Life

Bright Nights and Writing Samples

Howdy!

People have actually requested some more journalistic content on here, so today I spent several hours renovating the blog, page by page. Please do me a favor and check it out — I did this for you, haha! There are now two new buttons in the menu above; one with the very original name “Maria” on it, and one with “Writing Samples.” Check it out, pleeeeaseeeh.

By the way, I went to see the movie Me Before You yesterday. You all know I used to go to the movies five times a week last year — that was before the exchange rate between US Dollars and Norwegian Kroner messed up my personal economy… and before I made myself too busy to endulge in that sort of luxury — but now that I don’t go as often, it’s even more fun!

I LOVED this film! I didn’t read the book, and even if it was kind of predictable I just really enjoyed it. You know how it is when you just completely forget yourself for a while? That’s what this movie does to you. Emilia Clarke’s acting performance itself was well worth the 15 bucks.

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Midnight in downtown Haugesund. The bright little dot in the sky is actually the moon. I felt like a tourist in my own hometown taking this picture, I had completely forgotten that the sun never truly sets here in the summer.

Now my family and Eddie the Eagle is waiting for me in the “Lavelle theater” downstairs. So talk to you soon!

XOXO

Editorial: Firing a shot at the IAAF

In November 2015, the International Association of Athletics Federations made the decision to initiate a doping ban that will keep all Russian track athletes from participating in international competitions, including the World Championships – even if the majority of them have never officially tested positive. And now, with less than three months remaining until the Olympic torch is lit inside the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, hundreds of Russian athletes are left without the opportunity to compete.

Yelena Isinbayeva
Pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva never tested positive for doping, but was still banned from the World Championships last year. Photo by Malien Bravo

It was after Hajo Seppelt, a German investigative journalist, released his two documentaries “Secret doping dossier: How Russia produces its winners,” and “Doping – top secret: The shadowy world of athletics” last year, that hell broke loose for Russian track athletes. Not only were several of the biggest stars caught admitting their use of performance enhancing drugs on camera, but the film also alleged systematic state-sponsored doping throughout the whole Russian Federation, and history’s biggest doping scandal in the sport of athletics was just starting to emerge.

But by banning an entire nation, the IAAF declares that the notion of “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply to the victims of the Eastern European system.

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Photo by Anson Henry/CBS Sports

Although it seems like Russia never quite recovered from the cheater’s mentality that started evolving behind the Iron Curtain in the USSR in the 1970s, it’s wrong to let today’s athletes suffer because the system is useless. The severe corruption and pressure from the government has paralyzed the country’s anti-doping work, and according to The Sunday Times, a database-leak revealed that blood tests from 5,000 Russian athletes showed extraordinary signs of doping.

If that’s true, banning all the athletes who did test positive would seem like a fair deal, but the real concerning issue here is that all those 12,000 blood samples were never disclosed to the public, or even to the World Anti-Doping Association.

That means the Russian Anti-Doping Association failed to do its job, and it should be punished instead of just sweeping all athletes into the same ditch – regardless of whether or not they have tested positive.

The IAAF used its most powerful tool by suspending the whole federation, and even if the ban will keep many doped athletes from entering the result lists, it only treats the symptoms of this whole epidemic.

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Mariya Savinova was caught discussing her use of performance enhancing drugs on video. According to the New York Times she said: “Well, really, what should we do? How should it go differently? That is our system and in Russia that only works only with pharma.” Photo by: Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press

The reason why so many athletes are using performance-enhancing drugs is because they think they can get away with it – or their coaches and their team organizations think they can get away with it. If the RUSADA had done its job, the athletes who actually did cheat would have been plucked out of the circuit before it got to this point.

Punishing all the athletes from participating at the Olympics is just like deporting all Mexicans from the US because someone said the crime rates have been shown to be higher among the Hispanic population – it’s too generalizing and makes innocent people suffer more than they have to.

Now that Hajo Seppelt has found information that implies that the doping culture in Russia is, in fact, run by the government, the IAAF should see that they caught the wrong guys.

Editorial by Maria Lavelle

Film Review: ‘Jennifer Lawrence mops up Joy-less Cinderella story’

Photo: imdb
Photo: imdb

The golden quartet from the highly acclaimed “Silver Lining’s Playbook” (2012) and “American Hustle” (2013) – consisting of director David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro – has done it again. The inspired-by-true-events story, Joy, had the potential of becoming this decade’s “Erin Brockowich” (2000), but despite Lawrence’s outstanding performance, the story gets completely lost in dreamy flashbacks and lengthy soap-opera nightmares.

The action is set to the 1990s Pennsylvania, and is based on Joy Mangano’s story as a working-class single mother who found her way to wealth through the invention of a mop, and who later patented over a hundred products that would make her a matriarch with a multi-million dollar business running all across America. Her journey, however, was filled with all kinds of adversity, mainly caused by her highly dysfunctional family.

Jennifer Lawrence delivers one of her all-time best performances, and had the movie itself matched her incredible feistiness and class, this would have been a hit beyond measures. After her Golden Globe win yesterday, it should come as no surprise if she earns yet another Oscar nomination later this month. However, the other characters seem to fade away in comparison to her ambitious and strong-willed attitude – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Joy’s family appears to lack every inch of structure, discipline, determination and skill that she, herself, possesses. So even if the other actors’ (Cooper, De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen et al) performances seem flat, the nature of their characters’ personalities simply doesn’t allow for mind-blowing performances like Lawrence’s. As a side effect, that somewhat magnifies the power of Joy’s actions and makes her shine like a star in her surroundings.

Too see that the female lead is given this much significance and influence is refreshing in an otherwise male-dominated industry. Joy even passes the Bechdel Test with highest honors, and is completely free from any kind of romance and sexual content – which is more rare that one would think. So alongside similar biopics, such as “Erin Brockowich” (2000), “Frida” (2002) and “La Vie en Rose” (2007), this story had loads of potential.

But – even though Joy’s real-life journey probably was incredibly turbulent, lengthy and frustrating – the story is just told in such an unbearably slow-moving way that makes her success in the end seem like a tiny anecdote: “And by the way, she made it. The End.” The triumphant moment where it all comes together was just not a part of the script – or at least not a big enough part of the script.

Russell also incorporates several scenes from a bizarre black and white “Dynasty-like” soap opera throughout the movie. Considering that Joy is, unknowingly at the time, on her way to build a dynasty of her own, it sort of works as a premonition that blends well with the rest of the shots. But it also adds a dreamy, psychedelic David Lynch-effect to the story that feels misplaced and seems to add an extra hour to the already 124-minute long film.

By Maria Lavelle, January 11th 2016

Sexism in the Film Industry

With today’s increased awareness around gender inequality, one would think that the film industry – with all its power and influence – would set an example for equality, but sadly, Hollywood is just as sexist as the rest of America.

This is an important issue to address because research has shown that the viewers’ opinions, values and perceptions are likely to be influenced by the films and TV-shows they watch. Film is one of the few remaining mediums that still possesses such power, and with the descending significance of newspapers and radio in our society, the film industry’s role is more important than ever.

According to Forbes’ list of top ten highest paid actors in 2013, the men made a total of $465 million, while the women collected only $181 million. Before we draw any hasty conclusions, we must take into consideration that male actors are more frequently cast in action films, and those films are more likely to bring in more money than for example drama and comedy – where the females are better represented. But the gap is still too big to be ignored.

In recent years, the “Bechdel Test” has been used to determine women’s role in the film industry. And to pass the test, the movie must have at least two female characters in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man. Well, you might not even have noticed why a test like that would be necessary in the first place, but the horrifying truth is that less than 57 percent of the films in today’s popular culture actually passes it. That means women are either excluded or play insignificant roles in almost half of the movies on the market!

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre (2015) Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Columbia Pictures.

Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Dwayne Johnson and Rufus Sewell in Hercules (2014) Photo: Paramount Pictures / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

It’s nothing short of a shame that the film industry’s power of influence has, too often, been used to glorify the stereotypical male hero, while the women seems to have been placed on the screen simply as “set-props.“ In my opinion, if the character doesn’t speak a single word, is partially naked, or dressed in sexually revealing clothes – which is the case for nearly 30 percent of all female characters, she is, in fact, more of a set-prop than a character.

There has, however, been a positive development within the industry, both on and off the screen in recent years. Marilyn Monroe’s image as an objectified temptress has become less attractive, and an increasing number of actresses and female directors have taken a stand in the issue of gender inequality. When Hollywood’s own first lady, Angelina Jolie, was asked to play a “Bond girl,” she refused to take the part, and said she’d rather play James bond himself. Not long after, she was cast for the leading role in the action movie “Salt” – a role originally created for Tom Cruise. This is the kind of change we need!

Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt in Salt (2010) Photo: Columbia Pictures.

Unfortunately, the gender imbalance on-screen is just as present behind the camera. Did you know that the first Academy Awards were held almost a century ago, and that during that time, only one woman has won the Oscar for Best Director? Out of all those 89 award ceremonies, Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman who has had the pleasure of stepping onto the podium and receiving that 8.5-pound golden wonder with the inscription “Best Director” on it. This, of course, cannot be blamed on the Academy, as they are simply voting for the best films of the year regardless of who made them. But there are too few female directors out there, and too few producers who are willing to give “directresses” a chance.

Kathryn Bigelow with her Oscar at the 2010 Academy Awards. Photo: Jason Merrit / Getty Images.

Maybe not surprisingly, there has, according to the New York Film Academy’s research, been shown an 11 percent increase in female characters on the screen when a woman directs the film. So perhaps, if we want a change, we, the women, will have to take matters into our own hands. There is absolutely no reason why a female should be any less equipped for creating movies that will both pass the Bechdel test, win Academy Awards, give a voice to other women within the film industry, as well as contributing to creating a healthy female ideal for the rest of the world to follow.

http://bechdeltest.com/statistics/
https://www.nyfa.edu/film-school-blog/gender-inequality-in-film/
http://awardsdatabase.oscars.org/ampas_awards/BasicSearchInput.jsp

Editorial by Maria Lavelle

Restaurant Review: Texas Roadhouse

One of the highlights of my week is when I can get together with good friends, catch up and talk about life at a nice restaurant. I wrote a post a few weeks ago, explaining why I’d easily choose a restaurant over a night club any day. But it costs money, and with a hectic schedule, I don’t always have the time for it. However, when one of my journalism assignments required me to write a restaurant review, I didn’t exactly hesitate. I had the perfect excuse to spend both time and money with friends. Below the pictures, you can read my very first restaurant review:

 

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Texas Roadhouse, Sioux Falls

The sound of steak knifes against porcelain plates and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” blends in with the constant hum of chatter and cracking of peanuts. It’s 5 p.m. at the Texas Roadhouse this Saturday. The dimly lit room is whirling of people in flannel shirts and cowboy boots. The smell is surprisingly sweet and cinnamon-like for a steakhouse, but the open kitchen testifies that they do, in fact, serve meat here. A young waitress approaches us, shows us our table and takes our drink orders – all within the first two minutes after our arrival. She blows her hair away from her damp forehead, and then slides away as quickly as she showed up.

The basket of oven-fresh rolls and the cinnamon butter cream on our table explains the sweet smell that met us a moment earlier. Next to the rolls, there’s a milk pail filled with whole peanuts. Despite of the crowdedness and lack of light, the restaurant seems spacious. The wooden walls are sparingly decorated with scenic pictures of Native American chiefs, flags, plates and bullhorns. On one of the many rafters above our booth, there’s dozens of placks honoring the restaurant’s guests who managed to consume the prestigious 40 oz. steak. By the time we open our menus, Dolly Parton’s voice has been replaced with another country classic, and the atmosphere is impeccable.

The menu offers everything from burgers, sandwiches, fried chicken, “Fall-off-the-bone ribs,” pot roasts, salmon, shrimp, catfish, hot-dogs and, of course, the hand cut steaks they are so known for. For a steakhouse, they offer an impressive number of salads as well. However, the customer who skims through the salad page with the hope of finding a weight loss-friendly option might want to reconsider their choice of restaurant. The 1030 kcal Caesar salad will hardly fit into the textbook diet plan.

On the other hand, the customer without any diet restrictions will find that the Texas Roadhouse makes it incredibly easy to exceed the recommended daily amount of calories. The quality of the meat is in a class of its own, and the chef’s careful preparation becomes evident when the tenderness of the steaks is close to extreme. The knife next to my plate is massive enough to save someone’s life in the jungle, but doesn’t get to fulfill its potential – because the meat is practically as tender as the topping of a pumpkin pie. The 6 oz. “Dallas filet” ($12) could not possibly have been any better, and served together with steak fries and green beans, the serving size was perfect. A grown male should however, consider going with the 8 or 10 oz. size.

The “Fall-off-the-bone rib,” ($9) certainly lives up to its name. And unless the customer is of the same caliber as the people on the rafter placks, they should be prepared to bring a box of leftovers back home with them. They could always leave it for the many flies that flew around the table at all times, but I doubt flies know how to properly appreciate meat of such divine taste.

With only three different cakes to pick from, the dessert section could have been better. But the lack of sugary goods doesn’t do much harm to the overall impression of the restaurant. My friends and I came to the conclusion that after finishing our main course, desserts were completely out of the question.

The delicious sweet rolls, peanuts, meat, fries and vegetables had already covered our nutritional needs for the next few days, so we left the roadhouse and its movie-like atmosphere, outstanding service and all-American vibe feeling satisfied.

Maria Lavelle

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