Dark Waters – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Opening Thanksgiving week locally, the biopic Dark Waters provides something to be thankful for: That corporate environmental attorney Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) risked his job, his marriage, and his health to defend two West Virginia farmers who claimed the local DuPont plant was poisoning their water. The 15-year battle found Bilott attacking the very company he formerly defended.

Mark Ruffalo stars in Dark Waters. Photo copyright 2019 Focus Features.

Although his extensive study of the legalities and chemistry of the case (largely surrounding Teflon), help Bilott get to the truth, it’s his humanity that keeps him going despite numerous setbacks and threats. Even with only a 12th grade education, the most vocal farmer (Bill Camp) who enlists Bilott’s aid, knows the U.S. Government, the EPA, the state, the county, and most assuredly the corporations don’t care about the common man—even when thousands of these common men and women are being poisoned by toxic waste dumped into their drinking water.

Ruffalo fully expresses the range of emotions his character goes through during these 15 years, from his initial disinterest and disbelief to his growing concern and nagging conscience to his steadfast determination despite exhaustion, stress, and nearly insurmountable odds. Even with its ripped-from-the-headlines movie-of-the-week topic, the film has enough artful touches (dramatic scenes in West Virginia showing cause and effect, plus some surprising cameos) and real drama (without overt emotional manipulation) to make this film important and educational.      

Dark Waters

In this true story, a recently promoted partner at a law firm risks it all to fight against DuPont when he learns his hometown has been a long-time dumping ground for toxic chemicals.

  • Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Anne Hathaway, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Bill Pullman
  • Directors: Todd Haynes
  • Genre: Biography / Drama
  • Run Time: 127 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, disturbing images, and language)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

The Halloween Fun Continues

By Wanda Luthman, Guest Blogger

When you think of Halloween, what do you think about? Carving pumpkins and trick or treating; or some scarier things like black cats, spiders, bats, and rats; or maybe even scarier things like witches, ghosts, skeletons, and monsters?

These things have become part of our Halloween tradition and are all included in the picture book, Hayley the Halloween Cat & the Search for Bitty the Bat.

I think one of the best things about Halloween is getting to dress up in our favorite costumes. Some of us like fun costumes and some of us like scarier ones. Which ones do you prefer? I prefer fun costumes.

All About Bats

I have always been fascinated by bats. They seem scary in how they fly all higgly-piggly. I’m afraid they’re going to get caught in my unruly hair. LOL

But, I would absolutely love to go to one of the places where you can watch them come out of their “cave” and start out on their nightly flight to eat bugs. I say, “cave” because the bats have made their home under a bridge instead of an actual cave.

Did you know they eat bugs? Only the vampire bat likes to eat blood (Ewww!), regular bats eat insects and they can eat their body weight in insects in one night!

Bats like to sleep during the day. So, if you want to find one, when would you look? At night.

Although you could probably find them sleeping in their cave during the day. But, it’s not a good idea to disturb them. Do you like to be disturbed when you’re sleeping?

Hayley the Halloween Cat & the Search for Bitty the Bat

In the children’s picture book, Hayley the Halloween Cat & the Search for Bitty the Bat, Hayley is searching for her friend all day. She’s afraid her friend, the bat, is going to miss Halloween. But, guess what? Her friend isn’t going to show up until when? That’s right—night time!! But, Bitty has a special surprise for her friends.

There are large bats and there are small bats. The largest bat is called a flying fox and has a wingspan of 6 feet! The smallest bat is called the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat and is so tiny that it weighs less than a penny!

Bats are mammals just like me and you and they have belly buttons! Some bats hibernate in the winter which means they sleep ALL winter long! Now, that’s a long nap!

Other bats migrate to warmer areas in the winter which means they move. They are the literal version of “snow birds” what Floridians call people who come from up north to winter in the south.

Baby bats are called pups and they live in a group called a colony. Did you know that bats have fur and clean themselves like cats do?

Bats also help to pollinate plants which means to spread their pollen around to other plants which helps them multiply. They also help to spread seeds around by pooping them out and that helps plants grow in other places.

Blind as a Bat

Have you ever heard the saying, “Blind as a bat?” Well, bats aren’t really blind. They just have difficulty seeing during the day because their eyes are meant to see at night.

But, they don’t fly by sight at night. They use something called echolocation. You might have heard that term used for dolphins and whales. It’s related to sound. The bat makes a sound and how it bounces off of objects around them and how they hear it come back to them tells them where things are located.

Bats are really fast too—some can fly up to 100 miles per hour!

Some species of bats are endangered which means their numbers are so low that if we don’t help them out and protect them, there could be no more of them.

So, next time you see a bat, you’ll know more about them and hopefully appreciate what they do for us and won’t be as scared of them.

So, if you love all things Halloween and cute black kitties, you’ll love this picture book for ages 0-6. You can read to them or they can read to themselves.

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Purchase Hayley the Halloween Cat & the Search for Bitty the Bat on Amazon at

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

Lucy in the Sky – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

This sci-fi drama is loosely based on the bizarre true story of Lisa Nowak, (aka “The Diaper Astronaut,”) a married naval flight officer and NASA mission specialist, who in 2007 drove from Houston, Texas (reportedly wearing a diaper to avoid stopping) to Orlando, Florida where she attacked and attempted to kidnap her former lover’s new girlfriend at the Orlando International Airport.

Natalie Portman stars in Lucy in the Sky. Photo copyright 2019 Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The strangeness of a highly respected astronaut who flew on Space Shuttle Discovery suddenly losing her mind over an extra-marital fling gone wrong made international news and inspired enormous interest in the all-astronaut love triangle.

Also dubbed, “The Astro-Nut,” Nowak also inspired the new film Lucy in the Sky, starring Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola (the Nowak character) and Jon Hamm as womanizer Mark Goodwin (her illicit love interest). Zazie Beetz plays Erin, the target of Lucy’s jealousy, and Dan Stevens portrays Lucy’s self-righteous and completely oblivious husband.

The Diaper Astronaut

In addition to names being changed, this fictionalized version of reality makes other curiously random alterations, such as conjuring hallucinations of Lucy’s dead grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), adding a niece to her cross-county ride, changing the location from Orlando to San Diego, having Lucy attack Mark instead of Erin, and eliminating any mention of adult diapers. If the filmmakers wanted to make Lucy a more likable character with these changes, they weren’t particularly successful as she come across as self-centered, obsessive, and cold-blooded (and that’s before she completely goes off the rails following a tragedy).

Liberties taken with the story, however, pale in comparison to liberties taken with the cinematography. Apparently used as a metaphor, the edges of the screen are blurry after Lucy returns from her mission, as if her experience in space has figuratively altered her view of reality. This technique also literally changes the way the audience views her reality.

As she drifts further into mental illness, the blurriness expands beyond the outer edges of the screen. While this artful idea may have sounded great in pre-production, it’s a headache-inducing mess onscreen. Likewise, the inexplicable aspect ratio shifting back and forth from widescreen to full-screen throughout the movie is jarring, confusing, distracting, and unnecessary.        

Exciting Scenes of NASA

Inspired by true events (but not based on true events) and subjected to the aforementioned ill-conceived cinematic metaphors for mental illness, this film also suffers from uneven pacing (long, dull scenes of home life and exciting scenes of NASA) and stereotypical characters (eccentric, foul-mouthed grandma) that blatantly show Lucy’s mental breakdown was a combination of internal and external factors.

Despite two beautiful co-stars, intriguing behind-the-scenes glimpses of the space program, and good intentions, this filmed fiction is surprisingly less interesting than the reality on which it’s based.

Lucy in the Sky

Inspired by true events, this fictionalized story describes astronaut Lucy Cola, who loses touch with reality after returning from a mission in space.

  • Stars: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Pearl Amanda Dickson, Ellen Burstyn
  • Director: Noah Hawley
  • Genre: Science Fiction Drama
  • Run Time: 124 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language and sexual content)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

Dolemite Is My Name – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

In this comedic biopic, Eddie Murphy recreates real-life 1970s Blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore whose desire to sing, act, and do standup comedy far exceeds his actual talent.

Eddie Murphy stars in Dolemite Is My Name. Photo copyright 2019 Netflix.

It’s hard to believe the ridiculous premise for this film is actually true: that a mediocre comedian named Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), who serves as a five-minute warm-up act for a singer in a small night club, adopts the persona of a foul-mouthed, flamboyant pimp based on tall tales from a group of homeless men. From this humble beginning, he successfully launches a film career as a martial arts action hero named Dolemite.

Blaxploitation Movie

The impetus for all this is Moore’s relentless drive to succeed in show business despite limitations physically (a paunchy belly and no martial arts training) and financially (borrowed from various friends, family, and associates). He asks: “How did my life get so small?” Then he proceeds to enlarge it by finding creative inspiration in unlikely places, such as the ramblings of a loud-mouth wino, in a club where he witnesses a woman punch her cheating husband, and a movie auditorium where he doesn’t understand the film.    

Not only does Moore raise the funds himself for the film production, but finds the cast, writer, and director, and manages to arrange a screening of his schlocky Blaxploitation movie in which he stars. Despite extremely low production qualities produced by an amateur cast and film-student crew, his movie becomes a hit and spawns a series of equally dismal sequels that somehow manage to entertain the masses.

Captures the 1970’s Zeitgeist

Although providing his usual over-the-top comedic performance, Eddie Murphy reveals the more sensitive side of his character when sharing moments with former back-up singer Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and conscientiously repaying money he owes to others. Murphy and Randolph play well off each other; she and her cleavage even manage to steal a few scenes.

The outrageousness of Dolemite is almost subtle in comparison to the outlandish pretentiousness of D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes), a self-absorbed actor who agrees to direct Moore’s movie. As the only professional among amateurs, he’s insufferably pompous and consumed with his so-called star status to the point of ridiculousness.

Funny at times and always interesting, this film has characters, costumes, music, cars, and attitudes that capture the 1970’s zeitgeist and Blaxploitation with gusto and humor in a true story that feels more like fiction with its larger-than-life players.

Dolemite Is My Name

A struggling comedian adopts a pimp-like persona to advance his career in this comedy based on real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore.

  • Stars: Eddie Murphy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
  • Director: Craig Brewer
  • Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
  • Genre: Biopic/Comedy
  • Run Time: 118 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive language, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

Judy – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

It’s no easy task taking on the role of the iconic Judy Garland. Star Renee Zellweger will likely receive criticism for being too much like Garland (merely an impersonation), too much like Zellweger (transferred her own quirks to the role) or too much of a blend of the two women (neither this nor that). In short, despite a knock-out performance in which she physically, emotionally, and vocally transforms into the barbiturate-addicted singer, Zellweger is constricted by the limitations of the script and direction, and by the notoriety of the character she portrays.

Renee Zellweger stars in Judy. Photo copyright 2019. Roadside Attractions.

This film focuses on the final year of Garland’s life when she struggles to retain custody of her two children while dealing with depleted funds because of alcohol and drug addictions. This instability leads to disastrous performances, unpaid bills, and gig cancellations. Desperate for a chance to make enough money to regain her footing and reclaim her children from her ex-husband, Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), Garland takes a job in London playing a series of sold-out performances at a popular night spot.

Garland Promises a Beautiful Show

Drunk, doped-up, depressed, and acting like a diva, Garland refuses to rehearse, shows up late for shows, suffers from stage fright, and breaks down repeatedly on stage. Some nights the audience (which includes two die-hard gay fans who come to every performance) loves her, and some nights they throw things at her in anger. Although she promises her fan to always deliver a “beautiful show,” she’s a hot mess both onstage and off.

Behind the scenes, she terrorizes the young assistant (Jessie Buckley) assigned to watch after the singer, carries on a rocky romance with her much-younger, soon-to-be husband number five (Finn Wittrock), and heaps abuse and accusations at Sidney, who seems to be devoted to providing a stable life for their children.

The Wizard of Oz

Zellweger’s brash, twitchy, angst-ridden performance is painful to watch at times, not because of any acting flaw, but because it depicts such intense emotional suffering. Flashbacks throughout the movie reveal the reasons for this suffering; Garland was starved of food, stuffed with pills, and deprived of a childhood during the filming of The Wizard of Oz, and we’re to assume this ill treatment was followed by more of the same, which led to a lifetime of dysfunction.

Tragic, but riveting, this biopic delivers the music (Zellweger does her own signing) and the story of Garland’s final disintegration. The flashbacks provide some context, but the years between her childhood and the London concerts at age 47 remain something of a mystery. Did she ever seek help for her addictions? Did any of her five husbands try to get her clean and sober? Or was her life a continual downward spiral from childhood to adulthood? These answers are available elsewhere, but represent decades of a successful career barely referenced in this film—a film decidedly myopic on the abusive beginning and tragic end.         


This troubling biopic looks at Judy Garland’s sold-out London concerts in the final months of her life.

  • Stars: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell, Finn Wittrock, Michael Gambon
  • Director: Rupert Goold
  • Writers: Tom Edge (screenplay), Peter Quilter (based on the stage play “End of the Rainbow”)
  • Genre: Biopic/Drama
  • Run Time: 118 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.