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Movie Planner: Linda Blair talks 'Exorcist' in Tampa; plus Dan Rather, Bradley Cooper and zombies

Thursday night: SPIRITED TALK

Linda Blair is harder to pin down these days than 42 years ago, when she "levitated" above a bed in The Exorcist, playing possessed teenager Regan MacNeil.

Blair, now 56, played telephone tag for two weeks, between errands on behalf of her WorldHeart Foundation for animal and human welfare. California's recent storms caused a rush on kennels for abandoned pets, and Blair was busy arranging food, adoptions, rescues, whatever it took to save them.

Eventually we connected to ask five questions about The Exorcist, which Blair will accompany Thursday night at Tampa Theatre, part of the venue's Nightmare on Franklin Street series. Showtime is 7:30 p.m., followed by Blair's Q&A session. Tickets are $43, available at the box office and tampatheatre.org.

The power of Woodward and Bernstein compelled me to ask Blair:

Why has The Exorcist endured as one of the greatest horror films ever?

First, you need a director who really knows how he wants to disturb an audience, and Billy Friedkin was an absolute genius. Everyone realized this was something groundbreaking. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before.

Were you ever truly frightened during production?

I couldn't be, because we're filmmakers. We're doing things over and over again. If you don't know the difference (between fact and fantasy) then you shouldn't get the job. You can't give a role like this to a kid off the street.

Yet people believed you actually were possessed, long before Google could prove you weren't.

Warner Bros. did everything they could to be sure I was seen in public, all these press conferences and interviews. They had to keep telling people: 'Linda is a child actress. Linda is not a disturbed child.' But normal wasn't interesting. Reporters started writing stories that weren't truthful. I asked my mother why and she said she didn't know.

Because, as you say, normal isn't interesting.

Yes. But listen to this: There was a P.R. person at Warner Bros. who was actually one of the people who started some of the hoopla, putting ambulances at theaters, things like that, then it just snowballed. She finally told me about 10 years ago. I said: 'Shame on you!'

Forty years later, what's scarier: Regan's head spinning or the '80s fashions you wore in Roller Boogie?

You are freaking ridiculously funny. I wasn't expecting that. Well, let's see. My outfits were very well-loved at the time. But I would say Regan's situation is probably still more disturbing.

INDIE FLICKS: 'Truth' lies

Truth is an intellectually dishonest movie. Based on the memoirs of former CBS News producer Mary Mapes, writer-director James Vanderbilt clearly exposes everything she did wrong as a journalist, in a flawed 60 Minutes segment in 2004 on president George W. Bush's service record in the Texas Air National Guard.

Then he wants viewers to applaud her for it, consider her heroic, when her actions cost co-workers their jobs and a network its reputation, while indirectly assisting Bush's re-election campaign with the backlash. No, thank you.

Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is fine as the high-strung Mapes, while Robert Redford doesn't look anything like Dan Rather but adopts the former CBS anchorman's paternal baritone as he stands to lose the most. Vanderbilt doggedly pieces together what went wrong in the investigation — waffling sources, possible forgeries, a rush to confirmation — but the case has too many holes to justify the fallen crusader tag he gives Blanchett's neck at the conclusion. Truth opens Friday in select theaters. C

ALSO OPENING: Zombies and zucchini

Hard to predict what's scarier at theaters this weekend: The undead walking among us (again) or the chance that a Bradley Cooper movie disappoints (again).

Cooper's Aloha said a fast hello and goodbye in May, just about the time bad buzz began about Burnt (R), opening Friday. The movie about a disgraced world-class chef reportedly had more test screenings than usual, like a short order cook who keeps adding ingredients. No telling how the dish turns out. We can only guess that Bradley Cooper in a kitchen must be someone's fantasy out there.

Easier to peg is Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (R), the obligatory Halloween weekend offering. It's all right there in the title. That wasn't hard, was it? Neither movie was screened in time for Weekend.

TOP FIVE

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 Sicario: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro battle a Mexican drug cartel.

2 The Martian: Matt Damon survives outer space through science.

3 99 Homes: Florida's foreclosure crisis inspires a thriller.

4 Crimson Peak: Guillermo del Toro crafts a bloody valentine to Gothic horror.

5 Bridge of Spies: Cold War drama starring Tom Hanks.

UPCOMING RELEASES

Nov. 6: Spectre; The Peanuts Movie; I Smile Back

Nov. 13: Room; The 33; Suffragette; Love the Coopers; My All-American

Nov. 20: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2; Spotlight; The Night Before; Secret in Their Eyes

Nov. 25: Creed; Victor Frankenstein; The Good Dinosaur

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

in theaters: our Top 5

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

Movie Planner: Linda Blair talks 'Exorcist' in Tampa; plus Dan Rather, Bradley Cooper and zombies 10/28/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 2:40pm]
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