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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. 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.)
  2. What's new in theaters: 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle,' 'Lego Ninjago Movie,' 'Stronger'




    Two years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service sneaked up on audiences like a spy in the night, making an unlikely action hero of Academy Award winner Colin Firth. Director Matthew Vaughn mushed the secret agent genre's extremes — bracing violence, Austin Powers cheekiness — into a sleeper hit leaving fans wanting more....

    Tatiana Maslany, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Stronger.”  The film chronicles the story of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman. 
Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions
  3. 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' is exhausting, crass and too long


    Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a tarnished sequel demolishing the original's balderdash charm in a torrent of tumble-dry camera moves, CGI slosh and Elton John f-bombs.

    It's a movie that doesn't know when to quit or even take a breather, exhausting as much as it entertains over a running time at least 30 minutes too long. When a movie goes over the top this aggressively, there's nowhere to go but down....

    Taron Egerton stars in Twentieth Century Fox's "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," also starring Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Mark Strong, Elton John, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges. (Giles Keyte/20th Century Fox)
  4. 'Stronger' a sobering, sap-free survivor tale from the Boston Marathon bombing


    What didn't kill Jeff Bauman made him Stronger, surviving not only the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings but a crush of well-meaning yet corrosive attention for doing it.

    "I'm a hero for standing there and getting my legs blown off?" Bauman asks no one in particular in Stronger, channeled through Jake Gyllenhaal's acute portrayal. It's the central question of David Gordon Green's uncommonly inspirational movie, more subdued than such against-the-odds material typically plays....

    Jake Gyllenhaal in “Stronger.” The inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who became a symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
  5. See ghost tours and scary movies at Tampa Theatre leading up to Halloween


    Neat trick, Tampa Theatre, packing so many Halloween treats into the fifth annual Nightmare on Franklin Street.

    This year's lineup, announced Monday, covers 12 days of scary movies and paranormal tours at the historic venue, from Oct. 20 through Halloween.

    One highlight stars Tampa Theatre itself, the Oct. 21 world premiere of Ghosts Behind the Screen, a documentary exploring the movie palace's own haunted history. Admission is free. Producer Gina Watson and director Brett Gerking will conduct a Q&A session after the 2 p.m. screening....

    While Tampa Theatre was sure to include some classics, the lineup also features some exciting detours from nostalgia. 
Universal Pictures and Times files
  6. What new movies are out this weekend: 'Mother!,' 'American Assassin,' 'All I See Is You'




    Any movie without a single properly named character is bound to be trippy. But we already guessed that about Mother! (R) since it's written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, who previously scrambled our thinking with Pi, Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan.

    Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence takes the title role, no name just the maternal title. Fellow Oscar winner Javier Bardem plays Him, Mother's husband, a blocked poet-author. Their comfortable — as yet childless — life is disrupted by the arrival of Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), strangers taking intimate, unsettling interest in their lives....

  7. 'Home Again' with Reese Witherspoon is so bad this critic walked out


    This week, I followed my instincts and evacuated during an evolving disaster.

    I walked out of Home Again, Reese Witherspoon's embarrassing favor for a friend. Home Again is the screenwriting and directing debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of filmmakers Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, whose combined successes range from Private Benjamin to Baby Boom to Something's Gotta Give. Meyers pushed the script on Witherspoon, an Oscar winner too nice to say no....

    Reese Witherspoon stars in Home Again, the screenwriting and directing debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of filmmakers.
  8. What's in theaters this weekend: 'It,' 'Home Again,' 'Fallen,' 'Crown Heights'








    Network television in 1990 couldn't do justice to It, so an R-rated, no-clowns-barred adaptation of Stephen King's novel is long overdue.

    It floats into theaters this weekend, reintroducing Pennywise, the child killer haunting sewers beneath Derry, Maine. Bill Skarsgard (Atomic Blonde) adopts the greasepaint leer of Tim Curry's other signature role, a template for countless killer clowns since....

    Bill Skarsgard in It, the new Stephen King movie.
  9. This is the spooky, overlong movie 'It' deserves, and 'It' deserves a sequel


    It doesn't clown around. Freed from 20th century network television standards, Stephen King's novel on screen can be as much bloody, vulgar fun as It is supposed to be.

    Director Andy Muschietti brings a similar sense of supernatural dread to King's tale as his morose 2013 debut Mama. The author's knack for juvenile conversation among misfit teenagers lends lowbrow humor Muschietti ably handles. He's okay at plotting nightmares, usually starring Pennywise, the quintessential killer clown....

    Bill Skarsgard stars as Pennywise, the definitive killer clown. Skarsgard, nearly matching Tim Curry’s TV version, channels a sing-song menace, his smile peeled back to reveal rows of sharp teeth. 
Warner Bros. Pictures
  10. Fall Movie Preview: These movies are going to win awards


    Don't believe the hype when it comes to fall movies.

    The ones shoved down our throats in TV ads, cross-promotions and talk show chit-chat aren't the only movies deserving attention. Blockbusters are ceding screens to award contenders not based on comic books, toys or star turns. Those are the titles highlighted in our annual Fall Movie Guide.

    But first, since some viewers prefer summer movies all year long, here's a short list of seasonal facsimiles:...

    Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  11. What's in theaters Labor Day weekend: 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind,' 'Patti Cake$'



    Hollywood takes a break over Labor Day weekend, without a single new wide release in store.

    There's an oldie, though, and it's a goodie.

    Steven Spielberg's sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind returns for a 40th anniversary re-issue at AMC Theaters nationwide. The digitally remastered version will be available Sept. 19 on HD Blu-ray, in case you have other holiday plans....

    Robert Pattinson stars in the crime thriller Good Time. (A24)
  12. Tiffany Haddish talks growing up in foster care and how she learned to be herself in comedy


    Growing up in foster care, comedian Tiffany Haddish knew she was special.

    "My grandmother used to tell me: 'The state of California is paying me a lot of money to make sure you don't die,' " Haddish, 37, said by telephone. "I could've taken that in a negative way but I took it positively: Yeah, I'm valuable. There must be something great I'm supposed to do here."

    Apparently Haddish's destiny is making people laugh. So far, so funny. She's currently on a roll with a national stand-up tour coming to Clearwater's Capitol Theatre this weekend, co-starring on NBC's The Carmichael Show, a Showtime special She Ready and being the breakout star of Girls Trip, a $100 million sleeper hit and still counting....

    Tiffany Haddish is on a roll with a national stand-up tour coming to Clearwater this weekend. Bring a new, unused roller bag suitcase or duffle to be donated to Fostering Hope Florida, and you’ll get to attend a meet-and-greet with the comic. 
  13. Robert Pattinson is better than 'Twilight.' 'Good Time' proves it




    Don't judge actors by the books they cover on screen. It appears truer with each performance that two of our finest got their starts with the Twilight franchise.

    Kristen Stewart rose from glum punchline to Cannes darling, and now Robert Pattinson's indie stock soars with Good Time (R), an uncommonly humane crime yarn, equal parts ferocity and lowlife feels. From the moment Pattinson bursts into the picture we're hooked on his bottle rocket vibe, set to go off any second in any direction....

    Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner star in Wind River. (Fred Hayes/The Weinstein Company)
  14. Hollywood lost a serious filmmaker in Jerry Lewis


    The day the clown died, Hollywood lost a serious filmmaker in Jerry Lewis.

    Laugh if you wish. It would be the first laugh Mr. Lewis never earned.

    When Mr. Lewis passed away Sunday in Las Vegas at age 91, comedians hailed him as a vital influence. Memorials understandably focused on his phenomenal pairings with Dean Martin and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, raising more than $1.5 billion over decades of Labor Day telethons....

    Jerry Lewis in 2005. Lewis, the comedian and filmmaker who was adored by many, disdained by others, but unquestionably a defining figure of American entertainment in the 20th century, died on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91 (New York Times)
  15. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson can't keep 'The Hitman's Bodyguard' on-target


    The Hitman's Bodyguard is an assault tank on semi-automatic pilot, spraying jokes and bullets with only the ammo consistently hitting its targets. The irresistible teaming of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson might be even funnier if they missed once in a while.

    This movie's violence is numbing, each kill shot, power tool mangling, beer bottle stabbing and jumper cable torture session intruding on the rascal stars' charms. Director Patrick Hughes' instinct isn't to find dark humor in violence, only to graphically depict it. There's a sadistic edge to The Hitman's Bodyguard that's unbecoming to its comedy....

    Samuel L. Jackson plays a master assassin testifying against a dictator, and Ryan Reynolds plays a bodyguard tasked with keeping him alive.