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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: 'T2 Trainspotting' deftly ages a drugged-out bunch


    The other needle drops in T2 Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's berserker encore for four Scottish heroin junkies.

    Not a syringe loaded with smack this time. It's a phonograph needle lowered onto spinning vinyl for barely a second but the propulsive beat's unmistakable: Lust for Life.

    Before you can say Iggy Pop the needle and memories are snatched away. Too tempting for a prodigal addict returning to Edinburgh, scene of too many nod-offs, too few healthy choices....

    Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), Mark (Ewan McGregor) and Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) drink in Simon’s flat in “T2 Trainspotting.” Credit: Jaap Buitendijk, TriStar Pictures
  2. Review: Brie Larson is too good for 'Free Fire' shoot-em-up


    "Wait, I forgot whose side I'm on!" yells someone in the line of Free Fire, Ben Wheatley's lunatic shooting gallery and not much else.

    We know how that confused, soon-to-be casualty feels. You can't tell the corpses without a scorecard in Free Fire, another live wire version of rats in a barrel eating each other, practically sweating Tarantino, who himself recycles from the Peckinpah pit....

    In Free Fire, Brie Larson, who filmed this before winning an Oscar, and Sharlto Copley play part of a team with plans to buy machine guns for export to the IRA resistance in Ireland.
  3. Movie Planner: 'Colossal,' 'The Lost City of Z,' 'Born in China,' 'Unforgettable,' 'The Promise'




    Two types of movies we've seen too many times merge to imaginative effect in Colossal (R). One is monster-stompers like Godzilla, the other any indie dramedy featuring a washout returning home. Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo shows they have more in common than you think.

    Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an irresponsible alcoholic sent packing by a fed-up boyfriend (Dan Stevens). Gloria has nowhere to go but the hometown she gladly left behind years ago. She runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a cheerful classmate running a bar. He offers her a job and a typical indie romance starts forming....

    Jason Sudeikis and Anne Hathaway in Colossal.
  4. Review: 'The Fate of the Furious' tries too hard, but it's still family


    The Fate of the Furious had me at Havana, the setting for another shock-paddle start to another moving violation of critical standards. Number eight, but who's counting besides accountants?

    It's a brilliant pairing of material and locale, the first time a U.S. movie has been filmed in Cuba since U.S. restrictions eased. Havana's vibrancy and the Fast/Furious franchise's velocity fit like a racing glove; a colorful car culture and our favorite car creatures....

    Vin Diesel in the film "The Fate of the Furious." (Universal Pictures)
  5. Movie Planner: Meet 'Gifted' screenwriter from St. Pete, plus The Fate of the Furious



    Tampa Bay is again the setting for a movie that wasn't filmed here.

    The child prodigy drama Gifted includes "St. Petersburg" locales that, like Live by Night's "Ybor City," were filmed in Georgia where production incentives are available and generous.

    "(Director) Marc Webb came to St. Pete and scouted for a few days," said screenwriter Tom Flynn. "He thought it was perfect . . . He was sold but the Florida incentives didn't come through. It's hard for a movie like ours, on our budget, to thumb our nose at 30 percent of our budget (coming) from the state of Georgia."...

    Octavia Spencer, from left, McKenna Grace and Chris Evans appear in Gifted.
  6. Review: St. Petersburg-set 'Gifted' a charming child prodigy tale


    I'm a sucker for movies about child prodigies: Searching for Bobby Fischer, Little Man Tate, anything about boundless young intellect unleashed, hopefully not at childhood's expense.

    Marc Webb's Gifted reaches that upper percentile of prodigy flicks for about an hour until becoming a child custody movie, which isn't about the kids. A courtroom isn't the most interesting place for a movie to roost while grownups debate what's best....

    Frank (Chris Evans, left) wants to keep his math prodigy niece, played by the talented McKenna Grace, right,  in public school for a chance at a normal life. His snooty mother has other plans.
Searchlight Pictures
  7. Review: Oscar-winner 'Toni Erdmann' awkwardly warm German comedy


    On paper, nothing about Toni Erdmann suggests how entertaining it can be.

    Running nearly three hours, it's a sort-of comedy from a country not renowned for its sense of humor, subtitled without name stars. The title character wears a fright wig and phony buck teeth. His quest is a cliché, re-establishing a family connection.

    Yet not many movies slap smiles on my face as often as Maren Ade's Oscar-nominated, awkwardly warm German gem. Toni Erdmann finds comedy in the depths of despair and vice versa, never hinting what's coming next. The movie is as much of a put-on as its impractically joking hero....

    Prankster Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek, right) travels to reconnect with his type-A daughter (Sandra Huller) under the guise of his alter-ego, Toni Erdmann. The German movie is now showing at Tampa Theatre.
  8. Review: 'Going in Style' does senior stars a disservice


    A biting 1970s comedy about aging becomes something soft to chew in Zach Braff's Going in Style, a remake with better reasons to exist if he'd explore them.

    Times are tighter for seniors today than when the late George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg played geriatric bank robbers fixing their incomes. An even more impressive trio of Oscar winning seniors — Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin — deserve material equally honest, unconcerned with bogus fluff and feels....

    George Burns, Lee Strasberg and Art Carney in the 1979 version of Going in Style.
  9. Persall: I was personally insulted by Don Rickles


    Don Rickles once called me a dummy.

    One of the proudest moments of my life.

    Being insulted by Don Rickles has been a badge of honor for presidents and pipefitters alike for over 60 years. No one within earshot with half a sense of humor was safe.

    Long before celebrity roasts he was "Mr. Warmth," defining the art of the put-down, stretching propriety in more polite eras. Heating up the kitchen for abrasive comedians to come. ...

    Don Rickles, whose insults endeared him to audiences for decades, died Thursday. He was 90.
  10. Movie Planner: 'Look to the Sky' compares brave kids with Superman



    Superheroes needn't be faster than bullets or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

    Tampa filmmaker Brett Culp believes all that anyone needs to be a superhero is recognizing their own powers and putting them to work.

    Merely mortal children can do it, which is the point of Culp's documentary Look to the Sky, showing at 2 p.m. Saturday at Tampa Theatre....

    Brainy (Danny Pudi), left, Hefty (Joe Manganiello), Smurfette (Demi Lovato) and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) embark on an adventure through the Forbidden Forest in Smufs: The Lost Village, the third in the Smurfs film series.
  11. Oscar winner Viola Davis tells USF crowd: 'Own your own story'

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — "Who is this Viola Davis woman?"

    Thousands of fans at the University of South Florida Sun Dome thought they knew the answer Tuesday night when the Academy Award winner posed the question on stage.

    Oscar-winning actor. Two-time Tony winner. Emmy honoree.

    Yet those aren't Davis' greatest accomplishments.

    Davis, 51, testified about a hard life before success, marred by abject poverty, racial and domestic abuse and various insecurities. Demons that Davis compared to a scene in The Exorcist, when the words "help me" erupted on a possessed girl's skin....

    Fans get close and snap photos Tuesday of actor Viola Davis, who was speaking at the USF Sun Dome. “I am a hero, but I don’t have a cape,” Davis told the audience. “I don’t have superpowers.”
  12. Review: 'Ghost in the Shell' is just Scarlett Johansson's latest thrill-kill endeavor


    Scarlett Johansson is officially Hollywood's face and body of the future.

    Any role requiring a woman genetically altered, superhumanly trained or cyber-enhanced for sci-fi heroism is Johansson's for the taking. She probably has a closet filled with form-fitting fight suits and a mirror for practicing don't-call-me-babe expressions.

    Johansson's latest thrill-kill endeavor is Ghost in the Shell, a live action remake of 1996's Japanese anime import. She basically plays a fanboy's dream date with mad trigger skills. This time her fight suit is skin-toned for maximum PG-13 titillation....

    Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell.” Paramount Pictures
  13. Review: 'Personal Shopper' changes the conversation on Kristen Stewart


    Time for a reassessment of Kristen Stewart, a divisive actor with a penchant for appearing detached from everything around her in a movie.

    Like many viewers — not her devoted Twilight fans — I've often thought Stewart's withdrawn, uneasy persona got in the way of her characters. Yet two striking performances directed by Olivier Assayas and several middling movies in which she still shined puts Stewart in the discussion of her generation's finest actors....

    Kristen Stewart’s seeming indifference works as Maureen Cartwright, employed by a demanding supermodel-designer. French writer-director Olivier Assayas grasps her essence, her twitchy elusiveness. 
IFC Films
  14. Movie Planner: 'Ghost in the Shell,' 'The Zookeeper's Wife'




    Trainspotting isn't the only 1996 release getting a makeover this weekend. The same year, Ghost in the Shell proved Japanese anime to be theatrically viable in the United States. Stylish, futuristic sex and violence with subtitles could sell tickets, not just VHS bootlegs.

    Now Ghost in the Shell is live-action and tamer judging by its PG-13 rating. Scarlett Johansson, right, slips into the form-fitting fight suits of Major, a cyber-enhanced soldier fighting terrorism. Major also has a little Jason Bourne to her backstory after learning her supervisors are lying about her past. Now it's personal, even for a cyborg. ...

    Jessica Chastain stars as Antonina Zabinski in director Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, based on a true story.
  15. Review: 'The Boss Baby' needs someone to raise it right


    The Boss Baby is a bun needing more time in the oven, some rethinking of what sort of animated comedy it wishes to be.

    It could coast on casting Alec Baldwin's cobra baritone for the titular infant, maybe 15 minutes shorter and funnier than where it goes. I could listen to Boss Baby's drop-the-bottle remarks all day, but a messy plot gets in the way.

    Director Tom McGrath inflates Marla Frazee's watercolor book into digital ambition that never quite takes off. What began as a bedtime update on Look Who's Talking gets turned Inside Out, shifting attention from the baby to his jealous older brother Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi). Tim's imagination is the emotional and visual boss here, a sidekick hijacking center stage....

    Photo from The Boss Baby starring Alec Baldwin. 20th Century Fox.