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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. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing


    When The Force Awakens landed two years ago, it was everything Star Wars fans wanted yet not entirely what we needed. It was a rousing tribute missing its own vision, introducing new characters and crises hinting at old ones.

    Star Wars: The Last Jedi launches the franchise to another level of action and humor thanks to incoming writer-director Rian Johnson, whose imagination seems boundless as George Lucas' 40 years ago....

  2. 13 new movies you have to see over the holiday season


    DecEMBER 22

    January 12

    January 5

  3. Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay


    Guillermo Del Toro's romantic creature feature The Shape of Water soaked up seven Golden Globes nominations Monday, kicking off another marathon awards season.

    The Shape of Water is nominated for best dramatic motion picture alongside Christopher Nolan's World War II drama Dunkirk, the revenge tale Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Steven Spielberg's The Post and Call Me By Your Name, a same-sex romance set in Italy....

  4. Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?


    A new documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried reveals someone more mild-mannered than his stage persona, married with children, verging on dull.

    His voice doesn't grate, dropping half its nasal quality and all of its foul-mouthed bluster. Shy winces replace Gottfried's stand-up squint. Nobody would pay a two-drink minimum to meet this guy.

    "I always think of that scene in The Wizard of Oz where it's, like, please ignore that man behind the curtain," Gottfried said by phone from New York. "Now a movie is revealing the man behind the curtain, so it's scary."...

  5. Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week


    Hollywood is backloading December, waiting for Star Wars: The Last Jedi to bring moviegoers back to multiplexes. After no major releases last week, only James Franco's The Disaster Artist is making any new impression at box offices this weekend. (Click here to read a review.) ...

  6. Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar's 'Coco'


    Winter is still weeks away but everyone's favorite snowman is already melting from view.

    In a cruel twist on Frozen's showstopper, Olaf is being let go.

    Olaf's Frozen Adventure, the 21-minute animated "short" preceding Disney-Pixar's Coco in theaters won't be part of the show starting Friday.

    Disney claims that was always the plan. If so, a limited run ending Dec. 7 wasn't made clear in Coco's advertising. Neither was the featurette's running time....

  7. 'The Disaster Artist' takes us inside 'The Room' as it notoriously happened


    James Franco found a kooky, kindred spirit in Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist whose 2003 cine-trocity The Room is hailed as one of the worst movies ever.

    Like Wiseau, Franco can be accused of stretching his talent way too far. Unlike Wiseau, Franco has talent. The Disaster Artist is his smudged valentine from one undaunted artist to another, an imperfect re-enactment of misplaced optimism. All of The Room's perverse fun without the pain of watching it....

    James Franco, left, and Tommy Wiseau, who has made his peace with the cult status of his drama, The Room the subject of Franco's new comedy film, The Disaster Artist. (New York Times)
  8. That time Shia LaBeouf tried to join a Tampa Bay Undeground Film Festival ...


    For a few bewildering days, R. Presley Stephens thought his Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival would welcome a notorious celebrity.

    The fourth annual shoestring cinema showcase runs Thursday through Sunday at Britton 8 Theater, 3938 S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

    Hollywood bad boy Shia LaBeouf won't be there.

    Stephens said LaBeouf personally submitted his on-the-road documentary #takemeanywhere online for inclusion in this year's lineup....

    Movie still from Garage Rocking Craze.
  9. Meet Frank Sinatra's right-hand man at Ruth Eckerd Hall

    Music & Concerts

    For 17 years, Eliot Weisman did things Frank Sinatra's way.

    Weisman was the Chairman of the Board's manager and confidant during Sinatra's last hurrahs, first gaining the legend's ear by keeping his mouth shut.

    In 1981, Weisman left federal prison after serving time for racketeering charges connected to his theater, where Sinatra often performed. Investigators were intrigued by a photo of Sinatra and Weisman surrounded by organized crime bosses....

    Frank Sinatra, left, and his manager Eliot Weisman pose in 1995. Weisman details his years working with the singer-actor and as executor of Sinatra’s will in his memoir The Way It Was.
  10. What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'




    Disney-Pixar's animated dramedy Coco (PG) is inspired by Mexico's annual Dia de los Muertos, the "day of the dead" when departed ancestors are celebrated. Good for diversity, although the movie isn't as good as its intentions.

    Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) defies his family and runs away to be a musician after one abandoned his great-great-grandmother. The boy's quest leads to the afterlife, where his late singing idol (Benjamin Bratt) and a skeletal peasant (Gael García Bernal) pull the plot strings....

    Saoirse Ronan stars in Lady Bird, the directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig.
  11. If you're going to see 'A Christmas Carol' redo, make it 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'


    The last thing this world needs is another rendition of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, likely the most remade, reimagined and ripped off literary property ever.

    At the same time, the world would be poorer without seeing Ebenezer Scrooge interpreted by Christopher Plummer, an actor if not born to play the role then certainly, finely aged into it.

    Plummer, soon to be 89, gets his chance in Bharat Nalluri's The Man Who Invented Christmas, a movie also managing a welcome fresh approach to Dickens' sentimental perennial. At last, the author takes center stage in his story, played charmingly by Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens....

    Dan Stevens stars as Charles Dickens in “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”
  12. 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' is a sad waste of Denzel Washington


    Denzel Washington's labored portrayal of a shambling legal savant named Roman J. Israel, Esq. is the least of the movie's worries. This is a story of shifting ethics that should be dramatic, but shaky logic prevents that from happening.

    Dan Gilroy's follow-up to his bracing 2014 debut Nightcrawler is toothless by comparison, written as detached from reality as his hero. Roman's mouse-click case memory is likely somewhere on the autism spectrum, camouflaged by grumpy old mannerisms. He's stuck in the '70s with shoulder-wide lapels and an Eddie Kendricks ringtone, clinging to Angela Davis' values....

    Denzel Washington’s labored portrayal of a shambling legal savant named Roman J. Israel is the least of the movie’s worries.  
Sony Pictures
  13. 'Last Flag Flying' is kind of a puzzling follow-up to 1973's 'The Last Detail'


    Richard Linklater called 2016's Everybody Wants Some!! a "spiritual sequel" to his last-century breakout Dazed and Confused. Different characters, same youthful, life-exploring vibe.

    Linklater's latest, Last Flag Flying, can be considered a spiritual sequel to 1973's The Last Detail, each based on Darryl Ponicsan's U.S. Navy-based novels. It's a tough act to follow: directed by Hal Ashby at his peak, starring Jack Nicholson on the cusp of a cuckoo's nest....

    Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard “Mule” Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) help Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) after his son dies in the Iraq war.
  14. 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' is a study in grief that's so much more


    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is where Mildred Hayes vents grief over her daughter's rape and murder, and anger toward a police chief who hasn't solved the case. Ten words on stark canvases setting off a powder keg of poetic cruelty and unexpected redemption.

    The setting and Martin McDonagh's movie are no country for weak women. No problem. As played ferociously by Frances McDormand, Mildred is no one to underestimate, not for her callousness or ease of violence when necessary, which is for her alone to decide....

    Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." MUST  Fox Searchlight Pictures
  15. Disney-Pixar's 'Coco' has a Dia de los Muertos theme and is, well, lifeless


    Disney-Pixar's Coco was more enjoyable three years ago when it was titled The Book of Life and came from Twentieth Century Fox.

    Both animated features spring from Mexico's Dia de los Muertos celebration, the annual "day of the dead" when departed relatives are honored, so they'll show the way to the afterlife. Each movie spends most of its running time there.

    Only the Fox flick takes full advantage of the occasion visually, evoking the macabre iconography more authentically than Pixar's Tim Burton-esque skeletons with dislocating bones. The Book of Life was produced by Guillermo Del Toro, the superior fantasist....

    Hero Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) follows his love of music to the Land of the Dead, where he teams up with Hector.