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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

Email: spersall@tampabay.com

Twitter: @StevePersall

  1. Review: 'Pan' another pointless branch of the Neverland family

    Happy thoughts are hard to conjure while watching Pan, a needless prequel to J.M. Barrie's fantasy about an ever-youthful boy who could fly.

    Director Joe Wright's movie barely gets off the ground, and gets old quickly.

    Pan attempts to fill in Peter's back story, before he earned the Pan surname by saving Neverland's fairy population from extinction at the hands of a wicked pirate. No, not Captain Hook; he's a good guy here, who has somehow seen his share of Indiana Jones movies, judging by Garret Hedlund's distracting Harrison Ford impersonation....

    Hugh Jackman in “Pan.” (Laurie Sparham/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.) 1174657
  2. Review: 'Big Stone Gap' corny, but a passion project for Patrick Wilson


    Big Stone Gap (PG) isn't everyone's cup of sweet tea. It's a homespun tale populated by broadly drawn characters and solid actors — Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Anthony LaPaglia — sounding like they gulped hush puppy batter.

    At the center is a pleasant romance between St. Petersburg product Patrick Wilson's coal mining hunk Jack MacChesney and Ashley Judd's pharmacist spinster Ave Maria Muligan. Around the edges is a lot of corn....

    Whoopi Goldberg is part of the film’s talented supporting cast.
  3. Review: 'He Named Me Malala' shows humanity behind the icon


    Like her revolutionary namesake, women's rights activist Malala Yousafzai refuses to be silenced by oppression, or even a Taliban assassination attempt. The teenage Nobel laureate is reverently profiled in He Named Me Malala (PG-13), directed by Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth).

    The "he" in the title is Malala's father Ziauddin, and their relationship forms the beating heart of a biography that could be entirely didactic. Ziauddin dares to put faith in a daughter's will, against the conventions of Pakistan's Muslim society. He names Malala for a legendary teenager who exhorted her countrymen to stand and fight, hoping his daughter will do the same....

    Malala Yousafzai at the Kisaruni Girls School on May 26, 2014 in Massai Mara, Kenya.
  4. Review: 'The Martian' is smart sci-fi with a dose of humanity


    Ridley Scott's The Martian is a brainy blockbuster, melding genuine science and fiction into a rare popcorn epic that actually makes you feel smarter for watching.

    This is a movie whose only villain is pessimism, fought with weapons of scientific fact and a global can-do spirit. Scott's futuristic visions — Blade Runner, Alien and Prometheus among them — typically aren't this optimistic. Working from Andy Weir's novel, Scott restores humanism to a genre dominated by gods and monsters....

    In 'The Martian,' Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who draws upon his ingenuity to subsist on a hostile planet.
  5. Movie Planner: Molly Ringwald at Capitol Theatre, 'The Martian' and Steve's Top 5 returns


    Molly Ringwald doesn't want anyone remaking The Breakfast Club, even if the late John Hughes' estate would allow it.

    "They would have to figure out some way to get rid of all the cell phones in the first scene, or it would be a very boring movie," Ringwald said by telephone from Toronto. "Everyone would just be texting the whole time."...

    Matt Damon stars as an astronaut stranded on Mars in The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, of Blade Runner fame.
  6. Review: 'The Walk' a high-wire exercise in waiting


    Tightrope legend and coincidental movie critic Karl Wallenda famously declared "life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting." Which pretty much sums up Robert Zemeckis' The Walk, a marvelous technical achievement when the director finally gets around to it.

    Zemeckis built his career on amazements, from Roger Rabbit and a DeLorean time machine to Lt. Dan's missing legs to Denzel flying an airliner upside down. The Walk offers him a new challenge, re-creating Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the then-new World Trade Center towers, an audacious piece of extreme performance art....

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays tightrope walker Philippe Petit and Charlotte Le Bon as Petit’s accomplice and love interest Annie Allix in The Walk. The movie brilliantly recreates Petit’s 1974 walk between the Twin Towers, but otherwise it’s a drawn-out, lazy biopic.
  7. 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah': And now, your moment of … when?


    So, it was all a joke, right? The idea that Jon Stewart would actually desert The Daily Show and a nation needing him, leaving the fate of topical comedy in the hands of a nobody named Trevor Noah.

    If so, it isn't funny. If Noah is what we're stuck with, even less.

    The Daily Show with Trevor Noah did, in fact, debut Monday night, playing a lot like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart albeit with a fill-in host because Stewart had some last-minute stomach virus, or was off directing another esoterically political movie no one will see. Same Dog on Fire intro music, a minorly refurbished set, identical format all the way to a closing moment of Zen....

    Trevor Noah hosts Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" premiere on Monday in New York.
  8. Review: 'Sicario' a thrilling drug cartel ride en route to Oscar season


    Sicario is a tentacled drug cartel thriller grabbing viewers by the throat and squeezing for two hours. This movie continually defies the conventions of its genre, from its hero's gender to the vagueness of its morality.

    Denis Villeneuve's third English-language film is even grimmer, bleaker than his first, the 2013 revenge drama Prisoners. Yet this time the purpose isn't sadistic rabble rousing. Sicario is a procedural in Mexican cartel strategy, the constant covering of tracks and eliminating competition. It's also a gripping indictment of U.S. measures that aren't enough to slow them, except for illegal actions....

    Josh Brolin, center, plays Matt Graver, a CIA drug cartel investigator, in Sicario.
  9. Tampa Gay & Lesbian Film Festival hits the road


    The 26th annual Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is just around the corner, in a different city defying the event's name.

    For the first time ever, the gay cinema showcase isn't centered in Tampa but across the bay in St. Petersburg and surrounding communities. Tampa Theatre that housed major festival events for 25 years isn't in play at all. Three Tampa venues will offer sidebar presentations: Studio Movie Grill at University Mall, Villagio Cinemas, and Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa....

    Singer-comedian Lea DeLaria is the festival's special guest
  10. Review: 'Pawn Sacrifice' a risk-free telling of the Bobby Fischer story

    The genius and madness of Bobby Fischer is dramatized in Pawn Sacrifice, a movie that, unlike the chess legend, doesn't take risks.

    Fischer's competitive and psychological rise, crest and decline is presented by director Edward Zwick in exasperatingly straightforward fashion, moving one square at a time like a pawn rather than mixing it up like a knight. Pawn Sacrifice is framed and paced like a cable TV movie, and likely more effective on screens of that size....

    Pawn Sacrifice reduces an epic 1972 chess world championship match of Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber, left) and Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) to a boring drag.
Bleecker Street
  11. Stephan Pastis will talk 'Pearls Before Swine' at Palladium in St. Petersburg


    Stephan Pastis freely admits he's a Rat. Not to mention a Pig, Goat and Zebra.

    The award-winning cartoonist cast Pearls Before Swine with stick-figure critters, each a little piece of Pastis, from id-driven Rat to intellectual Goat.

    Collectively, this misanthropic menagerie, published in more than 750 newspapers including the Tampa Bay Times, lampoons world politics, other comic strips, whatever crosses its creator's mind....

    Stephan Pastis will be in St. Petersburg as part of a tour to promote Pearls Gets Sacrificed, his comic strips compilation.
  12. Review: 'The Intern' is outdated, but Hathaway and De Niro charm


    First, the good news about Nancy Meyers' latest ladies night flick, The Intern:

    Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro are just as warm and winning as their Oscars and the movie's trailers would have us believe. And Meyers thankfully avoids any May-December romantic sparks between their boss-employee roles.

    That's about it. Now let's get on with what's wrong.

    The Intern is a movie outmoded in style and strangely retro-sexist in spirit. The message seems to be that behind every successful woman is a wiser older man, guiding her decisions while privy to her most personal thoughts. Meyers' screenplay makes sure everyone's personal thoughts are third-draft cleverly expressed. In detail....

  13. Movie Planner: 'Stonewall' movie a disaster, but here are some better bets



    Roland Emmerich is famous for making disaster flicks but Stonewall (R) is a catastrophe, his dabble in low-budget, "important" filmmaking at the expense of a cultural touchstone.

    In 1969, gay pride ignited with a riot at New York's Stonewall Inn, an anything goes place run by mobsters and raided by police. The event that birthed a movement is a second thought (if that) for Emmerich and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz, choosing to focus on a fictional few Christopher Street residents, homeless and hopeless. But spunky, you know?...

    Jeremy Irvine in Stonewall.
  14. Two local theaters drop Scientology documentary 'Going Clear'


    Two Pinellas County multiplexes have dropped plans to show an Emmy-winning documentary critical of the Church of Scientology.

    Those decisions effectively distance Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief from Clearwater where the church's spiritual headquarters is located.

    Cobb Countryside 12 in Clearwater and AMC Woodlands 20 in Oldsmar had each agreed to schedule Alex Gibney's examination of alleged abuses within Scientology....

    Director Alex Gibney thinks the church pressured Clearwater theaters to drop Going Clear.
  15. Interview: 'Keep Moving' an important lesson for and from Dick Van Dyke

    Human Interest

    At age 89, Dick Van Dyke is a genuinely happy fella, peppering his speech with laughter like so much punctuation.

    The beloved entertainer explains how he stays that way in Keep Moving and Other Tips and Truths About Aging, his fifth book and the first he was raring to write.

    "The publisher would call me with an idea, usually something I don't want to do," Van Dyke said by phone from his home in Malibu, Calif....

    Dick Van Dyke hit it big with Julie Andrews in 1964’s Mary Poppins.