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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. Tim Burton films 'Peregrine' scenes in Tampa Bay neighborhood


    BELLEAIR BLUFFS — On an ordinary cul-de-sac Friday in Harbor Bluffs, director Tim Burton was doing the extraordinary.

    Inside a modest one-story waterfront house, Burton directed a birthday party scene for his latest movie Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, based on a young adult novel by Ransom Riggs.

    Burton's set was closed to the media but tell-tale signs of movie production were obvious. In neighboring driveways, tons of filmmaking equipment awaited use. More than two dozen crew members milled on lawns, or peered inside a garage at video monitors displaying the action inside....

    Director Tim Burton is filming 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in Harbor Bluffs, near Belleair Beach [

Steve Persall | Times]
  2. For comedian Wanda Sykes, it's all about being funny


    Wanda Sykes doesn't give a damn what Kanye West thinks after bum-rushing Beck at the Grammys. • "He's crazy. He's just an egomaniac. He's nuts," Sykes said by telephone from Los Angeles, just getting warmed up about what occurred the night before. • "I wanted someone to ask him, when he's going off about real artists and Beck and whatever: Have you listened to Beck's album? It's pretty good. And having (West) think singing over a manhole cover is pretty spectacular? I say no, thank you, sir."...

    “I have opinions, but the first thing I want to do is make people laugh,” Wanda Sykes says.
  3. Review: Will Smith brings the charisma back into 'Focus'


    For Will Smith, there is life after After Earth, his most embarrassing failure in an otherwise charmed career.

    Smith's swagger is back in Focus, a caper not as clever as co-creators Glenn Ficarra and John Requa would like us to believe. Focus is a movie about con artists that itself is a complete con. It swivels logic and loyalties when necessary, borrows from better cinema scams like The Sting, and plays everyone for suckers....

    Will Smith and Margot Robbie bring the heat in Focus, playing con artists who become lovers.
  4. 'Six Dance Lessons' has St. Pete Beach setting — sort of


    Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks spent six days filming locally in 2013, mostly exterior shots to disguise the fact that the "St. Pete Beach" where it's set is really Budapest, Hungary, where principal filming occurred.

    Viewers won't easily spot the difference, says Richard Alfieri, the stage play and now screenplay's author.

    "It's all very true to the area," Alfieri said from Los Angeles, where he splits time with a family home in Redington Shores....

    Gena Rowlands stars as Lily, a widow, and Cheyenne Jackson plays her instructor.
  5. Oscars most passion-filled, politically charged show since 9/11


    One of these Oscars, someone will arrive on the red carpet in a gown to top them all.

    After 87 years, there must be enough awareness ribbons, slogan buttons and lapel pins for an enterprising designer to stitch together into a fashion statement of everything good and true.

    That is what the Academy Awards spectacle is about: promoting yourself. In the old days of studio control, it was solely a star's next movie or new beau. Then it got weirdly political for a while — Brando's bogus Native American accepting his Oscar, Vanessa Redgrave's "Zionist hoodlums" remark and a telegram from the Viet Cong....

    Common, left, and John Legend accept the best original song award for Glory, from Selma, which has become an anthem for equal rights for African-Americans.
  6. 'Birdman' soars at 87th Academy Awards (w/video)


    Oscar sprouted wings Sunday when Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was named 2014's best picture at the 87th Academy Awards.

    Birdman is undoubtably the academy's most avant-garde choice ever, magically realistic and filmed under the illusion of a single, uninterrupted two-hour take. Alejandro G. Inarritu's fantasy swirls in the meta comeback of a flamed-out movie star (Michael Keaton) taunted by his superhero alter ego....

    Host Neil Patrick Harris performs Sunday during the 87th Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
  7. Steve Persall's Oscars predictions include 'Birdman,' Redmayne, Moore (w/video)


    Anyone feeling giddy after last year's Academy Awards predictions should take a sobering look at this year's choices.

    Last year was a breeze, a two-horse race with 12 Years a Slave and Gravity perfectly complementing each other in the grand scheme of Oscar balloting — historical art versus fantasy spectacle. I correctly picked 20 of 24 categories, a personal record over a lifetime of picking....

    Eddie Redmayne
  8. Tim Burton movie unites Tampa Bay's film commissions


    Filming begins Saturday around Tampa Bay on director Tim Burton's next feat of movie magic, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

    Yet attracting the production here is a neat trick itself, making a friendly rivalry between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties disappear.

    Both counties' film commissions are joining forces, putting money where their individual interests lay. Each agency will pay $100,000 incentives to the production, after certain requirements are met....

    Local construction crews built a facade in Pasco County for an eerie mansion in Tim Burton’s 1990 movie, Edward Scissorhands.
  9. Oscars history full of one-hit wonders (w/video)


    Meryl Streep makes it seem so easy.

    Win an Academy Award for acting and immediately you're expected to do it again, or at least be in the discussion from time to time. Streep has three statuettes on her shelf, and a record 19 nominations overall.

    An Oscar is a promise of continuing greatness that doesn't always pan out. For every Streep, Jack Nicholson or Daniel Day-Lewis justifying their bestowed posterity with long, acclaimed movie careers, there's a Roberto Benigni or Cher who never really pans out. Or a Mo'Nique who doesn't seem to care....

    STEVE MADDEN | Times
  10. The Oscars: trivia, tidbits and the TV schedule


     This year's acting nominations set one record and extended another. Robert Duvall (The Judge) passed Hal Holbrook to become the oldest nominee ever at age 84, and Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) earned her 19th nomination.

     All four acting categories would be swept by first-time Oscar winners for the first time since 2010 if the favorites prevail. Eddie Redmayne (or Michael Keaton), Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette have never won before....

  11. Movies opening Feb. 20


    Give John Cusack credit for putting his art before money and skipping Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (R). Of course, if Cusack was that concerned about his art he wouldn't have starred in the first one.

    Actually, his replacement is funnier (if only by default). Adam Scott, star of Parks and Recreation and vodka commercials, steps in as the most sensible member of four dudes gone wild. After the original took them back to 1986 in the titular mode of time travel, this one takes them back to the future. Part 2, that is, when Biff used the DeLorean to rig a fortune for himself....

    Kevin Costner, center, stars in McFarland
  12. Review: Cotillard deserves Oscar nod for 'Two Days, One Night'


    Before Sunday's Academy Awards, take time to see Marion Cotillard's worthily nominated performance in Two Days, One Night, a sliver of working class life from the Dardenne brothers, Belgium's gift to filmmaking.

    A common theme for Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is ordinary people in everyday financial straits. It's no different for Cotillard's clinically depressed Sandra, a factory worker who can barely drag herself from bed to learn she's laid off from her job. Worse is why it happens: A foreman pitting co-workers against her, saying their work can be accomplished with one less employee, which would allow them to receive a bonus everyone needs....

    Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a depressed factory worker, and Fabrizio Rongione is her husband, Manu, in Two Days, One Night.
  13. Colin Firth's 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' is a spy flick for the next generation


    Watching Kingsman: The Secret Service made me think of Casino Royale. Both of them. The silly first one with David Niven playing 007, and Daniel Craig's rebooted, bare-knuckle Bond. One spy romp nothing like the other, nor a particularly good match.

    Matthew Vaughn's moshing of spy genre extremes is based on a comic book, a medium from which many of the director/co-writer's creative juices flow. Kingsman is as violently kinetic as anything Vaughn has made, a list including Kick-Ass (the good one) and Craig's U.S. breakthrough, Layer Cake....

    Taron Egerton portrays Eggys in the new film "Kingsman: The Secret Service.'' [Getty Images]
  14. Review: 'Fifty Shades of Grey' sexy enough, better than the book (w/video)


    It is finally here, the swooningly anticipated movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey, the book that millions read but far fewer were caught doing it.

    And you know what? Director Sam Taylor-Johnson's movie isn't nearly as terrible as E.L. James' novel would make you expect. There's perverted, like the sado-masochistic sex games played by tycoon Christian Grey, and then there's perverse, like the pleasure of watching trash so glossily compacted....

    Dakota Johnson, left, and Jamie Dornan star in Fifty Shades of Grey.
  15. Review: 'Still Alice' is a movie to remember


    It isn't a spoiler to reveal that Still Alice doesn't have a happy ending. Alzheimer's disease doesn't allow for that, at least not in a conventional sense. Joy comes in a life fully lived, and how loved ones preserve it.

    In that regard, the way Still Alice ends can leave you feeling pretty good. For all of its movie-of-the-week mechanics, this is a deeply moving dramatization of what Alzheimer's does to mind and spirit, anchored by the finest performance, male or female, from any 2014 movie release....

    Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, 50, a linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.