Make us your home page

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. What's new in theaters: 'The Snowman,' 'Only the Brave,' 'Boo 2! A Madea Halloween'




    Unlike Frosty, The Snowman (R) isn't a jolly, happy soul. He's a serial killer who murders after snowfalls, keeping him busy in Norway where an alcoholic detective (Michael Fassbender) specializes in — wait for it — cold cases.

    Fassbender leads an intriguing cast: Oscar winner J.K. Simmons makes anything better, Chloe Sevigny gets two roles and the chance to see Val Kilmer playing someone named Gert Rafto is tough to pass up. The Snowman is directed by Tomas Alfredson, whose Let the Right One In showed his thrill-chill chops....

     Mireille Enos stars in the dream-state mystery Never Here.
  2. Andy Serkis' directing debut 'Breathe' is the swooniest polio movie ever


    After such a revolutionary acting career, Andy Serkis should be expected to make an equally inventive directing debut. Breathe is anything but that.

    Serkis wrote a new chapter on acting with milestone motion-capture performances in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes trilogies. Capturing emotion is another story.

    Breathe is a rotely inspiring biopic of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an English polio victim and his devoted wife, who pioneered disability rights and wheelchairs with ventilators. They are fine subjects for a documentary or a harsher tale of triumph than this....

    Cheery Clare Foy and Andrew Garfield star in Breathe as Robin and Diana Cavendish, an English polio victim and his devoted wife.
  3. 'The Foreigner' is Jackie Chan's (terrible) attempt at being taken seriously


    Jackie Chan, master of martial arts comedy, wishes to be taken seriously as an actor. Seriously.

    The Foreigner is no place to start and a smart place to finish.

    For once, Chan isn't the most incomprehensible thing in one of his movies. The Foreigner expects viewers to come in understanding the Irish independence movement and its terrorist history. Or else, strain through brogues arguing about it. Before long it isn't worth the trouble....

    Jackie Chan plays Ngoc Minh Quan, a London restaurant owner whose teenage daughter is killed in an IRA bombing. 
STX Entertainment
  4. Somehow Thurgood Marshall isn't even the star in his own biopic 'Marshall'


    Truth is an obstacle that the Thurgood Marshall biopic never overcomes.

    It's true that a prejudiced judge in 1941 banned the NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice from addressing the court during the career-shaping case this movie depicts. Marshall had to channel his defense of a wrongfully accused black man through a white lawyer without criminal trial experience.

    Marshall is all about the mouthpiece....

    Sam Friedman (Josh Gad, left) takes center stage standing in for a banned Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) during 
a 1941 case against a black chaffeur (Sterling K. Brown).
  5. What's in theaters this week: 'Marshall,' 'The Foreigner,' 'Happy Death Day'



    Wonder Woman was a PG-13 blockbuster but her real origins are for adults only, as depicted in Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (R). Writer-director Angela Robinson dramatizes her comic book creator's erotic inspirations; you'll never think of Wonder Woman's lasso of truth the same way again....

    Professor Marston & the Wonder Women stars, from left, Bella Heathcoate, Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall.
  6. 'Professor Marston and the Wonder Women' is comic book heroine's R-rated back story


    Wonder Woman was a PG-13 blockbuster but her real origins are for adults only, as depicted in Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (R). Writer-director Angela Robinson dramatizes her comic book creator's erotic inspirations; you'll never think of Wonder Woman's lasso of truth the same way again.

    Luke Evans stars as Dr. William Moulton Marston, a psychology professor exalting feminism decades before the women's liberation movement. His theory that all human behavior is caused by dominance, inducement, submission or compliance was a radical idea Marston worked into his love life. Bondage and light S&M were his kinks that Robinson tastefully portrays....

    From left, Bella Heathcote stars as Olive Byrne, Luke Evans as Dr. William Marston and Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth Marston in the film, "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women." (Claire Folger/Annapurna Pictures) 1212629
  7. Dale Gordon, executive director of Film Tampa Bay, resigns


    Four years after taking over as Hillsborough County's de facto film commissioner, it's a wrap for Dale Gordon.

    Gordon, 41, resigned Friday from her position as executive director of Film Tampa Bay, a branch of Visit Tampa Bay, the county's tourism board.

    Efforts to reach Gordon on Monday were unsuccessful, her voicemail box refusing to take messages.

    Film Tampa Bay director of operations Tyler Martinolich said Monday that "everything is status quo at the moment." Although not officially named as interim replacement, Martinolich already handles location scouting and city permit requests that film productions require....

    Using county funds as incentives helped bring the filming of The Infiltrator, starring Bryan Cranston, to Tampa Bay.
  8. Is it worth watching Idris Elba and Kate Winslet freeze in 'The Mountain Between Us'?




    Ain't no mountain high enough, no plot valley deep enough, to keep Idris Elba and Kate Winslet from setting off romantic sparks in The Mountain Between Us (PG-13). But this movie surely doesn't do them any favors.

    Based on Charles Martin's novel, The Mountain Between Us is movie star chemistry interrupted by a survival yarn without much danger. Even the dog is more indestructible than usual. Winslet and Elba handle hoo-hah like the pros they are, through an hour of clumsy dramatic foreplay then a passionate payoff....

  9. Pup fiction: A doggie film festival is coming to Tampa this weekend


    Take your best friend on a leash Friday to Water Works Park on Tampa's Riverwalk for open-air screenings of selections from the NY Dog Film Festival at 6 and 8 p.m.

    The event is sponsored by the Gasparilla International Film Festival. (Insert going-to-the-dogs joke here.) Each session is a family-friendly mix of live-action, animated and documentary shorts evoking relationships between dogs and humans. Running about 70 minutes each, the programs are titled "Second Chances" (6 p.m.) and "Love Changes Everything" (8 p.m.)....

  10. 'Blade Runner 2049' is as puzzling and striking as the original, sure to be equally revered


    If not electric sheep, of what do androids dream?

    Of being human of course. The evolution of AI id propels Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve's at-last sequel to 1982's classic sci-fi noir. Villeneuve crafts a movie both cerebral and sensuous, as puzzling and visually striking as its predecessor. The experience should be likewise revered by next generations.

    Be assured that revisiting Blade Runner isn't necessary. Introductory notes tidily recap the basics: Replicants are androids used as slaves until synthetic farming made them obsolete. Blade runners like K (Ryan Gosling) are cops sent to "retire" replicants. We soon see that K is point-blank good at what he does....

    Robin Wright, left, and Sylvia Hoeks in a scene from "Blade Runner 2049." (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  11. Tom Cruise's 'American Made' is hectic but familiar fun, all speed and greed


    After all the goodfellas, war dogs and Wall Street wolves, American Made doesn't have much new to show about good people getting rich doing bad things. Money is still the root of affable evil thanks to Tom Cruise's winning grin, in a true-life immorality tale needing to dig deeper.

    Cruise's maverick swagger gets a workout as Barry Seal, an airline pilot recruited in the 1980s by the CIA to fly covert South American missions for the U.S. government. Seal then got hired by the fledgling Medellin cocaine cartel and later the DEA, a Gumpian path through the Reagan decade's greatest misses....

    Tom Cruise plays Barry Seal, an airline pilot recruited in the 1980s by the CIA to fly covert South American missions.
  12. Ben Stiller feels inadequate in sharp indie flick 'Brad's Status'








    Ben Stiller completes his unofficial trilogy of midlife ennui in Brad's Status (R), after harsh lessons from Walter Mitty's daydreams and coveting hipsters in While We're Young. Now he's Brad Sloan, a beta male going out of his way to feel inadequate, whose every cloud has darker linings....

    Let’s Play Two is a documentary film that chronicles Pearl Jam’s legendary performances at Wrigley Field during the Chicago Cubs historic 2016 season.
  13. 'Victoria and Abdul' is a charmer peppered with snooty spoofery


    Queen Victoria lived long and lonely enough to fill two movies, both starring Judi Dench, each with distinct approaches to the monarch's widowed years.

    Twenty years ago, Mrs. Brown earned Dench an Oscar nomination in a traditionally stiff-upper-lip production. She's in contention again for Victoria & Abdul, set nearly as many years in the queen's future. It's a delightful piece of found history, thematically similar to Mrs. Brown yet tonally different....

    Judi Dench, left, and Ali Fazal in "Victoria and Abdul." (Focus Features)
  14. 'Battle of the Sexes' is a fine time capsule comedy, and not really about the tennis


    In 1973, tennis champion Billie Jean King joined a two-ring circus with hustler Bobby Riggs, billed as a Battle of the Sexes amid the women's liberation movement. Fifty million Americans watched the pop spectacle on TV.

    Only a few knew the circus included a third ring.

    King's lesbian awakening behind the hoopla is romanticized in Battle of the Sexes, starting with casting Academy Award winner Emma Stone as the tennis great. Stone is terrific, easy to cheer. She's feisty but a bit softer around the edges than King deserves. Another Oscar nomination is certain....

    Emma Stone and Steve Carell in the film "Battle of the Sexes." [Fox Searchlight Pictures.]
  15. Poorly assembled 'Lego Ninjago Movie' waters down Lego movie franchise


    Well, that didn't take long.

    After only three movies, the Lego franchise is already a shadow of its original self, less irreverent and go-for-broke bricky. The watering down of an ingenious formula comes with The Lego Ninjago Movie, the sort we expected all along from plastic construction toys.

    Everything was awesome in 2014's The Lego Movie, a high-wire risk paying off with a new look in computer animation based on Lego's interlocking design. The Lego Ninjago Movie hasn't abandoned that uniqueness but certainly reins it in....

    A scene from "The Lego Ninjago Movie." (Warner Bros.)