driving 'Mad Max: Fury Road' (w/video)


    An even madder Maxine lends a human touch to the diesel-punk demolition derby Mad Max: Fury Road. Not too much, since the only thing slow about George Miller's road rager is how long it took to make another sequel.

    Thirty years beyond Thunderdome and Tina Turner, Max Rockatansky takes a back seat to another post-apocalyptic feminist, aptly named Furiosa and dynamically role-modeled by Charlize Theron....

    Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' action adventure film, "Mad Max:Fury Road." (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
  12. 'Far from the Madding Crowd' a sophisticated film in a wham-bam season


    Far From the Madding Crowd likely isn't the Tom Hardy movie you're seeking this weekend. That would be Mad Max: Fury Road. This one is based on a 19th century novel by Thomas Hardy, who has nothing else in common with the other except a British accent.

    Thomas Vinterberg's stately adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd is as far from the Mad Max-ing crowd as any movie could be. Fox Searchlight is hoping for a little counter-programming magic, dropping a sophisticated corset-and-crumpets period drama into a season built on silliness and superheroes. At times, Vinterberg's film feels as fantastic as anything those Avengers do, simply through artful intelligence at a time when it's in short supply....

    Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdeen in Far From the Madding Crowd.
  13. Florida Orchestra backs Gene Kelly with 'Singin' in the Rain'


    Last year the Florida Orchestra made beautiful music with a Charlie Chaplin silent movie.

    But paraphrasing Al Jolson, when talkies were born: "You ain't heard nothin' yet."

    Or perhaps you have.

    Using modern technology, 1952's Singin' in the Rain will be shown Friday and Saturday with its musical score erased and replaced by the orchestra's performance. Vocal tracks and sound effects will remain intact, so the audience will hear Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor singing and tap dancing with live accompaniment. The orchestra performed the same aural magic in 2009 with The Wizard of Oz....

    The Florida Orchestra will play the movie’s score, with the vocal tracks intact.  Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds’ singing stays.  in the Rain.
  14. Inaugural Skyway Film Festival will kick off with Florida-filmed Disney biopic


    Opening and closing night offerings for the inaugural Skyway Film Festival in Bradenton were announced Monday, including a Florida-produced biography of Hollywood legend Walt Disney, pictured. Kicking off the festival June 12 is the world premiere of Khoa Lee's directing debut Walt Before Mickey, starring Thomas Ian Nicholas (the American Pie series) as the beloved movie mogul. Based on Timothy S. Susanin's book and filmed in DeLand and Tampa, the movie traces Disney's early years growing up in Missouri and starting an animation partnership with brother Roy (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite). The closing night film June 14 is the existential romance No Stranger Than Love starring Alison Brie and Colin Hanks. Screenings will be held at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. Tickets go on sale May 22, and additional films and festival events will be announced soon. Visit for updates and information....

    Walt Disney in 1951. (Associated Press)
  15. Review: 'The D-Train' brings awkward Jack Black, James Marsden bromance


    A man crush weighs heavily on a desperate schlub in The D-Train, a bromantic comedy of sorts, tweaking one of the genre's tasteless tenets.

    The schlub in question is Dan Landsman, a chronic nobody and self-appointed chairman of his high school reunion committee. Dan was never part of any clique, and none will change that now. Even his wife and son are awkward relationships.

    Dan is a loser, until remeeting the man of dreams he never knew he had....

    Jack Black and Kathryn Hahn in “The D Train.”