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: 'Heaven Is for Real' succeeds as fact or fantasy, take your pick


    Heaven Is for Real works in mysterious ways for a faith-based movie. It actually leaves room for doubt, in a genre founded on Christian absolutes. Tears aren't jerked; Bibles aren't thumped. Believing gets easier.

    There's a purity of purpose to Randall Wallace's film, based on Todd Burpo's book about his son Colton, who claimed at age 4 to have met Jesus in heaven during a near-death experience. As a pastor, Todd might be expected to blindly embrace that claim, and as a movie Heaven Is for Real could've done the same....

    Greg Kinnear, left, with Connor Corum in Heaven Is for Real.
  2. Review: 'Transcendence' can't transcend boredom (w/video)


    For all its solemn sci-fi posturing, the stakes in Transcendence never seem that high. As usual, one man's desire to play God has consequences. The movie doesn't dwell on what the bad ones are, only the healing of people and the planet, easy online banking and Skype after death. Yay, technology.

    But only if it's placed in the right hands, and whose hands could be righter than Johnny Depp's? He wouldn't do anything to harm the future of mankind, and in Transcendence he doesn't, although a little more menace would perk up the movie. Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a pioneer in infusing artificial intelligence with humanity, presumably to have all the answers then never make good decisions....

    Morgan Freeman, left, Cillian Murphy, Johnny Depp (on monitors) and Rebecca Hall star in the first film directed by Wally Pfister.
  3. 'Magic Mike' sequel gets July 2015 release date


    "Ladies of Tammmmpa...." you can practically hear Matthew McConaughey crooning to announce the release date for Magic Mike XXL, continuing the G-string saga born and partially filmed locally. The strip club sequel hits theaters on July 3, 2015, a coveted holiday weekend spot on the release calendar, opposite a Terminator sequel. Recent Oscar winner (for Dallas Buyers Club) McConaughey and, of course, Channing Tatum are expected to return but negotiations aren't finalized. No filming locations have been announced. Returning to Tampa seems unlikely since the Xquisite dance crew was relocating to Miami when the first film ended. "This one will be a road trip movie," Tatum told MTV, and as co-screenwriter with Reid Carolin he should know. Steven Soderbergh isn't directing Magic Mike XXL, turning over those duties to Gregory Jacobs, who was the 2012 original's first assistant director. Magic Mike cost an estimated $6 million to produce and raked in nearly $114 million in domestic ticket sales. The amount of dollar bills tossed at the screen by panting viewers hasn't been calculated.— Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

  4. Review: Jude Law owns 'Dom Hemingway'


    Dom Hemingway (R) (93 min.) — Jude Law's ferociously vulgar portrayal of a hard-luck safecracker carries the first hour of this amorality tale. Then writer-director Richard Shepard makes the creatively fatal mistake of making Dom Hemingway sympathetic, when irredeemable is much more fun.

    Dom is a standup guy, serving 12 years in prison without incriminating the mastermind Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir), known as one of Europe's most dangerous criminals. This means nothing to Dom, who demands to be compensated for his silence, taunting Ivan to the brink of revenge. Law's character could be an accomplice of Ben Kingsley's memorable Sexy Beast, spewing vile threats and bloodily making good on them....

    Jude Law, left, and Richard E. Grant in Dom Hemingway.
  5. Review: Scarlett Johansson plays succubus in creepy 'Under the Skin'


    Under the Skin (R) (108 min.) — Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress spending a good portion of the movie in various states of undress? Hold on, tiger. That sort of lustful spirit gets men extraordinarily killed in Jonathan Glazer's ponderously fascinating sci-fi oddity, as if Species were remade by Kubrick.

    Johansson plays an unnamed creature whose "birth" in human form is abstractly depicted in the first of a procession of visually striking and aurally grating sequences. Under the Skin is a series of insinuations, a cycle of behavior gradually extended in what viewers are allowed to know. What it all means — if anything beyond unconventionality — is left for viewers to decide....

    Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who becomes more human.
  6. He brought Bollywood to Tampa Bay before it was cool


    Mahesh Patel couldn't believe what he wasn't hearing.

    On a weekly WMNF-FM program in 1987 promising Music of the World, Patel hadn't heard from his corner of it.

    "One day I picked up the phone and said: 'You guys don't have any Indian songs or anything?' " Patel, 61, recalled. "This guy was smart, boy. He said, 'Sir, would you like to come on my show?' "

    Patel accepted the invitation, which led to an avocation, then a cause....

  7. Watch: 'Dolphin Tale 2' trailer debuts online, in theaters


    And so it begins. The marketing drums for Dolphin Tale 2 began beating Friday with the release of the first trailer for the family flick filmed in Pinellas County. Find it online at, or see it before Rio 2 in theaters. Keep tissues handy because this one takes heartwarming up a notch to slow roasting. Dolphin Tale 2 is inspired by more true events, with Winter the tailless bottlenose taking Hope, another rescued dolphin, under her fin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Opening with shots from 2011's Dolphin Tale, the trailer proceeds to remind viewers that fine actors — Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd among them — can always be upstaged by animals of extraordinary intellect. Hope's re-enacted arrival at the aquarium, bonding with Winter and human appreciation is highlighted, while an uplifting pop song plays. You have to admit it works for what the movie wants to be. Dolphin Tale 2 arrives in theaters Sept. 19. — Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

  8. Review: 'Draft Day' fumbles but recovers


    Kevin Costner checks off another sport in his filmography with the pro football fabrication Draft Day, a movie as condescending as one of those NFL clinics for housewives. This movie doesn't even trust viewers to know where teams play, boldly, laughably announcing cities as "home of the (fill in the mascot)."

    Like the marginally more entertaining Moneyball, Draft Day is less about the game than the front office and an executive in crisis mode. Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager for the long-suffering Cleveland Browns, whose recently deceased father coached the team until a clunking reveal in the script. Things are so bad for the Browns that the Dog Pound fan section should have Sarah McLachlan singing for donations....

    Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner in a scene from “Draft Day.”
  9. Review: 'Rio 2' is worth squawking about


    Like its peppy predecessor, Rio 2 doesn't look or sound like other animated licenses to print money. That alone is reason enough to appreciate it.

    Brazil is a long way rhythmically from Broadway urges Disney can't let go, and the Amazon rain forest is a magical kingdom of another kind, in colors and critters. Smartly crafted for overseas success in soccer-and-samba cultures, the Rio franchise offers fresh sensations even when the story's cluttered....

    Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) wields a spork as he navigates the Amazon.
  10. Tampa airport makes Bollywood star arrivals a rooftop event


    A parking garage roof isn't the fanciest venue reserved for International Indian Film Academy celebrities later this month.

    But the open-air setting at Tampa International Airport offers relatively cheap and easy access to Bollywood movie stars arriving for IIFA weekend on April 24-26.

    Starting today, the ninth floor of the airport's short-term garage is closed to unauthorized vehicles. Workers will transform the roof into a staging area for celebrity arrivals in two weeks....

  11. Review: 'Captain America II' provides twists, turns


    Nothing is more red, write and blue than political scandal, and Captain America uncovers a doozy in his sequel, The Winter Soldier. Not only is democracy's foundation shaken but an entire television series must also now be overhauled. Pray for our nation.

    Captain America is a Marvel superhero at his best when working with one combat boot in the past, like his World War II exploits battling the forces of Hydra, who aren't just Nazis but rogue Nazis, so they're extra nasty. The Winter Soldier moves ahead a few decades in tone, to paranoid post-Watergate cinema in which anyone in power was likely hiding something....

    Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, released by Marvel (Disney)
  12. Walking Dead Escape obstacle course coming to Sun Dome


    Proving pop exploitation, like zombies, simply won't die, fans of The Walking Dead can now pay $150 to act like an undead VIP. The Walking Dead Escape, an immersive obstacle course cashing in on AMC's popular series, comes to the University of South Florida's Sun Dome on May 10. Sounds more fun signing up to be a "Walker" ($75) than a "Survivor," ($65) considering the professionally applied zombie makeup and being a chaser instead of a chasee. Timid or out-of-shape souls may choose to be spectators ($20). Discounts are available for military personnel and groups of 12 or more. The pricier VIP package includes the option to run the course twice, as both a Walker and a Survivor, plus a T-shirt, a lounging area and behind-the-scenes access. Tickets and time slots from 6 p.m. until near midnight are available at and This cardio-horror event is being held in seven U.S. cities — Atlanta's one, of course — proving the zombie apocalypse spread farther than Walking Dead show runner Scott Gimple has let on....

  13. Ninth annual Sunscreen Film Festival will spread out across St. Pete venues


    Not throwing shade on Baywalk 20 but the Sunscreen Film Festival is taking its ninth annual showcase elsewhere May 1-4. No offense intended, according to executive director Tony Armer, just no deal completed with the Sundial theater's new owners, Carmike Cinemas. "I actually feel really good about it," Armer said. "We've almost been on an island there (at the renamed Baywalk plaza) for the past couple years, with the construction and everything." Instead, more than 120 features, documentaries and shorts will be scattered around the Palladium, Dali Museum, Studio @620 and American Stage (which will also house filmmaking workshops). The lineup announced Monday includes the opening night comedy Confessions of a Womanizer, starring lunatic fringe dweller Gary Busey. Don't get your hopes up; Armer said Busey's booked that weekend at an event in California. His co-stars, WWE diva tag team the Bella Twins, are expected to attend. Complete Sunscreen information and tickets are available at — Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

  14. Gay film fest starts early with screenings


    Celebrating its 25th anniversary in October, the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival kicks off the party with a monthly series of retrospective screenings at Freefall Theatre in St. Petersburg. Next up on Wednesday: Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, a documentary focused on a lesbian couple together from the closeted 1960s to the marriage equality era. Thea Spyer died in 2009, leaving her spouse Edie Windsor liable for $363,000 in estate tax since the federal government didn't recognize their marriage. Windsor's subsequent Supreme Court challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act is a landmark in gay rights history. Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement will be shown at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. Tickets are $10. Visit for information. The movie also previews a coming attraction: Windsor, now 90, headlines St. Petersburg's Equality Florida gala at Mahaffey Theater on May 3. Details are available at — Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

  15. David Letterman to retire in 2015 from 'Late Show'

    The Feed

    And the No. 1 reason late-night television will never be the same:

    David Letterman announced Thursday that he'll retire in 2015, ending a record run of hosting sleepy-time talk shows on two networks.

    No more signature top-10 lists, stupid pet tricks or absurd stunts like wearing an Alka-Seltzer suit in a water tank. The man who made grouchiness funny and turned guests into bundles of nerves, wondering what he'd say next, is stepping down as host of the Late Show with David Letterman....

    David Letterman announces that he will be retiring from the Late Show with David Letterman on Thursday night’s broadcast.