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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. Extraordinary heroism deserves a less ordinary movie than '12 Strong'


    After 16 years of combat and counting, the war in Afghanistan gets a happy movie ending in 12 Strong, a thick slice of patriot porn.

    Based on a true story, 12 Strong rightfully celebrates the first U.S. Special Forces unit battling Taliban forces sheltering al-Qaida shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They're known as the Horse Soldiers, with a statue in their honor at Ground Zero. One unit member, Mark Nutsch, lives in Tampa....

  2. What's in theaters this week: 'Call Me by Your Name,' 'Phantom Thread,' '12 Strong'




    Another young man's summer he'll never forget is the core of Call Me By Your Name, a movie to likewise treasure. Luca Guadagnino's coming out-of-age drama is a rare exception to familiar romantic rules.

    This film's same-sex summer fling shared by a teenage prodigy (Timothee Chalamet) and post-grad student (Armie Hammer) is romance by means of intelligence, both shared and artistically expressed. Call Me By Your Name makes eyes and ears swoon, so the heart has little choice but to follow....

  3. Why 'Phantom Thread' is a bad fit as Daniel Day-Lewis' final movie


    Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread is passionless window-shop cinema, each static tableau lovingly arranged for display and easy dusting. Its centerpiece is a mannequin, albeit played by Daniel Day-Lewis, whose gift for keeping anything interesting is seldom so necessary.

    Phantom Thread is reportedly the three-time Oscar winner's farewell performance. Pity. That makes this reunion with Anderson, a decade after each peaked in There Will be Blood, doubly disappointing. There isn't blood now; Phantom Thread barely has a pulse....

  4. Coming-of-age love story 'Call Me By Your Name' is a rare treasure


    Another young man's summer he'll never forget is the core of Call Me By Your Name, a movie to likewise treasure. Luca Guadagnino's coming out-of-age drama is a rare exception to familiar romantic rules.

    This film's same-sex summer fling shared by a teenage prodigy and post-grad student is romance by means of intelligence, both shared and artistically expressed. Movies don't usually sound this smart, or look this minutely picturesque, in 1980's period and seemingly every leaf of its Northern Italy setting....

  5. Liam Neeson's 'The Commuter' is terribly pedestrian action


    Liam Neeson's transportation troubles continue in The Commuter, ironically one of his more pedestrian action efforts.

    This time Neeson's misshapen nose for danger leads him onto a train, after Non-Stop air travel, Run(ning) All Night and automobiles (Taken 1, 2 or 3) nearly killed him. Well, not Neeson but his characters, each a variation on the family man with a particular set of deadly skills to protect them....

  6. What's in theaters this week: 'The Commuter,' 'Proud Mary,' 'Paddington 2,' 'The Post'




    Liam Neeson has a particular set of MTA tickets in The Commuter (PG-13), tickets he acquired over a very long career selling insurance in New York. Tickets making rush hour a nightmare for people like him. This seat is Taken.

    The Commuter casts Neeson as Michael MacCauley, another father fighting to protect his family. Michael's ride home gets exciting when a femme fatale (Vera Farmiga) makes a Hitchcockian offer: Find someone on the train who doesn't belong and earn $100,000. Fail and Michael's family dies....

  7. Here's what Oscar voters will be looking at after the Golden Globes


    A fashion blackout and stirring calls to end sexism made afterthoughts of Sunday night's Golden Globe winners. Just when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's choices mean more than they have in years.

    Timing is everything during movie awards season, especially one as wide open as this. The end game is winning Academy Awards. By luck of the calendar, the Globes can directly influence Oscars voters....

  8. 'The Post' lacks urgency in favor of saintly typecasting for Streep and Hanks


    Steven Spielberg's The Post is a fake news movie, a true story told phony to further an agenda.

    Some viewers won't notice since Spielberg's agenda includes defending First Amendment rights, celebrating female empowerment and sticking it to Richard Nixon again. I'm in favor of all three. The first two are especially relevant today.

    The Post doesn't make a compelling case for any of those ideals. Its chief form of persuasion is saintly typecasting: Meryl Streep as Washington Post publisher Katharine (Kay) Graham and Tom Hanks as irascible editor Ben Bradlee. She dithers her way to unintentional feminism while he squints, grumbling corn like "My God, the fun!" when a tip comes in....

  9. 10 new movies to look forward to in 2018




    Don't worry, the first wide release of 2018 isn't a sign of things to come.

    It's the horror sequel Insidious: The Last Key (PG-13), Chapter 4 in the paranormal activity franchise that went downhill after St. Pete's own Patrick Wilson left.

    Lin Shaye's parapsychologist is the last original character left, chasing ghosts in her own home. You know a series is DOA when it can't even whip up a decent haunted house....

  10. 'I, Tonya' nails the landing on Tonya Harding's rough and tumble story


    Tonya Harding was America's sweathog in a sport preferring sweethearts, an Olympic skater always competing on thin ice.

    Craig Gillespie's hysterically accurate biopic I, Tonya sets up the punchline she became. Harding's spiteful rise and spectacular fall would make fine comedy even if they weren't true.

    I, Tonya scores on higher degrees of difficulty, making these tabloid antics relatable and strangely sympathetic. Motives are clearer when so cleverly boiled down to stupidity, or as an escape from bad situations that might be solved with some genuine love. There's a little Tonya Harding in each of us, Gillespie's movie proposes, and it may be right....

  11. Best of 2017: Top 10 best movies, from 'Dunkirk' to 'Get Out'


    So long, 2017. Don't let the door hit you. It was a good year for movies and not much else. Movies weren't an escape; they were a mass exodus from terrible news, lately about Hollywood itself. Yet many of the best movies showed what we were dodging, entertaining parables of oppression and misfortune. Or else they demonstrated the resiliency pulling us through tough times. At least that's my thinking about 2017's finest films. Yours is just as valid. After such a contentious year, I don't want to argue about it. Happier 2018....

  12. Aaron Sorkin's 'Molly's Game' could have done with a lot less talking


    After an acclaimed career writing for the stage and screen, Aaron Sorkin makes his directing debut with Molly's Game. The result is an audiobook with pictures, a true story told almost entirely in voiceover, each character and motivation described more clearly than depicted.

    The narrator is Jessica Chastain speaking for Molly Bloom, a former world-class skier running high roller poker games until the FBI barges in. The linguistic combination of gambling jargon and legalese is catnip for Sorkin, whose movie is sometimes inspiring to hear and always obvious to watch....

  13. Christopher Plummer is far better in 'All the Money in the World' than Kevin Spacey would have been


    It's impossible to watch Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World without thinking of the elephant no longer in the room. The movie will forever be remembered as the one from which Kevin Spacey was erased.

    Scott's bold decision to excise Spacey's performance as billionaire J. Paul Getty from his completed film two months before its release is unprecedented. But so are the sexual misconduct allegations against such a celebrated actor. Scott turned to another Oscar winner, Christopher Plummer, re-shooting scenes in weeks that took months of preparation before....

  14. 'Pitch Perfect 3' is a tacky third wheel on the otherwise charming franchise


    Pitch Perfect 3 totally eclipses the heart of a charming franchise, turning the scrappy Bellas a capella posse into needy Charlie's Angels wannabes. It's a movie taking popularity for granted, a finale saying goodbye with a "you're welcome."

    Because of course fans who adored stanzas 1 and 2, who picked up singing and Solo cups because Anna Kendrick did, demand to see her leap from an exploding yacht in a freeze-frame intro. That, and Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy faking martial arts until her stunt double takes over. Feels like a dream sequence until nobody wakes up....

  15. Gruss vom Krampus! Watch these grown-up Christmas movies this year


    Christmas Day is for children, even the movies families share, from wakey-wakey to beddy-bye time.

    Then it's the grownups' turn. With children nestled snug in their beds, start a new holiday tradition of adults-only Christmas-themed movie watching.

    Love, Actually doesn't count; we're going edgier here. Neither do Die Hard, Bad Santa, The Ref or any other R-rated holiday movie you can already recite lines from. Get daring and try something new....