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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: '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.
  2. 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 hosts his last show Wednesday.
  3. 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....

    Madonna laughs with Letterman on March 31, 1994. The singer, who loves to shock, used a four-letter word 13 times that night.
  4. 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)
  5. 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.
  6. 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."...

    Lea Delaria, comedian and Orange is the New Black actor, will perform a night of standup comedy for the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. (Associated Press)
  7. 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.
  8. 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....

    Nathan Jones as Rictus Erectus, in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' action adventure film, "Mad Max:Fury Road.". (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
  9. '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 is Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts is Gabriel in “Far From the Madding Crowd.”
  10. 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.
  11. 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)
  12. 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....

    James Marsden, far left, and Jack Black star in The D-Train.
  13. Review: 'Hot Pursuit' is a hot mess that's beneath Reese Witherspoon


    Passing the Bechdel test but otherwise failing is Hot Pursuit — a movie starring women with clout and directed by a woman — that whiffs on feminism and comedy.

    Rather than two women talking about anything besides men, Hot Pursuit has Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara shrieking about it, using exaggerated Southern and Spanglish more suitable for cartoons: "You got salsa in mah grits!" "You got greets in my salsa!"...

    Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon are screaming at this movie’s awful attempts at humor.
  14. Tampa Theatre's Summer Movie Classics: 'Sound of Music' sing along, 'Back to the Future,' more


    Tampa Theatre announced its Summer Classics movie series lineup this week, including anniversary tributes to The Sound of Music, Back to the Future and Caddyshack. Screenings are held Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m., beginning June 7 with The Wizard of Oz, which also kicks off six postshow discussions led by University of South Florida film professor Harriet Deer. Then comes Key Largo (June 14), Caddyshack (June 21), Vertigo (June 28), Back to the Future (July 5) and Top Hat (July 12). Then the series continues with people's choice Breakfast at Tiffany's (July 19), The Sound of Music celebrating its 50th anniversary with a sing-along version (July 26), and finally Gone With the Wind (Aug. 2), West Side Story (Aug. 9), Goodfellas (Aug. 16), Casablanca (Aug. 22-23) and 1925's silent The Phantom of the Opera with Steven Ball playing the theater's Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. Tickets are $10-$12 with discounts for members, children, seniors and military personnel. Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

    Julie Andrews appears in the 1965 film "The Sound of Music."  (Gannett News Service/Fox Video/File)
  15. Bette Midler talks girl groups and her 20th concert tour


    Three weeks before her 20th concert tour, Bette Midler isn't feeling entirely divine. • "You don't even want to know," Midler sighed by telephone from California. "The story is much too sad to be told … I'm wearing hats to cheer myself up." • Costumes still must be fitted, rehearsals endured. Midler, 69, interrupted herself, complaining how expensive going on the road is these days: • "Wait a minute," she said, snapping to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy attention. "Are you kidding me? I've been on 20 tours? You know what? You're probably right. Oh, my God." • How does that make Midler feel? • "Like retiring," she said, laughing like that's the last thing on her mind....

    Bette Midler’s Divine Intervention tour celebrates women’s groups from the ’30s to the ’90s. “The singing suffragettes, I call them,” Midler said. “To me it’s all the sound of angels singing.”