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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. 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' is a study in grief that's so much more


    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is where Mildred Hayes vents grief over her daughter's rape and murder, and anger toward a police chief who hasn't solved the case. Ten words on stark canvases setting off a powder keg of poetic cruelty and unexpected redemption.

    The setting and Martin McDonagh's movie are no country for weak women. No problem. As played ferociously by Frances McDormand, Mildred is no one to underestimate, not for her callousness or ease of violence when necessary, which is for her alone to decide....

    Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." MUST  Fox Searchlight Pictures
  2. Disney-Pixar's 'Coco' has a Dia de los Muertos theme and is, well, lifeless


    Disney-Pixar's Coco was more enjoyable three years ago when it was titled The Book of Life and came from Twentieth Century Fox.

    Both animated features spring from Mexico's Dia de los Muertos celebration, the annual "day of the dead" when departed relatives are honored, so they'll show the way to the afterlife. Each movie spends most of its running time there.

    Only the Fox flick takes full advantage of the occasion visually, evoking the macabre iconography more authentically than Pixar's Tim Burton-esque skeletons with dislocating bones. The Book of Life was produced by Guillermo Del Toro, the superior fantasist....

    Hero Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) follows his love of music to the Land of the Dead, where he teams up with Hector.
  3. What's new in theaters this week: 'Justice League,' 'Wonder,' 'The Star'




    How many superheroes does it take to salvage a comic book universe?

    Six. Five doing the heavy lifting and the Flash, who's the lowercase joker DC's too-serious superhero franchise needs.

    Justice League assembles two overdone caped/cowled icons, a freshly minted feminist role model, Thor's water aerobics partner and two superheroes unlikely to carry their own movies. Safety in more numbers after just Batman v. Superman (upstaged by Wonder Woman) didn't turn out Marvelous....

    Julia Roberts plays a brave-faced mother alongside Jacob Tremblay in Wonder.
  4. Why 'Justice League' nearly gets it right but still has DC movie problems


    How many superheroes does it take to salvage a comic book universe?

    Six. Five doing the heavy lifting and the Flash, who's the lowercase joker DC's too-serious superhero franchise needs.

    Justice League assembles two overdone caped/cowled icons, a freshly minted feminist role model, Thor's water aerobics partner and two superheroes unlikely to carry their own movies. Safety in more numbers after just Batman v. Superman (upstaged by Wonder Woman) didn't turn out Marvelous....

    The Justice League assembles after the death of Superman to defeat alien warlord Steppenwolf.
  5. Who killed all the fun in 'Murder on the Orient Express'?


    Kenneth Branagh's somnambulant remake of Murder on the Orient Express is a murder mystery Agatha Christie never intended: Who killed her diabolical fun?

    The answer is right under our noses, like the cake frosting mustache under his. Branagh's portrayal of Christie's famed detective Hercule Poirot is only slightly less disappointing than his direction of her material. Murder on the Orient Express lurches when it should creep, buckling under self-inflicted prestige....

    This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Judi Dench, left, and Olivia Colman in a scene from, "Murder on the Orient Express." (Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century Fox via AP) NYET819
  6. What's new in theaters: 'Murder on the Orient Express,' 'Daddy's Home 2'




    Agatha Christie's signature mystery Murder on the Orient Express gets a classy remake 43 years after Ingrid Bergman won her third Oscar as one of a dozen unusual suspects.

    Kenneth Branagh and an impressive fake mustache direct and star as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, stranded in a blizzard on the famed European train route. Homicide revs up his sleuthing instincts, leading to interrogations of Academy Award winners Judi Dench and Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer (right), Daisy Ridley … (Deep breath) … Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. and maybe someone else but I'm getting played off the stage....

    Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince star in The Florida Project.
  7. Movie review: 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer'


    Yorgos Lanthimos serves revenge colder than some viewers will accept in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (R), a thriller taking its sweet time doing nasty things.

    Colin Farrell stars as Dr. Steven Murphy, a successful cardiologist with all the trimmings: loving wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), two honor roll children and a spacious home. Before we meet them, Steven's vague relationship with teenage Martin (Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk) adds intrigue....

    Colin Farrell in "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."A24
  8. Lebowski Fest is at the Ritz Ybor this weekend, and you can abide with a White Russian


    The last movie I saw at the Ritz in Ybor City could've been produced by Jackie Treehorn, the porn mogul played by Ben Gazzara in The Big Lebowski.

    That was in the mid 1970s, a St. Leo fraternity field trip. Not sure when the Ritz stopped showing movies but they're back in business for one night, at 8 p.m. Friday.

    You can abide with a White Russian and watch The Big Lebowski, as Achievers do and proud we are of all of them. Costumes are encouraged; leave the marmots at home. ...

    Jeff Bridges, left, John Goodman, center, and Steve Buscemi appear in a scene from the motion picture "The Big Lebowski." (AP Photo)
  9. Movie review: 'Wonderstruck' brings together two deaf children


    Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck is a childhood fable brimming with lush visuals yet too wispy to bear them. Based on Brian Selznick's 2011 novel, the movie , seldom jarring the heart as much as the eyes.

    Two children 50 years apart sharing more than deafness provide Haynes with ample opportunities for precise period designs. Rose (Millicent Simmonds) lives in 1927 Hoboken, N.J., unable to hear since birth, curiosity beaming from her face in silvery monochrome. Ben (Oakes Fegley) lives in 1977 Minnesota, deafened by a freak accident. He runs away to disco-era New York, filmed with apropos grit....

    Julianne Moore and Oakes Fegley in the 1970s storyline of "Wonderstruck."  Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions
  10. 'A Bad Moms Christmas' has the right cast but the wrong spirit


    A Bad Moms Christmas is a comedy with better casting than jokes, a sequel sticking to the formula of using twice as much of whatever worked before.

    In this case, that means finding three women matching the diversely go-girl spirits of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn in the original. Bad Moms' premise of women gone (temporarily) wild wasn't particularly well-written or -staged, but they carried it off....

    Mila Kunis, left, and Christine Baranski in the film, "A Bad Moms Christmas." (/STX Entertainment)
  11. What's new in theaters: 'Thor: Ragnarok,' 'A Bad Moms Christmas'



    No doubt the Bad Moms of 2015's sleeper hit made Santa's naughty list. He can underline their names after A Bad Moms Christmas (R), something for parents to see while the kids go shopping.

    Mila Kunis, Kristin Bell and Kathryn Hahn return as the under-appreciated suburban mothers whose first girls night out was a stitch. They're bringing along classy reinforcements as their even badder moms....

    Willem Dafoe, left, the indefatigable moral center of “The Florida Project,” and Brooklynn Prince. MUST CREDIT: A24
  12. 'Thor: Ragnarok' puts the comic in comic book as the god of thunder has some fun


    They're called comic books for a reason too many superhero movies neglect. Not Thor: Ragnarok, one keenly aware of how silly all this universe saving stuff is. Guardians of the Galaxy is fun; this movie's funny. There's a difference.

    Chalk it up to the improbably apt choice of Taika Waititi to direct Thor's third solo outing. Nothing about the New Zealander's previous resume suggests he's right for directing a mega-budget Marvel flick. Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows is a droll vampire mockumentary and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an eccentric outdoors adventure....

    'Thor: Ragnarok' movie (Marvel) 1214298
  13. John Cleese talks Donald Trump, Monty Python, 'coarse comedy' and more


    After a half-century of dead parrots, silly walks and singing lumberjacks, John Cleese knows strange when he sees it.

    So, could Monty Python — the Beatles of British comedy that Cleese co-founded — dream up anything like Donald Trump's presidency?

    "Oh, no, people literally would not have believed it," Cleese, 77, said by phone from England. "They would say this is going too far."...

    John Cleese
  14. George Clooney and the Coen brothers' 'Suburbicon' is a half-baked mess


    George Clooney's latest directing effort, Suburbicon, is a movie tipping off why it's going wrong before it actually happens.

    Start with a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen feeling like the sort of rehashed previous material that writers might do when they're blocked or bored and just wishing to type. The Coens wouldn't dare make Suburbicon since they already made Fargo and Blood Simple before that, plus several films with this one's absurd 1950s vibe. ...

    This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Julianne Moore in a scene from "Suburbicon." (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Paramount Pictures via AP) NYET814
  15. New in theaters: 'Suburbicon,' 'Thank You for Your Service,' 'Jigsaw'




    George Clooney is like a third Coen brother, which in movies is akin to a fifth Beatle.

    Clooney has done some of his funniest acting for Joel and Ethan Coen: a preening yokel in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Hail, Caesar!'s kidnapped matinee idol and a spy chaser in Burn After Reading.

    There's also Intolerable Cruelty, but three out of four isn't bad....

    Matthew Passmore as “Logan” in the film, “Jigsaw.”