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. Richard Branson will be at St. Pete's Blue Ocean Film Festival

    Movies

    The upcoming Blue Ocean Film Festival (and more, without pop culture pizzazz) has added a Virgin to its list of special guests. Sir Richard Branson, flamboyant founder of Virgin airlines, music stores, space travel, etc., will be presented with the festival's Making Waves Award for his support of ocean conservation efforts. Branson joins Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons, whose eco-documentary Trashed is included in the screening lineup. After that, the celebrity quotient drops off to Gossip Girl co-star Kelly Rutherford in person, and Ed Begley Jr. on Skype. Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron won't accompany his opening night film Deep Sea Challenge 3D but his diving sphere will. The Blue Ocean festival devoted to sea life preservation begins Nov. 3, continuing for seven days at various locations around St. Petersburg. Visit blueoceanfilmfestival.org for information. — Steve Persall, Times movie critic...

  2. Review: 'John Wick' racks up a high body count

    Movies

    Keanu Reeves is the poster boy for John Wick but not this hyper-violent movie's niftiest bit of casting. That would be hiring an actor named Dean Winters for a thankless role as the bad guy's flunky.

    You may not know Winters' name but his face is familiar, playing "Mayhem" in a series of insurance commercials, creating hazardous situations that Allstate is glad to cover. Winters is practically product placement in John Wick, a movie in which tension dwindles as the body count and property damage escalates. It is precisely the sort of movie you'd expect a kickboxing stunt man to choose for his directing debut. Nobody is in good hands here....

    Keanu Reeves plays John Wick, a silent and deadly professional killer, a role within his acting limits.
  3. Review: Bill Murray in full grouchy glory in 'St. Vincent'

    Movies

    Contributing to the delinquency of minors in Meatballs is how Bill Murray became a movie star, and can that really be 35 years ago? Time flew while we haven't always had fun, when Murray's actorly instincts took him elsewhere. St. Vincent brings him back, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.

    I didn't catch Vincent's last name but it might be Tripper, whose first name I never caught in Meatballs, his lapdog sarcasm turned mangy over the years. Vincent is no saint but the runt he's corrupting for 12 bucks an hour while his mom's at work thinks so. Even a terrible role model is better than none at all....

    Bill Murray is a seedy, morally bankrupt guy who ends up taking care of his neighbor, Jaeden Lieberher, in St. Vincent.
  4. Interview: Bill Maher doesn't hold back on politics, pot

    Stage

    The last time political gadfly Bill Maher came to town, the 2012 Republican National Convention was his opening act. Clint Eastwood's chair, Michele Bachmann. Good times for a comedian. Just in time for midterm elections Maher returns, so the Tampa Bay Times wondered what he thinks about Florida's hottest topics — the race for governor (alas, we talked to him a day before "fangate") and a medical marijuana referendum. As usual the host of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher didn't hold back....

    Bill Maher.
  5. Review: 'Fury' with Brad Pitt more blood and guts than glory (w/video)

    Movies

    "It will end, soon. But before it does a lot more people have to die."

    Brad Pitt's battle-weary tank commander in the exceedingly grim Fury gets it half right with that line. Nothing happens soon in David Ayer's movie except war being hell, which the movie graphically portrays to numbing effect, with heads exploded and limbs severed by heavy artillery, flesh chunks raining down at one point in the carnage....

    Brad Pitt plays Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a World War II tank commander who is brutal without charm, introduced in a very violent movie by stabbing an enemy in the eye socket.
  6. Review: 'Book of Life' is full of surprises (w/video)

    Movies

    Sometimes just being different is all it takes. That's the case with The Book of Life, an animated movie that when stripped of its wildly imaginative sights and sounds delivers the same tired lessons of being yourself and following your dreams, set to radio-tired pop songs.

    Yet The Book of Life expresses the usual in extraordinary fashion, set in a mythology more morbidly colorful than any animated through Hollywood channels before. The screenplay by director Jorge R. Gutierrez and Douglas Langdale is inspired by Mexico's annual Day of the Dead — a better title for the movie but appropriated by George Romero's zombies....

    Manolo, voiced by Diego Luna, woos the independent Maria, voiced by Zoe Saldana, in The Book of Life.
  7. Aasif Mandvi talks cultural frustration in 'No Land's Man'

    Books

    Aasif Mandvi is funnier than a man without a country should be, an Indo-Muslim-British-American outsider whose wit stems from peering in and poking.

    No wonder Florida, with all its blunders, is the one place the Obie-winning actor and Daily Show correspondent feels at home. Specifically Tampa, where in the 1980s Chamberlain High School and the University of South Florida offered him plenty of opportunities for marginalization as a brown-skinned immigrant teenager....

    Aasif Mandvi’s  work on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart brought him back to the Tampa Bay area in 2012 for Republican National Convention coverage.
  8. Review: ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day' is just mediocre (w/video)

    Movies

    The best thing about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is that it doesn't live down to its title. It is merely mediocre, which when it comes to shelling out today's ticket prices is just as bad.

    Having little to do with Judith Viorst's illustrated children's book, the movie is barely longer than its title, 81 minutes including end credits, so we can't even say viewers get their money's worth in volume. The first half is nothing but silly setups for a stretch run that admittedly has its moments of wacky pandemonium, just not enough....

    Wacky pandemonium — just not enough — ensues when bad-luck-prone Alexander, left, wishes his family knew what a lousy day feels like in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
  9. Review: Mixed verdict for 'The Judge'

    Movies

    Of all the objections raised to The Judge, acting intensity certainly isn't one of them. The reason this overstuffed movie remains tolerable is the inspired casting of Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. as a combative father and son, and their determination to out-thespian each other.

    It is a momentous clash, with Downey pitting "that hyper-verbal vocabulary vomit thing," as a character in The Judge describes his style, against Duvall's impeccable grump. A more dramatically focused movie, easier on the obvious, would do justice to their performances. Director David Dobkin works as if he's being faithful to a dense John Grisham novel that was never written....

    Robert Downey Jr. plays a high-priced lawyer who defends his small-town judge father, Robert Duvall.
  10. Bryan Cranston to star in 'Infiltrator,' filming in Tampa

    Movies

    Tampa is breaking back into movies, and breaking bad with a star.

    Emmy and Tony Award winner Bryan Cranston will star in The Infiltrator, which will be partly filmed locally. The movie is based on the memoirs of Tampa resident Robert Mazur, a former DEA agent who worked undercover to bust drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's money laundering system.

    Filming will begin in February, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission. London and Paris are also slated as filming locations....

    Bryan Cranston, famous for his role as Walter White on Breaking Bad, will play Robert Mazur, a former DEA agent.
  11. Review: Just pray for 'Left Behind' to be over

    Movies

    The spiritual lesson of the Rapture disaster Left Behind is simple: If actors pray enough, they can get out of this movie.

    Lo and behold, the first faith-baseless movie, conceived primarily for churchgoers then not doing much religiously besides passing the collection plate. Director Vic Armstrong covers only the first couple of chapters of the popular book, leaving all the Antichrist stuff for a sequel that may not come to pass....

    With Nicolas Cage as your pilot in Left Behind, what could possibly go wrong?
  12. University of Tampa graduate screening his 'Invisible Man' movie in Tampa

    Movies

    Now you'll see him and then you won't. A modern-day version of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man is showing one time only tonight, at Muvico Starlight 20 in Tampa. It's the latest example of how some independent filmmakers without distribution deals beg attention these days, renting a theater auditorium on an off night and calling it a world premiere. The Invisible Man is produced and directed by 2007 University of Tampa graduate Timothy Compton, now working in Los Angeles, and Sean Malone, a former teacher at the college. Both attended the University of Miami's film school. The Kickstarter-funded project was filmed in Colorado, North Carolina, and reportedly Tampa, although you can't tell from the snowbound trailer, available at vimeo.com/22755004. The production is hoping for a Netflix deal. Malone and actor John Hightower (Burn Notice, Covert Ops) will do a Q&A after the movie. A $10 donation is suggested for admission, with a reception to follow. Tickets can be reserved at jlarthouse.com....

  13. Review: 'The Good Lie' is not what you think

    Movies

    Movies about cooperating Africans and Americans often take a condescending risk of great white saviors making everything better for poor black folks. The Good Lie isn't that sort of movie, except in its marketing.

    Trailers and posters for The Good Lie are dominated by the plucky presence of Reese Witherspoon, who doesn't show up for nearly 40 minutes and isn't needed then. She's a white savior of another sort, a mainstream audience draw for a movie that wouldn't be helped by more truthful advertising....

    From left, Arnold Oceng, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Baker appear in a scene from The Good Lie.
  14. Review: 'Gone Girl' lives up to the book (w/video)

    Movies

    Gillian Flynn's twisty novel Gone Girl was a movie waiting to happen, practically smelling of popcorn with each compulsively turned page. It's less of a whodunit than a whodunwhat that's easier to spoil than egg salad at a picnic, so we'll tread lightly.

    If you read the book, you'll be thrilled by David Fincher's movie, rife and lively with all the right deceptions. If you didn't, I envy your ignorance of Gone Girl's course....

    Ben Affleck in a scene from “Gone Girl, a thriller that also stars Rosamund Pike.
  15. Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival celebrates 25 years

    Movies

    The past 25 years brought an abundance of change for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities worldwide. Yet in Tampa Bay one thing remained constant: A celebration of cinema reflecting LGBT lives, dreams and desires, a quarter century of pride through projector lenses.

    Starting Friday, the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival celebrates its silver anniversary, updating a past slogan, that's 25 straight years of queer cinema....

    Eliot (Teddy Chen Culver) and Ian (Aidan Bristow) are lovers in the closing night film, Eat With Me, at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.