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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: persall@tampabay.com

Twitter: @StevePersall

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  1. Holiday Movie Guide: 14 picks for award season

    Movies

    Hark! the herald angels sing. • Sorry, that's just a chorus of Hollywood studios trying to grab our attention during the holiday movie season. • This is their last chance to save 2014 from being the worst box office year in a decade. It's also the first chance for high-profile movies to impress awards voters. That's the real reason for this particular season. • Oh, we'll have a little fun during the holidays: the ghost of Robin Williams past in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Dec. 19), Seth Rogen and James Franco plotting to kill Kim Jong Il in The Interview (Dec. 25), Mark Wahlberg remaking The Gambler (Jan. 1). • Mostly, though, this is serious stuff. A lot of Oscar night dreams will be dashed or kindled by New Year's Day, when campaigning begins in earnest. • Our annual Holiday Movie Guide focuses on the contenders left to be discovered. As always, opening dates are subject to change. Happy holidays!...

    Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank star in The Homesman.
  2. 'Penguins of Madagascar' keeps the laughs coming

    Movies

    The funniest parts of the Madagascar circus are its sideshows, especially those special ops penguins. They're the looniest "toons" at DreamWorks, and now a frisky spinoff franchise for audiences not taking animation too seriously.

    In pacing and attitude, Penguins of Madagascar is about as far away from Frozen as possible, even though they have tundra conditions in common. Call them polar opposites, a terrible pun and precisely the sort of humor employed here. The jokes comes fast and furious, some flopping, many very funny....

    Those wacky Penguins of Madagascar: Kowalski, voiced by Chris Miller; Skipper, voiced by Tom McGrath; Rico, voiced by Conrad Vernon; and Private, voiced by Christopher Knights.
  3. 'Horrible Bosses 2' a disappointment

    Movies

    Usually I'd complain about a sequel repeating too much of what made the first movie work. Horrible Bosses 2 is a different sort of disappointing, a sequel that doesn't repeat enough.

    In 2011's original comedy, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day played schlubs plotting to murder each others' employers. This time there's one boss and it's kidnapping, which in black comedy terms isn't nearly as funny as murder....

    Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), Dale (Charlie Day) and Nick (Jason Bateman) invent an all-in-one shower buddy in this sequel.
  4. Quick look at the movies opening Wednesday in theaters

    Movies

    A day before Thanksgiving, Hollywood is bringing the side dishes, one fun and the other tasteless.

    Opening today in theaters are Penguins of Madagascar (PG), a madcap spin-off of DreamWorks' animated franchise, and Horrible Bosses 2 (R), a mirthless kidnapping comedy, cruder than its predecessor.

    Excuse me while I sit at the kids' table.

    Penguins of Madagascar is a delightful satire of gung-ho cinema, starring a quartet of flightless birds spouting commando-speak. Actually, they do fly, with the assistance of jetpacks and parachutes, staging raids on Fort Knox or an arch villain's lair. The jokes have been told before but not with penguins, who could make even Interstellar amusing....

    Kowalski, voiced by Chris Miller; Skipper voiced by Tom McGrath; Rico, voiced by Conrad Vernon; and Private voiced by Christpher Knights in The Penguins of Madagascar.
  5. 'Birdman' leads Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations

    Movies

    By STEVE PERSALL

    Times Movie Critic

    Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) led with six nominations Wednesday when the 30th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards announced its finalists.

    Michael Keaton's performance as a fallen movie star staging a Broadway comeback, Emma Stone's supporting turn, and Alejandro G. Inarritu's direction padded Birdman's total....

    Michael Keaton portrays Riggan in a scene from 'Birdman'.
  6. Mike Nichols, celebrated director of 'The Graduate,' 'Silkwood,' dies at 83

    Movies

    Where have you gone, Mike Nichols? Our nation always turned its lonely eyes to you.

    Like Mrs. Robinson in a director's chair, Mr. Nichols seduced audiences spanning seven decades, making us think differently about mediums and their messages to an America in transition.

    Mr. Nichols, who was married to broadcaster Diane Sawyer, died of cardiac arrest Wednesday night in New York at age 83, leaving behind generations he redefined on stage and screens, large and small....

    Comedy was never the same after Mr. Nichols teamed with Elaine May in 1957, bringing improvisation out of rehearsal shadows and into the spotlight. Here they’re shown in a comedy sketch on The Jack Paar Program in 1965.
  7. Eva Longoria's 'Food Chains' documentary showing in Tampa on Friday

    Movies

    Proving she's deeper than Desperate Housewives, actor Eva Longoria is also an activist for farm workers, and an executive producer of Food Chains, a documentary exposing their abuse by agriculture conglomerates. Food Chains focuses on south Florida's Coalition of Immokalee Workers, tomato farmers who formed the Fair Food Program with retailers like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods to earn an extra penny per pound for their crops, that can make a difference in workers' lives. Meanwhile, retailers including Publix and Wendy's remain opposed to the program. Narrated by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, Food Chains opens Friday in 25 U.S. theaters including AMC Veterans 24 in Tampa, and will be available digitally on iTunes. The 82-minute documentary will also be released as video on demand beginning Thanksgiving Day. In conjunction with Food Chains' limited U.S. theatrical release, civil protests favoring the Fair Food Program are planned at supermarkets in cities where it plays. The Veterans 24 engagement is linked with a gathering Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Publix supermarket at Twelve Oaks Plaza, 7018 W Waters Ave. in Tampa. For information visit foodchainsfilm.com. — Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

  8. Review: 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' smartly sets up the end

    Movies

    After being cliff-hung by Catching Fire, the Hunger Games saga could've taken me anywhere. As someone who hasn't read Suzanne Collins' books, it's gratifying to see where Mockingjay - Part 1 goes, where movie franchises with the nerve to split a finale into two paydays typically won't.

    Once again, this is a blockbuster fantasy of unusual intelligence yet differently, which is even smarter. These are darker days in Panem than before, with President Snow (Donald Sutherland, exquisitely wicked) cracking down on the rebellion Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) began by destroying the Hunger Games....

     Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is in the clutches of the Capitol in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1.
  9. Review: In shallow 'Theory of Everything,' Eddie Redmayne shines as Stephen Hawking

    Movies

    The Theory of Everything is a rather ordinary biography of an extraordinary life, less inquisitive and ready to test boundaries than the brilliant mind it portrays.

    James Marsh's movie is for physicist Stephen Hawking what Walk the Line was to Johnny Cash, emotional complexity distilled for easier commercial digestion. An obstacle that can be communicated in cinematic shorthand — Cash's drug addiction, Hawking's neuromuscular disease — is subject to such superficial treatment....

    Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking is the foundation of The Theory of Everything.
  10. Interview: Garfunkel and Oates on bingo and bad dates

    Music & Concerts

    Garfunkel and Oates aren't the rock 'n' roll hall of famers you may think they are. Even if they were, that musical pairing likely wouldn't be as weird, and definitely not as funny.

    Stage-named for famous second bananas, Garfunkel and Oates are, respectively, Riki Lindhome (tall, airy blond) and Kate Micucci (short brunet, with a running joke about growing a mustache). You might recognize Lindhome from Gilmore Girls and House, Micucci from Scrubs and Raising Hope, plus they were both in The Big Bang Theory. But they're not household names yet, except for those that aren't theirs....

    Kate Micucci, left, and Riki Lindhome are the musical group Garfunkel and Oates. (Getty Images) 
  11. Locally filmed 1975 horror flick 'Satan's Children' showing at Tampa Theatre

    Movies

    Spring Breakers. Cocoon. Magic Mike. Each considered among the finest movies ever produced around Tampa Bay. Satan's Children belongs nowhere near that list.

    Never heard of Satan's Children? That's because this piggy-bank budgeted 1975 horror flick never became the grindhouse sensation writer-producer-director Joe Wiezycki intended. Wiezycki, a former director at WTVT-TV Ch. 13, died in 1994 without realizing his auteur dream....

  12. Review: 'Dumb and Dumber To' is dumb and pointless

    Movies

    Right now I'm juggling two reviews on deadline: the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, and Dumb and Dumber To. I'll try not to get them confused.

    Both movies include people of extraordinary intellect or lack thereof in wheelchairs. The Theory of Everything features a life-saving, world-changing surgery. In Dumb and Dumber To someone swaps an organ for a pork chop....

    Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprise their roles as Lloyd and Harry in Dumb and Dumber To. Lloyd and Harry set out to find Harry’s daughter in the hopes of finding a kidney match. The movie’s best jokes are the brief bits that come with no setup.
Universal Studios
  13. Review: One of year's best movies, 'Whiplash' doesn't miss a beat (w/video)

    Movies

    Whiplash is musical drama with a Hitchcock heart, a minor-key thriller set to a double time swing beat. That's one jazz rhythm Andrew Neyman hasn't mastered on the drums, and his future, perhaps his sanity, depends upon it.

    Andrew is a wallflower freshman at fictitious Shaffer Conservatory of Music, under the tutelage of Terrence Fletcher, a jazz perfectionist in the cruelest ways. Whenever Fletcher acts supportive is the cue for Andrew to steel himself or duck. Andrew wants to be the next Buddy Rich. Fletcher will find out how badly....

    Andrew (Miles Teller) is a freshman at a music conservatory, under the tutelage of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). For an interview with Teller, go to tampabay.com/movies.
  14. Snoopy? How rising star Miles Teller, a Lecanto High grad, found acting (w/video)

    Movies

    Maybe if Beth Bedee weren't so pretty, Miles Teller wouldn't be a movie star.

    Teller, earning Oscar buzz for his new movie Whiplash, would've kept playing baseball at Citrus County's Lecanto High School, with sportscasting in mind after graduating in 2005.

    But boys will be boys, and Mrs. Bedee was a blond, young incoming teacher taking over the Panther Players drama program. Like other smitten students, Teller joined in his sophomore year, debuting as "Willard" in a production of Footloose....

     Miles Teller performing in "The Boys Next Door" in 2005 at Lecanto High School.
  15. Blue Ocean Film Festival wraps with awards, actor Jeremy Irons

    Human Interest

    The Blue Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit crested Sunday with an appearance by Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons and curtain calls for its prize-winning films.

    Irons, 66, a Best Actor Oscar winner for Reversal of Fortune, presented the 2012 eco-documentary Trashed, a film he narrated and executive produced. Directed by Candida Brady, Trashed focuses on the world's waste disposal crisis, with Irons visiting former paradises that are now landfills....

    Jeremy Irons, 66, introduces Trashed, a documentary he narrated and executive produced. Irons also received the Making Waves Award for spreading a cleanup message.