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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: 'Life' movie takes 'Alien' formula and runs with it


    Life is surprising, which isn't easy for such an obvious descendant of Alien. There are only so many ways of trapping dead meat in a spaceship and introducing a malevolent life form to eat them.

    Director Daniel Espinosa understands this, embracing the Alien formula while tweaking it with post-Gravity technology. Life doesn't head in every direction we expect, elevating it among space creature features....

    Not even star billing increases odds for surviving this space station horror. Sorry, Ryan Reynolds.
  2. Movie Planner: 'The Last Word,' 'Life,' 'CHiPs' and 'Power Rangers'



    Shirley MacLaine joins a gratifying trend of aging legends finding work in independent films like The Last Word (R). MacLaine's vehicle lands somewhere between Sally Field's smartly oddball Hello, My Name Is Doris and the maudlin egotism of Jerry Lewis as Max Rose. It's an okay movie, nothing more, and sometimes less....

     Naomi Scott, from left, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin and Becky G appear in a scene from sci-fi fantasy Power Rangers.
  3. Review: 'Wilson' starring Woody Harrelson is indie films at their emptiest


    In his graphic novels and infrequent movies, Daniel Clowes bitingly writes about people aged to imperfection. In last decade's Ghost World and Art School Confidential it only took Clowes' misfits until adolescence for hopeless cynicism to set in.

    Wilson is Clowes' notion of what a lifetime of that outlook does to someone. The title role — we never learn if Wilson's his first or last name — is gamely portrayed by Woody Harrelson, not the first actor in mind to play a pathetic character, even one so unfiltered. Weakness simply isn't Harrelson's strength....

    Laura Dern as Pippi and Woody Harrelson as Wilson in the film "Wilson." (Twentieth Century Fox)
  4. Review: 'Beauty and the Beast' has none of the original's magic


    Disney's new, unimproved Beauty and the Beast makes a tale as old as time creakier, feeling lifeless despite its flesh-and-blood casting.

    Bill Condon's live action remake of 1991's animation landmark is a puzzling contradiction, musically dutiful to its source yet shunning the original's shimmering magic. This movie is drab, its setting somewhere in the vicinity of Transylvania, its narrow color scheme strangled by tinted 3-D glasses....

     Dan Stevens as The Beast in a live-action adaptation of the animated classic “Beauty and the Beast.” (Disney via AP)
  5. Movie Planner: Four more versions of 'Beauty and the Beast' that aren't Disney



    It's a tale as old as 1740, but for most fans, Beauty and the Beast is an animated Disney musical from 1991. • This weekend's live-action remake starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens isn't likely to change that perception. It's largely a shot-for-shot CGI replication of the animated Beauty and the Beast, practically begging to be compared. (Read a review at • Once upon a time, Belle didn't sing. The cursed prince needing a shave didn't trip the candlelight fantastic. His castle's furnishings didn't speak. • Be our guest in returning to those dramatic, at times erotic, days. Our four choices range from a cinematic milestone to schlock and a high school reboot starring a Spring Breaker. We'll cheat like Gaston by including a TV series. Not all are winners but, hey, if it's Baroque, don't nix it....

    Vanessa Hudgens Alex Pettyfer starred in 2011’s Beastly, a modern take on the tale of Beauty and the Beast.
  6. Gasparilla International Film Festival wraps with awards to a dozen films


    It's a wrap for the 11th annual Gasparilla International Film Festival, with a dozen entries announced Thursday as prize winners.

    Francois Ozon's post-World War I drama Frantz claimed two grand jury awards for best international feature and performance, by Paula Beer.

    The remaining 11 honors were equally shared by 11 features, documentaries and shorts.

    The jury selected Jamie Greenberg's Future '38 as the festival's best U.S. narrative feature. Future '38 is a screwball comedy supposedly made in 1938 but set in 2018....

    Pierre Nine and Baula Beer in Frantz. The film won best international feature and Beer won for her performance. [Courtesy of Music Box Films]
  7. Movie Planner: Great Kongs in history, 'The Salesman,' 'The Ottoman Lieutenant'



    Tall, dark and handsome are preferred qualities in leading men. After 84 years, King Kong is still all three. Kong: Skull Island brings back the big guy for his eighth starring role, setting up a rematch with Godzilla slated for 2020. Here's the filmography of an 8,000 pound gorilla in any room he enters:

    King Kong (1933)

    This movie is the DNA in amber spawning Jurassic Park and every CGI creature-featuring blockbuster since. Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation still astonishes; Skull Island's African stereotypes now insult. The iconic finale atop the Empire State Building enshrines the beauty of this beast....

    This image released by Disney shows Dan Stevens as The Beast, left, and Emma Watson as Belle in a live-action adaptation of the animated classic “Beauty and the Beast.” (Disney via AP) NYET132
  8. Review: The big guy deserves better than 'Kong: Skull Island'


    Kong: Skull Island strips the beauty from a legendary beast, reducing a classic movie star to soulless monster mechanics. Kong smashes, but not much else. Whoever dies doesn't matter. Whoever lives has a sequel promised by the end credits.

    Royalty deserves better treatment than King Kong gets here.

    The big guy has always been a wrecking machine but with personality, a semblance of something human beneath the monster. Kong's link was becoming the infatuated protector of beautiful women, a leading man-ape. In classic form remade twice, Kong died after literally taking that affection to towering heights; a terrifying romantic....

    Tian Jing, from left, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Thomas Mann appear in a scene from, "Kong: Skull Island." (Vince Valitutti/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
  9. Review: 'Table 19' is a cliche wedding comedy made fun by Anna Kendrick


    Table 19 is a wobbly comedy of awkwardness, in which everyone spills their romantic guts while everyone else listens, often in earshot for no reason. Nobody knows how to ask for a private moment in Jeffrey Blitz's amiable misfire about wedding misfits, RSVPs gone TMI.

    Take Eloise McGarry, for example. Seconds after sitting as far as possible from the wedding party with a handful of other marginal guests, she's telling these strangers her love life story. Thankfully Eloise is played by Anna Kendrick. Plucky hurt always looks good on her....

    Thankfully, the lead loser is played by Anna Kendrick. Plucky hurt always looks good on her.
Twentieth Century Fox
  10. Cary Elwes, touring with 'The Princess Bride,' says he's only watched it three times


    Even a six-fingered man can't count all the ways fans adore Rob Reiner's 1987 fairy tale The Princess Bride.

    Here's a novel method: watching the movie, then being regaled by the Dread Pirate Roberts himself with intimate stories from the set.

    The Princess Bride: An Inconceivable Evening with Cary Elwes brings the actor and author to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $30....

    Actor Cary Elwes, 54, began touring after publishing 2014's As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of the Princess Bride, a New York Times bestseller. (Associated Press [2015])
  11. Movie Planner: 'The Shack,' 'Before I Fall' and Anna Kendrick's 'Table 19'


    OPENING Thursday


    Faith-based cinema gets remarkably dark in The Shack (PG-13), based on William P. Young's self-published bestseller about a father grieving his murdered child. Tough seeing the light through that.

    Sam Worthington plays distraught dad Mack Phillips, who left his daughter alone at a Pacific Northwest campsite when she was abducted. The trail leads to an isolated shack and the girl's bloodied clothes but no body. Mack sinks into depression until he's summoned to the shack by a letter that seems to be from God....

    Papa (Octavia Spencer) and Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) in THE SHACK.
  12. Patrick Wilson to be honored at Gasparilla International Film Festival


    Plenty of movies, but not as many stars as usual, are slated for the 11th annual Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival, opening Thursday at various Tampa locations.

    Gasparilla's biggest name this year is a local hero, actor Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring, TV's Fargo) who'll be honored for his Hollywood and Broadway career. Wilson grew up in St. Petersburg, a member of a well-known media and entertainment family including former WTVT-Ch. 13 news anchor John Wilson. Wilson's tribute is slated for Saturday at AMC Classic Centro Ybor 10. Tickets are $12....

    Patrick Wilson as Lou Solverson in Fargo. Chris Large/FX
  13. Persall: 'Moonlight' eclipses 'La La Land' in confused Oscars finale (w/video)


    Oh, Oscar, even when you do something right it goes so wrong.

    Sunday night the Academy Awards weren't so white for a change, capped by the extraordinary selection of Moonlight as 2016's best picture.

    That would've been a stunning announcement even if Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway correctly read the results.

    This is what happens when you trust Bonnie and Clyde. Or perhaps blame lands on a stage manager handing out a wrong envelope. Maybe those tabulation accountants aren't as smart as they look....

    Warren Beatty shows the card for Best Picture winner "Moonlight" after "La La Land" was incorrectly presented the Oscar during the 89th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, Feb. 26, 2017. [Patrick T. Fallon | The New York Times]
  14. Jimmy Kimmel's Oscars monologue didn't pull Trump punches (w/video)


    Political colors tinted Hollywood's golden evening when the 89th Academy Awards were presented Sunday in Hollywood.

    From blue ribbons on the red carpet supporting the American Civil Liberties Union to host Jimmy Kimmel's jabs, the Oscars shaped up an entertainment industry stand against President Donald Trump's policies and tweets.

    "We're at the Oscars . . . ," Kimmel reminded his Dolby Theatre audience. "Some of you will get to come up here on stage and give a speech that our president will tweet about in all caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movement tomorrow."...

    Jimmy Kimmel delivers his opening monologue at the 89th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, Feb. 26, 2017. (Patrick T. Fallon/The New York Times)
  15. Review: 'Logan' is a gripping Wolverine story to take seriously


    James Mangold's Logan is an uncommonly mature comic book movie, practically from another universe unto itself. It's a movie demanding and deserving to be taken seriously, an elegy for a mutant.

    A classic loner hero, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine as played by Hugh Jackman, is iconic in a genre too often rebooted or recast. Mangold seeks more than a shorthand screen presence in the portrayal this time. Jackman throws a haymaker, an emotional bruiser that's surprisingly good for this sort of movie....

    Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) tries to protect the young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen) in Logan.