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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. New in theaters July 4 weekend: 'Despicable Me 3,' 'Baby Driver,' 'The House,' 'The Beguiled'


    OPENING Thursday:


    One of Hollywood's most successful animation franchises isn't about "me" anymore; it's about them.

    Minions, those jabbering yellow baldies with their pharmaceutical physiques. Nothing but Teletubbies with better agents.

    Back in 2010, Minions knew their funniest place, playing sidekicks to Steve Carell's arch-villain Gru, the title character in Despicable Me. They were only one reason Despicable Me is one of the decade's more enjoyable 'toons....

    Gru (Steve Carell) squares off against Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) in Despicable Me 3.
  2. Fewer Minions make things better in 'Despicable Me 3'


    Despicable Me 3 doubles down on Steve Carell's silly way with words, a smart idea after too much Minions gibberish spoiled Part 2. They're still here, in smaller doses and somewhat funnier for it.

    Carell gets dual roles, one reprising his former arch villain turned doting adoptive father, crimefighter and newlywed Gru. He also voices Dru, Gru's twin brother with luxurious hair who desires to follow the family tradition of villainy. A sharp character kneecapped by a previous sequel gets a playmate, a playful actor gets more of the material he needs....

    This image released by Illumination and Universal Pictures shows a scene from "Despicable Me 3."  (Illumination and Universal Pictures via AP) NYET923
  3. How Sofia Coppola's 'The Beguiled' compares to the 1971 version


    It was a man's world in 1971 when Clint Eastwood starred in The Beguiled, a Southern gothic thriller that's as misogynistic in hindsight as old movies can be.

    A half-century later, director Sofia Coppola presents the feminist morality tale at the core of The Beguiled that Eastwood's macho image and society in general wouldn't allow at the time. In 1971, he played a charmer-turned-victim; now the character is a manipulator who'll get what he deserves....

    Kirsten Dunst in a scene from “The Beguiled.”
  4. 'Baby Driver' literally turns heist movie genre on its ear, set to slick soundtrack


    Buckle up for Baby Driver, a movie so full throttle cool that you want to fist bump the screen. Style is the substance of Edgar Wright's inventive heist flick, a fresh, masterful synching of music and getaway mayhem, as if La La Land's traffic jam was moving, armed and dangerous.

    Everything moves to the beat, even beatdowns. Car chases become interpretive dances of destruction, drums and bullets pound staccato in tandem. Wright takes music video literalization to breathtaking heights. Baby Driver doesn't operate from its hero's point of view but rather his point of hearing, essentially the same thing. Wright's ingenious approach literally turns the genre on its ear....

    Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver for heist arranger Doc (Kevin Spacey). Plagued by tinnitus, Baby tunes out his distracting “hum in the drum” by listening to music while he drives.
Sony Pictures
  5. In theaters this week: 'Beatriz at Dinner,' 'The Hero,' 'A Very Sordid Wedding'




    Miguel Arteta's culture war comedy Beatriz at Dinner (R) gets a lot off its chest in just 80 minutes. "Comedy" is a term loosely used since the laughs stick in your throat, using indelicate topics for sly purpose.

    Salma Hayek is a quiet storm as Beatriz, an otherworldy health therapist whose car won't start after a session at a longtime customer's mansion. Cathy (Connie Britton) is a one-percenter with a heart and deep affection for Beatriz. Cathy is hosting a dinner for her pushy husband's law partner and wife (Jay Duplass, Chloe Sevigny) to welcome an enormously wealthy new client....

    Doc (Kevin Spacey) tells Baby (Ansel Elgort) he has another job for him in Baby Driver.
  6. Somehow, 'Transformers: The Last Knight' isn't as painful as others


    Lord Megatron help me, Michael Bay has finally pummeled this viewer into submission.

    That's the only way to explain the feeling that Transformers: The Last Knight isn't nearly as painful to sit through as Bay's four previous exploding toy boxes. All that destruction, from Soldier Field to Shia LeBeouf's career. Nearly 10 hours of cacophonous action wrapped around insipid dialogue over the past decade has broken me, hands lowered in masochistic surrender. Just take the beating. It'll be over soon, although with Transformers' brand of Bay-hem never soon enough....

    Optimus Prime has gone to the dark side in the fifth installment, which also travels back to the Dark Ages.
  7. 'Rough Night' flips through hangover movie cliches tweaked for women


    June has been a big month for women in movies with Wonder Woman, Megan Leavey and even Cars 3 putting them on equal or better footing than men.

    Now comes Rough Night, proving women are just as capable as men of shaping mediocre comedies.

    A catnip cast and director Lucia Aniello's Broad City instincts are drowned by gender-flipped formula not shaken up enough. If girls will be boys then show boys how they can do raunchy better. Rough Night wouldn't be fresh or funny no matter what gender it's written about or for....

    Zoe Kravitz, left, Jillian Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon have a bachelorette party go horribly wrong in Rough Night.
  8. What's in theaters this weekend: 'Cars 3,' 'Rough Night,' 'All Eyez on Me'



    CARS 3

    We'll see if Disney-Pixar's Cars franchise has anything left in its tank this weekend, after a 2011 sequel that skidded off-track. Cars 3 (G) continues the Hollywood fallacy that every successful idea deserves a trilogy.

    Owen Wilson, at least his voice, returns as Lightning McQueen, the popular, profitable Dale Jr. of animated racing in the homestretch of his career. A new generation of anthropomorphic race cars is taking over, led by musclehead car Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Lightning must prove he still has what it takes to win....

    Gal Gadot in a scene from Wonder Woman.
  9. 'Cars 3' puts Lightning back on the right track by getting under the emotional hood


    Lightning McQueen's racing career comes full oval in Cars 3, returning to his quasi-NASCAR roots after a not-so-Grand Prix detour.

    Disney-Pixar's autos franchise isn't truly beloved like toy stories and fish tales before. The 2006 original did have a folksy quality in its desolate Radiator Springs setting that balanced Lightning's Piston Cup commotion. That goodwill was smoked by Cars 2 and Formula One, its Eurocentric nothingness making even Tow Mater less fun....

    This image released by Disney shows Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, foreground, in a scene from "Cars 3." (Disney-Pixar)
  10. What does 'The Mummy' reveal about Dark Universe future? Shaking up convention and Easter eggs


    While The Mummy isn't the big bang preferred to start the Dark Universe of classic monsters, it's a serviceable popcorn flick dangling hints of promising things to come.

    That's more than expected from another take on Universal's least scary feature creature, whose most recent movies resembled bad theme park ride ideas on a drawing board. Swapping out Brendan Fraser for Tom Cruise was already a step in the right action hero direction. Or anti-hero, as it turns out....

    Sofia Boutella is the titular character in "The Mummy."  (Universal Pictures)
  11. In theaters this week: 'The Mummy,' 'Megan Leavey,' 'Chris Brown: Welcome to My Life'




    Spoiler alert: Nothing comes at night in Trey Edward Shults' It Comes at Night, which is basically a zombie movie without zombies involved. This movie is about cannibalism of the fearful soul, a lofty conceit played as uninterestingly as it sounds.

    It Comes at Night is purposely vague about the deadly virus wiping out humans, its grisly effects and hazmat euthanasia echoing countless nights of the living dead. Shults begins with such a mercy killing, a bullet and bonfire for an elderly man. "Goodbye, grandpa," a gas-masked mourner says....

    Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz star in the film My Cousin Rachel, a Victorian mystery.
  12. 'My Cousin Rachel' is a Victorian black widow mystery so classy it's practically defiant


    Roger Michell's revival of My Cousin Rachel is a graceful note amid summer's movie din, adapting Daphne du Maurier's black widow mystery with class bordering on defiance.

    Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz plays enigmatic Rachel Ashley, returning to the farming estate of her recently deceased husband. Awaiting her is second cousin Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), who suspects she may have poisoned his friend and mentor....

    Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz in the film, "My Cousin Rachel." (Fox Searchlight)
  13. 'Megan Leavey' is matter-of-fact statement on feminism, war's toll and canine companionship


    Comic books aren't the only place Hollywood can find warrior women to make movies about. Megan Leavey is as real and heroic as it gets.

    Her story could inspire a more rote movie than director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has in mind. Leavey was a social misfit who found a home in the U.S. Marines, earned a Purple Heart in Iraq then resigned with depression and a purpose. She served as a K9 handler, forging a lifelong bond with her German shepherd partner Rex, also wounded and decorated....

    Kate Mara stars as Megan Leavey in the film "Megan Leavey." (Bleecker Street Media)
  14. Review: 'Wonder Woman' does the job better than the DC dudes and duds who tried before


    Once again, a woman does the job better than dudes who tried before.

    Not only Wonder Woman winning World War I, but director Patty Jenkins righting a DC Universe burdened by Batfleck and other less-than-super men. Jenkins crafts a superhero flick defying the dark DC template, not only with gender but by rousing core comic book values that have nothing to do with gloom. Truth, justice and the American way (a century ago) defended by a pure-of-heart champion isn't hokey; it's about time....

    This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Elena Anrya, left, and Chris Pine in a scene from "Wonder Woman," in theaters on June 2. (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP) NYET628
  15. 'Wonder Woman' is only the fourth woman-headlined superhero movie. And it'll stand out




    Sight unseen, here's a prediction about Wonder Woman (PG-13) that you can take to the bank:

    It's the best superhero movie ever that doesn't need a man.

    There's really no competition. Wonder Woman is only the fourth superhero adventure toplined by a woman since Christopher Reeve's Superman carved out the blockbuster template in 1978....

    Gal Gadot is poised for icon status as the star of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.