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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. Movie Planner: Casey Affleck on 'Manchester by the Sea'; Lightning players attend 'Ice Guardians'



    Lee Chandler can't go home again in Manchester by the Sea (R) but the actor in line for an Oscar nomination playing him practically did.

    Casey Affleck was born in Falmouth, Mass., a coastal town like Manchester by the Sea, where writer-director Kenneth Lonergan set Lee's story. Affleck and Lonergan discussed their movie after its Telluride Film Festival premiere in September, joining an open-air panel on dramatic concepts of home....

    Focus Features
  2. Review: 'Manchester by the Sea' is one of 2016's dramatic highlights


    Lee Chandler brought loneliness on himself. People were ready to help after the tragedy at the breaking heart of Manchester by the Sea. Now they whisper behind his back.

    Lee bolted in grief from the Massachusetts village lending its name to Kenneth Lonergan's aching, arcing tale of something like redemption. Lee can't go home again but must, not needing to confront the past since it's in his face every day....

    Lee (Casey Affleck) becomes the legal guardian to his teenage nephew after the tragic loss of his brother.
  3. Movie Planner: Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival, possession flick 'Incarnate'





    Hollywood takes a breather this weekend, with only one new nationwide release that's definitely not awards material.

    Might be a good weekend to go underground.

    The third annual Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival begins tonight at Britton 8, 3938 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. That's underground zero for the festival until Sunday, when the movies move to Carrollwood Villagio Cinemas, 11778 N Dale Mabry Highway....

    Aaron Eckhart in Incarnate.
  4. Movie Planner: 'Moana,' 'Rules Don't Apply,' 'Bad Santa 2'; plus Tampa Theatre brings Santa





    Tampa Theatre kicks off its annual Holiday Classics series Sunday with a visit from Santa Claus and a screening of his greatest movie hit.

    Miracle on 34th Street — the 1947 version, not 1994's needless remake — begins at 3 p.m., after introductory remarks and a Christmas story from Santa on stage. Santa will arrive at 2 p.m., posing for photographs in the historic movie palace's lobby....

    Twentieth Century Fox
  5. Review: Movies like 'Nocturnal Animals' give America a bad reputation


    Nocturnal Animals is why they hate us, whoever we are for others to despise.

    As a citizen of the Western world, Tom Ford's movie is a billboard of cultural decadence, its grotesque nudity and violence polished to an empty, artful sheen. ISIS could use it for recruitment, an example of the infidel enemy.

    Nocturnal Animals is an example of why Hollywood and every cog in its machine is branded as deviant, mostly by heartlanders feeling pretty smug about America's direction right now. Ford made the exception they can appoint as the rule....

    Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, an art museum curator with first-world problems and a disturbing ex-husband. 
Focus Features
  6. Moonlight, American Honey lead Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations


    Barry Jenkins' coming-of-self drama Moonlight and the millennial road trip American Honey earned six nominations to lead all contenders for the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

    The Spirit awards are presented annually to the finest independently produced films budgeted under $20 million. The ceremony is traditionally held a day before the Academy Awards, in an irreverent event under an industrial tent on Santa Monica Beach....

    Sasha Lane earned a Spirit Awardbest female actor nomination for American Honey.
  7. Review: Dwayne Johnson lifts otherwise placid 'Moana' on his character's beefy shoulders


    Just when the South Seas vibe of Disney's Moana is getting too placid for comfort, Dwayne Johnson (at least his voice) does a cannonball in the pool.

    We can now agree that Johnson is not only the Sexiest Man Alive but also our strongest, lifting Moana on his character's beefy shoulders, carrying it like other hits before. No movie left behind.

    Johnson voices the demigod Maui, a wowie drawn like a Macy's parade balloon version of the Rock, plus frizzy hair and tattoos telling him what to do. Maui looks funny but Johnson makes him hilarious, starting with the humble brag ditty You're Welcome, one of several composed by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's the kick in the sarong Moana needs around the 40-minute mark....

    Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, right, and Moana, voiced by Auli'i Cravalho, in "Moana."  (Disney)
  8. Review: Pitt and Cotillard's 'Allied' has tabloid appeal and not much else


    Allied is a wartime romance that might have been made in 1942, if Humphrey Bogart flashed his bum and Ingrid Bergman had good aim. It's largely set in Casablanca, among Nazis, Vichy collaborators and French Resistance fighters, wrapping up next to an airplane.

    Any resemblance between Allied and a much better movie on the subject isn't coincidental but unfortunate.

    For a brief time director Robert Zemeckis gets it. The idea isn't to make the movie audiences couldn't see in censored times, violent and coarse, but to embrace the era's pulp innocence, polish it. Allied begins in that vein, with a mysterious man parachuting into the Moroccan desert, hiking to a rendezvous point, unlocking an arranged identity....

    Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star in 'Allied.' GK Films
  9. Review: 'Rules Don't Apply' is mediocre, even with Warren Beatty's magnetism


    Rules Don't Apply is a sloe gin Hollywood cocktail without fizz, Warren Beatty's made-up trip down memory lane. The movie revolves around Howard Hughes, but it's really about Beatty, set in Hollywood when he sowed his oats with a vaguely familiar leading man at certain angles.

    Certainly there are less appealing vanity projects out there. Rules Don't Apply is affably mediocre, even tolerable between brief pleasures. The movie's lone constant amusement is Beatty's madcap portrayal of Hughes, keeping aloft his Spruce Goose of nonromantic not quite comedy....

    Warren Beatty stars as Howard Hughes in Rules Don’t Apply, which Beatty wrote, directed and produced.
  10. Tampa Theatre teases presents with free screening of 'Elf'


    After 90 years on Santa's "nice list," Tampa Theatre is getting shiny new presents and sharing them with moviegoers.

    One catch: The gifts come with a tag reading "do not open until Dec. 14."

    That's when the historic movie palace will present a free screening of Will Ferrell's holiday classic Elf, plus details of what's inside the gift box.

    Tampa Theatre's media release about the event included a subtle clue, with the headline: "You're going to want to sit down for this," and photographs of Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, crammed into a classroom desk and sitting on Bob Newhart's Santa Claus lap....

    Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf in Elf.
  11. Review: 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' is technology intruding upon storytelling


    Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk can't be assessed for what it is without considering what it must have been.

    Ang Lee's Iraq War drama is a victim of technology he insisted upon and designed the movie around to show off what's possible, if not necessary. Lee's 3-D cameras filmed 120 frames per second, five times conventional speed, for the highest definition Hollywood ever attempted. Only five theaters in the world reportedly have projectors to show this version....

    Newcomer Joe Alwyn plays Billy, who becomes a war hero in Iraq with his Bravo Company brothers. They join a Thanksgiving Day pro football halftime show with Destiny’s Child before returning to Iraq. 
Sony Pictures Entertainment
  12. Famed jazz artist Sonny LaRosa to attend movie about his life in Sundial


    Big band and jazz trumpeter Sonny LaRosa is the subject of Ambassador of Jazz, a locally produced documentary making its world premiere Thursday at Muvico Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg. LaRosa, 90 of Safety Harbor, will attend the screening. He retired in 2015 after 36 years leading America's Youngest Jazz Band, a procession of more than 600 children and teenagers touring music festivals nationwide. Troy Bowman's 48-minute documentary highlights that award winning program, LaRosa's own prodigy childhood and his early big band experiences through interviews and archival footage. Several of LaRosa's former students including saxophonist Eric Darius will perform at the screening. Ambassador of Jazz begins at 7 p.m. $10 at the box office....

    Sonny LaRosa, 88, holds his Marcinkiewicz Rembrandt quarter tone trumpet at his home in Safety Harbor. LaRosa, founder of America's Youngest Jazz Band, retired after 36 years. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD
  13. Movie Planner: FSU grad Barry Jenkins, actor Andre Holland talk 'Moonlight'



    Three years ago, filmmaker Barry Jenkins sat on a Telluride Film Festival stage, conducting a Q&A with the cast of 12 Years a Slave. For years Jenkins volunteered at the festival, a launching pad for several recent best picture Oscar winners, including that film.

    Three months ago, Jenkins was back, this time answering questions with cast members of his own awards contender. The FSU film school graduate's second feature Moonlight has earned rapturous attention since its Telluride world premiere....

    Joe Alwyn, portraying Billy Lynn, on a screen in a scene from the film, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”
  14. Review: 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' is lacking movie magic


    Not even J.K. Rowling can say abracadabra and make a worthwhile movie franchise appear. The lightning that struck Harry Potter once merely grazes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, turning the sorcerer's mentor into a fantasy apprentice.

    In her screenwriting debut, Rowling practically starts from scratch, diverting fan traffic to Newt Scamander, played with an embarrassment of bashful tics by Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne. Newt supposedly penned the Hogwarts textbook on creatures, later ghost-written by Rowling for charity....

    No-Maj (that’s an American Muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, left) has his suitcase switched with that of wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), setting off a hunt for magic creatures.
  15. 'Moonlight' actor Andre Holland to do Q&A at Sundial in St. Petersburg


    In a nifty twist, Sunscreen is bringing moviegoers Moonlight a day early, and for free.

    The Sunscreen Film Festival announced Monday that actor Andre Holland will accompany Barry Jenkins' acclaimed coming-of-self story on Thursday at Muvico Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg. Show time is 7 p.m. Holland, recently featured on American Horror Story: Roanoke, will join a Q&A session after the screening....

    Andre Holland and Trevante Rhodes in Moonlight (2016). A24 Films.