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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. Update: Sony cancels opening of 'The Interview' after threats

    Movies

    This time, the terrorists won.

    Bowing to the cyber-threat of a "Christmas Day surprise" at movie theaters, Sony announced Wednesday that The Interview will not debut Dec. 25, as planned.

    Never before has Hollywood's money train been derailed by a terrorist warning.

    The Interview stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as TV journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un....

    James Franco, left, and Seth Rogen star in the comedy "The Interview." 
(AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, Sony, Ed Araquel)
  2. Review: ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings' a plague on theaters (w/video)

    Movies

    Don't expect Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings to become an Easter television tradition like The Ten Commandments. The commercials likely would steal the show.

    This ponderous new version of the Moses legend scrupulously avoids comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's pious imagination, wrought a half-century before CGI. Even the Red Sea fails as spectacle, not majestically parting like Charlton Heston's but sinking to low tide, a symbol for the entire movie. No basket in the bull rushes, no serpent-staff miracles. Commandments are footnotes; the bush burns on low flame....

    Christian Bale as Moses leads the Egyptians into battle in Exodus: Gods and Kings.
  3. 'Birdman' nabs 7 Golden Globe nods; Jolie snubbed

    Movies

    Things got even better for Birdman while Angelina Jolie's week got worse when Golden Globes nominations were announced Thursday.

    Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) isn't only inspiring bird puns during awards season. It's also encouraging helpful parenthetical addendums (like this one).

    Let's see how many more we can find, spanning the Globes:

    For thoughts on the nominations for TV, click here. ...

    Birdman received seven Golden Globe nominations, including best picture in the comedy or musical category. [AP photo]
  4. 'Birdman' soars to the top of Screen Actors Guild nominations

    Movies

    'Birdman' soars with 4 SAG nominations

    Brace yourself for 10 weeks of bird puns until Oscar night 2015. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) flew above the competition when Screen Actors Guild award nominations were announced Wednesday. Birdman (for short) feathered its nest with four nominations: lead actor Michael Keaton, supporting actors Emma Stone and Edward Norton, and the ensemble award, the closest SAG gets to a best picture choice. Flying close behind with three nominations each are Boyhood, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, opening locally on Dec. 25. Those four movies are nesting along with The Grand Budapest Hotel in the ensemble category. Lots of familiar names in the mix — Meryl Streep, Robert Duvall, Reese Witherspoon — plus two TV comedians excelling in serious lead roles: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) and Jennifer Aniston (Cake), both arriving in January. The SAG prizes will be presented Jan. 25 in Los Angeles, about 9 miles from Hollywood as the crow flies. For the full list, go to sagaftra.org. ...

  5. Tim Burton to film in Tampa Bay next year

    News

    It isn't surprising that Tim Burton's next filmmaking project involves peculiar children.

    That the director of Beetlejuice, Batman and the upcoming Big Eyes will film a portion of the movie around Tampa Bay? Nobody saw that coming.

    Burton will spend an as-yet-undetermined amount of time here in 2015, filming scenes for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, based on the popular YA novel by Ransom Riggs....

    Director Tim Burton arrives at the premiere of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" in Los Angeles in 2007.  (AP Photo/ Matt Sayles)
  6. Tim Burton to film in Tampa Bay next year

    Movies

    It isn't surprising that Tim Burton's next filmmaking project involves peculiar children.

    That the morbid director of Beetlejuice, Batman and the upcoming Big Eyes will film a portion of the movie around sunny Tampa Bay? Nobody saw that happening again.

    Burton will return 25 years after filming Edward Scissorhands in Pasco County in 1990. He will spend an undetermined amount of time here in 2015, filming scenes for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, based on the popular young adult novel by Ransom Riggs....

    Tim Burton, pictured in 2007, will film scenes for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in Tampa Bay in 2015.
  7. Review: 'The Homesman' takes a few too many turns

    Movies

    The spectacle of Tommy Lee Jones dancing a jig while singing authentic frontier gibberish is nearly enough to recommend The Homesman. It's one of those awkward moments that directors shouldn't put actors through. Since Jones directed The Homesman, it suits the rest of this strange, tonally erratic Western.

    Jones goes grizzled and grumpy as George Briggs, a claim jumping rascal too "consarned likkered up" for anyone's comfort. Except for the old maid Mary Bee Cuddy, scripted as an affront to pioneer women's spirit and played "plain as a tin pail" by Hilary Swank. They're an odd coupling in the African Queen tradition, a rascal and a spinster bickering to the brink of romance during a dangerous journey....

    Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank star in The Homesman.
  8. Catch glimpses of Pinellas in 'Six Dance Lessons' trailer

    Movies

    It isn't flashy as Spring Breakers, and won't boost tourism like Dolphin Tale, but Pinellas County's latest movie appearance debuts Dec. 12 in New York and Los Angeles for awards eligibility. A trailer is posted online for Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, based on a play written by part-time St. Petersburg resident Richard Alfieri. The comedy stars indie film icon Gena Rowlands as a St. Pete Beach widow finding platonic purpose in life with a young dance instructor (Cheyenne Jackson). The production spent only four days filming here, just wordless shots of Rowlands and Jackson strolling local scenery while the bulk of production was done in Hungary, where financing was secured. The trailer includes glimpses of the Don CeSar resort and aerial shots along the Pinellas coastline. The cast includes Academy Award winner Rita Moreno (West Side Story) and two-time nominee Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook). A spokeswoman for the production said Monday that a theatrical engagement locally is planned for February....

  9. 'Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me' is a poignant treasure for fans

    Movies

    Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (PG) (104 min.) — Glen Campbell's long goodbye to music and memory is astonishing, as anyone blessed by his 2012 shows at Capitol Theatre can attest. They were part of a 151-stop farewell tour forced by Alzheimer's and each second was dramatic, swelling hearts with missed lyrics and cruelly perfect guitar licks, one thing Campbell hadn't forgotten how to do....

    Glen Campbell performs in Nashville during his 151-stop farewell tour in 2012, which also brought him to Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre.
  10. 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!...

    Benedict Cumberbatch stars in The Imitation Game.
  11. '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.
  12. '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.
  13. 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....

    Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis and Jason Bateman in Horrible Bosses 2.
  14. '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'.
  15. 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....

    Director Mike Nichols in a September 1964 file photo.