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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. Top 10 movies of 2014 include 'Birdman,' 'Whiplash,' 'The Lego Movie'


    2014 was a strange year for Hollywood, from the shocking deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to North Korea's hacking and Sony backing down. On the plus side, it's only a year until Kim Jong-Un allows us to see Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens. Here are my 10 (make that 11) favorite movies of the year, with American Sniper (opening Jan. 16) and Chris Rock's Top Five just missing the cut....

     Michael Keaten and Edward Norton in Birdman.
  2. Florida Film Critics Circle picks winners


    Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was named 2014's best movie by the Florida Film Critics Circle, who also chose its star Michael Keaton as the year's best actor. However, the overall winner when results were announced Friday was Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, which claimed three awards for best original screenplay, ensemble cast and art direction/production design. Gone Girl won twice, for Rosamund Pike's lead performance and Gillian Flynn's screenplay, adapted from her novel. Richard Linklater was named best director for his 12-year project Boyhood, that also earned supporting actress honors for Patricia Arquette. The sci-fi epic Interstellar was honored for its cinematography and special effects, while Whiplash was cited for supporting actor J.K. Simmons and director Damien Chazelle breakthrough as director. Other winners include the Roger Ebert profile Life Itself (best documentary), The Lego Movie (animated film), The Raid 2 (foreign film) and Under the Skin (musical score). The list of winners and runners-up is available at The member includes 27 print and online reviewers, including Times movie critic Steve Persall. -- Times staff writer...

  3. Review: 'Annie' makeover is adorably different (w/video)


    The first face on screen is the Annie to whom we're accustomed: carrot-haired, freckled and white. "Annie A.," to classmates ignoring her corny show and tell. Might be an orphan but not for long with that chipperness.

    "Annie B." follows, with a fresher vibe; natural on top, hip-hop frisky and black, a foster child with a hard-knock life closer to Jay-Z's hook than Broadway's book. As played by Golden Globe nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, the new Annie is streetwise and PR savvy, a waif on the make....

    Wealthy candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) figures Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) can help his campaign.
  4. Review: Reese Witherspoon carries 'Wild' (w/video)


    Rather than running from her problems, Cheryl Strayed decided to walk — nearly 1,100 miles along the rugged Pacific Crest Trail.

    Cheryl's problems were plentiful: heroin and sex addiction, a ruined marriage, her mother's death. Her hike was cathartic, which isn't easily conveyed in movies but Jean-Marc Vallee's Wild comes close, its free-form, flashback structure kept interesting by Reese Witherspoon's raw, Golden Globe nominated portrayal of Cheryl....

    Reese Witherspoon commits to playing Cheryl Strayed, a heroin and sex addict who hiked 1,100 miles.
  5. Update: Sony cancels opening of 'The Interview' after threats


    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)
  6. Review: ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings' a plague on theaters (w/video)


    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....

    With a capacity for violence bordering on mania, Moses (Christian Bale), right, confronts his adoptive brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton, heavy on the guyliner and bronzer) in Exodus: Gods and Kings.
  7. 'Birdman' nabs 7 Golden Globe nods; Jolie snubbed


    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]
  8. 'Birdman' soars to the top of Screen Actors Guild nominations


    '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 ...

  9. Tim Burton to film in Tampa Bay next year


    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)
  10. Tim Burton to film in Tampa Bay next year


    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.
  11. Review: 'The Homesman' takes a few too many turns


    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 as a crotchety old guy and Hilary Swank as a spinster form an unlikely pair in The Homesman.
  12. Catch glimpses of Pinellas in 'Six Dance Lessons' trailer


    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....

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


    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.
  14. Holiday Movie Guide: 14 picks for award season


    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!...

    Jamie Foxx is Stacks, and Quvenzhané Wallis is Annie, in the new film.
  15. 'Penguins of Madagascar' keeps the laughs coming


    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.