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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: Coen brothers can't keep 'Hail, Caesar!' together


    The big book of Joel and Ethan Coen's characters must be stuffed with ideas, paper scraps jotted with traits and scrapes for the next Dude, Barton or Marge to get into and out of.

    Hail, Caesar! is what happens when that book is dumped open, its contents fluttering into randomness.

    Pick any piece and there's a spark of familiar creativity: the same golden era Hollywood studio that drove Barton Fink mad, a kidnapping a la The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man's ironic Jewish theology and various tones or subtexts. Plus that undeniably Coen dialogue, in which a project is "suckled by a she-wolf and nurturing us in return" and a sex scandal is a "possible French postcard."...

    George Clooney plays matinee idol Baird Whitlock, who disappears off the set of his biblical epic knock-off of The Robe.
  2. Movie planner: Handicapping the Oscars; 'Hail, Caesar!,' 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' open


    OSCARS HANDICAPPING: Directors Guild of America edition

    Continuing our assembly of awards show jigsaw pieces, the final Academy Awards picture is getting clearer. The key group weighing in before Oscar voters' final deadline on Feb. 23 is the Directors Guild of America, announcing winners Saturday night in film and television categories.

    The only one mattering for our purposes is direction of a feature film, in another case of domino logic....

    It’s perfect timing for The Choice, with Ben Walker and Teresa Palmer.
  3. Review: 'The Finest Hours' coasts by on patriotic bluster


    Truth is duller than fiction in The Finest Hours, a story of real-life Coast Guard heroism coasting on patriotic goodwill.

    In February 1952, the New England coast was battered by a blizzard leaving two oil tankers sheared in two, sinking in the Atlantic Ocean. One ship, the Pendleton, wasn't noticed until most Coast Guard resources were already devoted to the other rescue mission. That left a crew of four in a relatively small boat as the only hope for 33 sailors stranded at sea....

    Casey Affleck and Josh Stewart in "The Finest Hours." (Walt Disney Studios)
  4. Movie planner: Letters from readers, Oscars shorts and William Shatner



    Typing Hillary Clinton's name in a review of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, I knew what to expect. Same feeling while writing about this year's Oscars lacking diversity.

    Nothing waves a red flag in some readers' faces like bringing politics and race into a movie discussion. Especially those wishing movie critics would adore 13 Hours and ignore the academy's issue....

    Marlon Wayans in Fifty Shades of Black.
  5. Derrick Brooks assists 'The Birth of a Nation' at Sundance


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks keeps adding to his illustrious list of off-the-field accomplishments.

    Brooks is an executive producer of Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, the Sundance Film Festival's most acclaimed offering, already touted as a 2016 Oscar contender before the 2015 prizes are handed out. 

    The Birth of a Nation recounts the 1831 slave revolt in Virginia led by Nat Turner, and bloody retaliation by slave owners. Parker directed and wrote the screenplay, and stars as Turner. Parker was seen last year in the stage door romance Beyond the Lights....

    NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks is a movie producer now.
  6. RIP Abe Vigoda: It wasn't only business; it was a pleasure


    "Can you get me off the hook, God? For old times' sake?"

    Abe Vigoda's fans can imagine the late actor trying to talk his way out of dying, the way he tried making Tom Hagen call off his character's execution in The Godfather.

    Mr. Vigoda couldn't dodge that cinematic fate, or a mortal one. The character actor with a dourly distinct face and grumble  died Tuesday at age 94, at his daughter's New Jersey home....

    The late Abe Vigoda's breakout role was Tessio the hit man in 'The Godfather'
  7. Review: 'Kung Fu Panda 3' marks well-constructed end to a charming animated series


    Kung Fu Panda 3 wraps up the finest animation trilogy ever that isn't about toys.

    Dreamworks' franchise built upon the silliest of premises has continually progressed, in cultural palette and themes, from its surprising 2008 inauguration. It has briefly fallen back on familiarity, as sequels tend to do. Yet there's always something next to surprise, tickle or move in a fresh manner....

    New panda Li (voice of Bryan Cranston) arrives, saying he’s father to Po (Jack Black) in Kung Fu Panda 3.
  8. Tampa Theatre presents Oscar's short (films) list of nominees


    Each year Tampa Theatre does Academy Awards predictors a favor by showcasing two categories few know much about.

    Short films are rarely booked in multiplexes, and seldom in independent venues unless they're Oscar nominated. Heck, the documentary shorts aren't even included here, just the live action and animated contenders.

    Starting Saturday through Feb. 10, Tampa Theatre presents each collection of shorts on a schedule you'd better double-check before going. The venue alternates the live action and animated sessions, and sometimes combines them in double features, filling dates between concerts and private events. ...

    Collections of animated and live action Oscar nominated shorts begin Saturday at Tampa Theatre
  9. 'Dark Night' from Sarasota makes Sundance splash


    One buzzed-about title at this year's Sundance Film Festival is Dark Night, filmed in Sarasota and assisted by a dozen Ringling College of Art and Design students.

    Directed by Brooklyn resident Tim Sutton, Dark Night is inspired by the 2012 shootings at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater showing the Batman action flick The Dark Knight Rises. In the movie, six strangers live through the hours before a night at the movies turns horrific. Sutton reportedly doesn't stage the massacre, although confessed mass murderer James Holmes is referenced, with his psychological traits apparently divided among the strangers' lives....

    Filmed in Sarasota,  'Dark Night' is inspired by 2012's Aurora Colo. movie theater massacre
  10. Tampa native brings Bosnian drama to Sundial in St. Pete


    A culture-clash romance after the Bosnian War is the focus of Sabina K., a film by Tampa native Cristobal Krusen getting its U.S. premiere Feb. 27 at St, Petersburg's Sundial 19.

    Admission is free for the 3 p.m. screening. Moviegoers must RSVP to by Feb. 20 to secure seating.

    Krusen, 63, was born in Tampa, attending Berkely Preparatory School through ninth grade before relocating....

    'Sabina K.' sets romance in the aftermath of the Bosnian War
  11. Oscar takes a first, cosmetic step with diversity reform


    And the Oscar for best achievement in makeup goes to... the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for a rushed attempt Friday to conceal its bruised image.

    Pilloried for a week after its nominations exposed a lack of diversity in membership and thinking, the academy announced its first steps addressing the issue - none making much difference to moviegoers.

    Those are the folks tuning in to ABC's telecast, making big ad bucks for the academy, and who spent a record $11 billion at box offices last year....

    Chris Rock is hosting this year's Oscars, or as he tweeted: "The white BET awards."
  12. Two films at Sundance relive Sarasota suicide on live TV


    The Sundance Film Festival begins today in Park City, Utah, featuring two selections based on a true-life Sarasota tragedy.

    Christine, a feature film starring Rebecca Hall (The Town, Vicky Christina Barcelona), and the documentary Kate Plays Christine are each inspired by the 1974 on-air suicide of Christine Chubbuck, 29, who hosted the community program Suncoast Digest for WXLT Ch. 40....

    Kate Lyn Sheil researches the role of a Sarasota television host's on-air suicide in the documentary 'Kate Plays Christine'
  13. 'Inferno Upstairs' opens monthly gay cinema series


    A monthly film series sponsored by the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival resumes Friday with the documentary Inferno Upstairs, in a tragically apropos venue.

    Inferno Upstairs recounts the 1973 arson of a New Orleans gay bar called the UpStairs Lounge, in the French Quarter. Thirty-two people were killed, some never identified. Among the victims were nearly one-third of the local Metropolitan Community Church, including two clergymen. The lead suspect was never prosecuted, and lives were shattered by outings and homophobic responses....

    The 1973 arson at a New Orleans gay bar is the subject of the dicumentary 'Upstairs Inferno.'
  14. Movie Planner: Charlie Kaufman on 'Anomalisa,' 'Dirty Grandpa,' 'The 5th Wave,' 'The Boy' open



    Charlie Kaufman wonders, what's the big deal? Sure, he's an Academy Award winning screenwriter of strangely human stories like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich.

    Why is anyone surprised that Kaufman's latest flight of neurotic fantasy is populated by puppets?

    Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa is a stop-motion marvel now nominated for the best animated feature Oscar generally conceded to Disney-Pixar's Inside Out. It's typically Kaufman-esque, finding shards of beauty in the mundane details of a one night stand in Cincinnati. Each frame of Anomalisa feels real, despite its artificial veneer, which is Kaufman's point....

    Leonardo DiCaprio is nominated for best actor in The Revenant — one of the movie’s 12 Oscar nominations.
  15. Jackson Browne pays tribute to friend, collaborator Glenn Frey in Clearwater: 'This is a sad, sad, sad day'


    Two songs into Tuesday's concert, Jackson Browne echoed what everyone at Ruth Eckerd Hall was thinking.

    "This is a sad, sad, sad day," Browne said, not mentioning his late friend and Take It Easy songwriting collaborator Glenn Frey by name, and not needing to do so. "The only thing I want to do is what I know how to do."

    Frey, co-founder of the Southern California rock band Eagles died Monday at age 67, of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, pneumonia and colitis. In 1971, Frey offered to finish a song Browne had started but had difficulty finishing. That song became Take It Easy, the breakthrough hit for Eagles, and a signature of the So-Cal sound of the 1970's....

    Jackson Browne performs at Rock4EB Malibu in September 2014.