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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. 'The Infiltrator' keeps 1,000 extras at Derby Lane past their bedtime

    Movies

    ST. PETERSBURG — Making movies is a tediously fascinating process, as hundreds of volunteer extras learned Thursday night.

    And Friday morning.

    The Infiltrator starring Bryan Cranston has been filming around Tampa Bay since April 22 and is expected to wrap local production this weekend. Signature locales, including the Loews Don CeSar Hotel and Tampa Theatre, are guest stars....

    Dennis O’Connor of Oxford, Maine, a Heisenberg lookalike from Breaking Bad, showed up at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg on Thursday night, hoping to be an extra in The Infiltrator.
  2. Hundreds show up to dog track seeking extra roles in Cranston film

    Human Interest

    Hundreds of star-struck fans spent Thursday evening at St. Petersburg's Derby Lane where Emmy winner Bryan Cranston filmed scenes for the true-life crime drama The Infiltrator. The production asked for volunteer extras to fill portions of the grandstand and a trackside fence where Cranston's character, Tampa resident and former undercover agent Robert Mazur, watches a race. One hopeful volunteer was Dennis O'Connor of Oxford, ME, whose resemblance to Cranston's Breaking Bad character made him the night's biggest star — until the real deal showed up. On Saturday, Times movie critic Steve Persall offers details of the shoot, which was expected to last until early Friday morning....

     Hundreds of starstruck fans spent Thursday evening at St. Petersburg's Derby Lane where Emmy winner Bryan Cranston filmed scenes for the true-life crime drama The Infiltrator. The production asked for volunteer extras to fill portions of the grandstand and a trackside fence where Cranston's character, Tampa resident and former undercover agent Robert Mazur, watches a race. One hopeful volunteer was Dennis O'Connor of Oxford, ME, whose resemblance to Cranston's Breaking Bad character made him the night's biggest star - until the real deal showed up. [STEVE [PERSALL | Times]
  3. Review: 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' over-the-top fun from start to anticlimactic finish

    Movies

    How do you top The Avengers, the third-highest grossing movie of all time?

    For writer, director and geek's geek Joss Whedon, the answer is to over-the-top it. And it just might work.

    Avengers: Age of Ultron is a comic book movie frequently begging to actually be a comic book, with panels allowing readers to pause and pour over fantastic detail that Whedon whizzes by. At 2 hours, 21 minutes, it is the longest, most hectic of 10 adventures in this Marvel universe, battle-rattling our senses from start to anticlimactic finish....

    Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in Avengers: Age of Ultron. By the movie’s end, the franchise is left at an important crossroads.
  4. St. Petersburg's Sunscreen Film Festival opens Thursday with variety of films

    Movies

    Movie theaters are dark places that can always use a little Sunscreen.

    Not the lotion; the film festival stocked with linguini-budgeted, independently produced films with a scrappy desire to please, unlike the soulless studios their makers would love to join.

    St. Petersburg's 10th annual Sunscreen Film Festival features dozens of filmmakers' calling cards, from features to documentaries and shorts. Student film blocks, five Web series and workshops are also in the lineup, with special events scheduled daily through Sunday....

    Coach Thomas Rongen with his American Samoa team in Next Goal Wins. Agile Films
  5. Summer movie preview: From 'The Avengers' to 'Mission: Impossible' (w/video)

    Movies

    By Steve Persall Times Movie Critic

    Summertime, and cramming all those new movies into theaters isn't easy. • Today's unleashing of The Avengers: Age of Ultron kicks off four months of weekly blockbuster dreams. Many, like the Marvel sequel, will hog more than the usual share of theater screens. (See review at tampabay.com/things-to-do.) • Box office underachievers won't hold them for long. • Our 2015 Summer Movie Preview highlights 25 movies with the most to gain or lose between now and Labor Day. They have the biggest stars and boldest budgets on the line. • First weekends are critical to every release. Few movies gain momentum after stumbling at the starting gate. Some flops we can smell coming like coconut sunscreen. Enjoy....

    Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O’Shea Jackson Jr.
  6. Review: 'Little Boy' movie offers faith in a real world

    Movies

    Evolution isn't a popular topic among Christians, but that's exactly what is happening with their movies, leaving room for doubt and placing limitations on what pure faith can accomplish.

    Sure, everything is solved by the fade-out and a deity gets most of the credit. But an increasing number of faith-based movies are reaching secular audiences by simply not preaching to them, while acknowledging humanism. That includes movies like Little Boy, an innocuous, charming drama about coincidences making a child's faith seem divine, amid racist patriotism during World War II....

    David Henrie is one of the stars of Little Boy.
  7. Bryan Cranston films 'Infiltrator' at the Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach

    Movies

    ST. PETE BEACH

    Before sunrise Thursday, the Don CeSar Hotel's beachfront was transported to another time, another place.

    Dozens of crew members for The Infiltrator, a $47.5 million production starring Bryan Cranston, assembled lighting reflectors and camera dolly tracks in a palm tree-shrouded walkway near the swimming pool. Extras were herded to waiting areas, dressed in 1980s beachwear....

    Bryan Cranston, right, and  Sa?d Taghmaoui during a break from filming on the set of  'The Infiltrator,' being filmed at the  Loews Don CeSar Hotel, Thursday.  [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]
  8. Review: In 'The Age of Adaline', ageless Blake Lively gets old fast

    Movies

    Poor Adaline Bowman, sentenced to an eternity of looking like Blake Lively, by a movie premise more preposterous than anything Vin Diesel tried lately. Thanks to scientific hoo-hah that won't be discovered until 2035, Adaline never ages.

    Her movie gets old quickly.

    The Age of Adaline is a lunkheaded fantasy romance, gliding over expectations at first, simply because it's somewhat original. Lively is lovely as an heiress widow whose drowning in 1930 was prevented by cold water and hot lightning that would cause electrocution anywhere else....

    Blake Lively and Michiel Huisman star in this lunkheaded fantasy romance in which Adaline doesn’t age after 29.
  9. Actor Bryan Cranston spotted at Tampa Bay Rays game

    Movies

    There was a celebrity Infiltrator at Tropicana Field for Tuesday's game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. Emmy and Tony winning actor Bryan Cranston — sporting a Red Sox cap — watched his team shutout the Rays 1-0. The star of Breaking Bad is visiting Tampa Bay to film scenes for The Infiltrator, a true crime drama based on the memoirs of Tampa resident and former federal agent Robert Mazur. Filming is set to begin Thursday, and expected to continue for less than 10 days. — Steve Persall, Times Movie Critic...

     Actor Bryan Cranston, best known for portraying Walter White in the crime drama Breaking Bad, watches the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Boston Red Sox on the visitors side of the field Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
  10. Review: 'Ex Machina' intelligently explores feminism in a sci-fi setting

    Movies

    Alex Garland's Ex Machina is a fascinating addition to the sci-fi trend of science feminism, in which concepts of womanhood in patriarchal culture are explored far deeper than Ripley battling aliens in her underwear.

    Ex Machina joins Her and Under the Skin in viewing women as strangers in a strange land, created by technology or sent from the stars and craftier, more in control than men believe or want. Sci-fem women evolve from products of how men view them — sexuality is a key component — and fantasy becomes trenchant allegory, as fine science fiction will....

    Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, brought into a mad scientist’s designs on artificial intelligence, in Alex Garland’s directorial debut.
  11. 'One-Man Star Wars Trilogy' star Charles Ross uses the Force on stage

    Stage

    How are you preparing for the Force awakening this December? • Fans can binge-watch all six Star Wars movies, or watch Charles Ross boil them down to 75 minutes of theater, giving Episodes I, II and III the short shrift they deserve. • Ross' One-Man Star Wars Trilogy — even the title doesn't acknowledge Anakin Skywalker's early years — is an energetic spoof of sci-fi's greatest mythology. Since its 2001 debut, the Canadian actor's hyper-speed impersonations of Star Wars characters, sound effects, even John Williams' musical score has thrilled Jedi geeks worldwide. • Later, Ross gave similar treatment to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. • "The funny thing about Star Wars is that it doesn't change," Ross said in a recent telephone interview. "There's an eternal little story, so I think I've gotten a lot cleaner; I don't injure myself as much during the show because I've learned how not to land directly on my face." • In these excerpts, Ross reveals what he has discovered about Star Wars over 14 years, why he doesn't care if Greedo shot first, and why he's lucky to have fallen in love before all this:...

    Since 2001, Charles Ross has performed hyper-speed impersonations from the Star Wars movies on stage for his traveling One-Man Star Wars Trilogy. (That’s the original trilogy, cutting fluff from Episodes I-III.)
  12. Opening Friday: 'The Age of Adaline'

    Movies

    Staying 29 years old forever isn't all it's cracked up to be for the heroine of The Age of Adaline (PG-13). Sure, she can look like Blake Lively forever but Ryan Reynolds doesn't come with the package. Long-term romance is hard when you could wind up both as a cougar and a PYT for the same guy.

    Adaline Bowman finds herself in that chrono-crisis after a car accident in the 1930s, submerging her into frozen waters. Thanks to a fortuitous bolt of lightning, Adaline becomes immortal but never ages; kind of like a vampire, but this isn't that kind of movie. This one is for viewers believing Nicholas Sparks isn't romantic enough....

    Michiel Huisman and Blake Lively co-star in The Age of Adaline.
  13. Travolta thrills Clearwater crowd with donation

    Features

    CLEARWATER — John Travolta was complimenting Saturday's audience at the Capitol Theatre for supporting the arts with their attendance, when the announcement came that $38,000 was raised for the Marcia P. Hoffman School for the Arts.

    Recognizing a cue as actors do, the two-time Academy Award nominee sweetened the pot.

    "Because of your generosity," Travolta said, "I would like to add another 12 (thousand) to make it $50,000."...

    Actor John Travolta appears on the red carpet on Saturday evening at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater for a screening of his new movie, The Forger.
  14. Review: 'True Story' is remarkably literate cat-and-mouse game

    Movies

    True Story is stranger than fiction, which is what got Michael Finkel fired in the first place. As a New York Times reporter, Finkel was entrusted to write the truth. He blew it in 2001, passing off a composite character as one real victim.

    Soon after, an Oregon husband and father named Christian Longo went on the lam after brutally murdering his family. Captured in Mexico, Longo initially gave authorities a false identity: Michael Finkel, New York Times reporter. The real Finkel, professionally humiliated and financially strapped, was intrigued....

    In an adaptation of, well, a true story, Jonah Hill plays journalist Mike Finkel and James Franco plays murderer Christian Longo, forming a prickly jailhouse partnership in True Story.
  15. John Travolta presents 'The Forger' at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre (w/trailer)

    Movies

    By his count, John Travolta visits Clearwater five days a week when possible yet hasn't entered the revitalized Capitol Theatre.

    That changes Saturday when the star of Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction appears at the Cap with his new film, The Forger, with proceeds benefitting the Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

    It's the latest example of the two-time Academy Award nominee using his movies as fundraisers for causes. Mostly these red carpet events occur in Ocala where he lives....

    John Travolta plays Raymond Cutter, an art forger attempting to steal a Monet painting, in The Forger. During filming, Travolta tried to craft his own forgery. “I wanted to know what it would feel like to be under the gun literally to paint a masterpiece, and what kind of stress that would put the character through, even though he’s good at it.”