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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: spersall@tampabay.com

Twitter: @StevePersall

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  1. Movie Planner: 'The Circle,' 'How to Be a Latin Lover,' 'Sleight' open

    Movies

    OPENING Thursday: THE CIRCLE

    Tom Hanks and Emma Watson are box office roadkill this weekend, as The Fate of the Furious roars while The Circle (PG-13) looks like a zero.

    The Circle is a sci-fi thriller with Hanks as a social media mogul whose latest unethical idea shatters all expectations of privacy. Watson plays a fast-rising associate whose disenchantment with the program leads to danger. Hanks is listed eighth in the cast, suggesting his role isn't large....

    Jacob Latimore stars as Bo, an illusionist putting his skills to dangerous work, in Sleight.
  2. Sunscreen Film Festival brings stars and indie films to St. Pete

    Movies

    BY STEVE PERSALL

    Times Movie Critic

    Escaping the heat in a dark movie theater this weekend?

    Don't forget the Sunscreen.

    St. Petersburg's 12th annual Sunscreen Film Festival won't be fast or furious. The beasts and beauties in these independent gems don't sing. Sunscreen celebrates films and their makers that modern movie audiences don't go out of their way to experience....

    Members and fans of the film industry gather outside of the Palladium during opening night of 11th annual Sunscreen Film Festival at  in St. Petersburg in 2016. LUIS SANTANA  |   Times
  3. Interview: Daphne Zuniga talks 'Spaceballs' and Carrie Fisher 30 years later

    Movies

    Funny, after 30 years, Daphne Zuniga still doesn't look Druish.

    Mel Brooks first noted the lack of resemblance in Spaceballs, putting a pun in John Candy's mouth about Zuniga's Princess Vespa, daughter of Roland, king of the Druids.

    Any resemblance between Vespa and a certain scrappy princess in a galaxy far, far away isn't coincidental, but since 1987 it's funny. Brooks' madcap spoof of Star Wars, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, still has the Schwartz going for it....

    Daphne Zuniga, seen here in Spaceballs, will visit St. Petersburg for the Sunscreen Film Festival and a screening for the movie's 30th anniversary.
  4. Review: 'T2 Trainspotting' deftly ages a drugged-out bunch

    Movies

    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....

    Dealing with the consequences of misspent youth, Renton (Ewan McGregor, right) returns to Scotland after running out on his mates with drug money, and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), still wanting payback, runs a failing pub.
  5. Review: Brie Larson is too good for 'Free Fire' shoot-em-up

    Movies

    "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.
  6. Movie Planner: 'Colossal,' 'The Lost City of Z,' 'Born in China,' 'Unforgettable,' 'The Promise'

    Movies

    INDIE FLICKS

    COLOSSAL

    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....

    Mother and cub Pandas Ya Ya and Mei Mei in the new film, “Born in China,” which was shot over three years and captures the essence of multiple species in some of China’s most remote and rugged spots.
  7. Review: 'The Fate of the Furious' tries too hard, but it's still family

    Movies

    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)
  8. Movie Planner: Meet 'Gifted' screenwriter from St. Pete, plus The Fate of the Furious

    Movies

    'GIFTED' SCREENWRITER: TOM FLYNN

    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."...

    This image released by Universal Pictures shows Dwayne Johnson in “The Fate of the Furious.” (Universal Pictures via AP)
  9. Review: St. Petersburg-set 'Gifted' a charming child prodigy tale

    Movies

    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
  10. Review: Oscar-winner 'Toni Erdmann' awkwardly warm German comedy

    Movies

    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....

    Peter Simonischek in Toni Erdmann (2016)
  11. Review: 'Going in Style' does senior stars a disservice

    Movies

    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.
  12. Persall: I was personally insulted by Don Rickles

    Movies

    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.
  13. Movie Planner: 'Look to the Sky' compares brave kids with Superman

    Movies

    SUPERMAN LIVES: LOOK TO THE SKY

    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....

    Erika Christensenm, right, and Jordan Cox star in faith-based drama The Case for Christ.
  14. 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....

    Viola Davis, who won an Oscar in February for her role in the film Fences, speaks Tuesday night to an audience of about 3,500 at the University of South Florida Sun Dome in Tampa. She was booked before winning her Oscar.
  15. Review: 'Ghost in the Shell' is just Scarlett Johansson's latest thrill-kill endeavor

    Movies

    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’s latest superhuman is Major, her rank in a covert army keeping the metrofantasy New Port City safe.