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Culture

Let’s talk about “Spectre”

Daniel Craig, seen here in something much better.

Over the weekend I found myself squeezed into the middle seat of an airplane watching 2015’s Spectre — the fourth of five James Bond films starring Daniel Craig — on my phone.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen Spectre, but it was the first time I started thinking about why the movie isn’t very good. Despite costing something in the neighborhood of $250 million to make and boasting an all-star cast — deep enough so that Andrew Scott, always watchable as Hot Priest and Moriarty, pops ups for about seven minutes as a B-tier villain — the thing just doesn’t totally cohere into something interesting.

The core problem with Spectre is the villain, but let’s back up first. Bond movies are not complicated. James Bond is a spy. He’s a cad with women and has a serious drinking problem that’s matched only by his addiction to quasi-witty one-liners. Bad stuff happens in the world — usually with some vaguely contemporary thematic relevance, such as “the Soviet Union” (pre-1991), “the fall of the Soviet Union” (1991-2005), and “terrorism” (2006-present) — so he goes off and fixes it. He goes to a lot of interesting locales, meets at least one woman and one-to-three villains, and saves the day at the end.

So there isn’t a lot to the character of James Bond. He’s not someone who usually gets much of an “arc.” To their credit, the Craig-era movies do try to give him one. The first (and best), Casino Royale, succeeds in spades. Bond starts as a cocky “blunt instrument,” tries to save the day (and mostly fails), falls in love (and gets betrayed), and ends the movie transformed into something a bit more like the classic vision of the character. Quantum of Solace, the sequel, digs deeper into the whole betrayal thing with substantially inferior results. Skyfall takes a slightly different and much more successful tack, focusing on Bond’s relationship with M and his identity as a secret agent.

With that, let’s look at Spectre. The plot, summarized briefly, goes like this. James Bond is off in Mexico City trying to find a shadowy cabal that MI6 does not seem to think exists. He ends up finding it — the titular Spectre — in Italy, along with their leader, a guy Bond clearly recognizes from his past. In the Alps, he picks up a woman with her own connection to Spectre, Lea Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann, and together they track down the leader somewhere in Morocco. That leader is Christoph Waltz, who was born to play a Bond villain. He turns out to be Bond’s never-before-mentioned and long-presumed-dead adopted brother, and then dramatically reveals that he is now named… Ernst Stavro Blofeld. That’s the name of Bond’s most classic nemesis, a recurring character who’s been absent from the film series since the early 80s. Bond blows up Blofeld’s North African lair, saves MI6 from a takeover by Hot Priest (who’s allied with Blofeld for nebulous reasons) back in London, and (literally) rides off into the sunset with Dr. Swann.

If you squint, you can see what the writers and producers were going for. Let’s can dip into Bond’s backstory barrel — his time as an orphan — and bring back a “classic” adversary, all in one fell swoop.

But the story, and the villain, don’t work at all, for three big reasons.

  • The first big “reveal” is that the villain is actually Bond’s adopted brother. For that to have any impact, the audience needs to know that Bond had an adopted brother. Otherwise, he’s quite literally just some guy, and we don’t really get why Bond cares at all beyond his duty to Queen and country. But the movie, inexplicably, does not bother to fill the audience in. Rather than following things from Bond’s perspective, the key information is withheld from the audience, all in a misguided attempt to make the reveal more dramatic. (Also, why does this have to be another movie where the bad guy turns out to be related to the hero. But J.J. Abrams is bad, so I won’t belabor the point.)
  • The second big “reveal” is that the villain is actually Ernst Stavro Blofeld. But why is this a reveal? The audience — or at least the real Bond-heads out there — know that Blofeld is a Big Bad. Bond the character, though, does not. He is just learning of Blofeld’s existence in that very moment! (This is the same problem that befell Star Trek Into Darkness, which wastes a typically excellent Benedict Cumberbatch performance by spending half the movie obscuring that he is playing Khan, then dramatically revealing that he is Khan to absolutely no reaction from the characters. But J.J. Abrams is bad, so I won’t belabor the point.)
  • Even if you set aside the two reveals that don’t make any sense from either a character or story perspective, the villain could still work if he did anything particularly villainous. But he doesn’t really! We don’t see any real damage caused by Blofeld or Spectre — there are references to various terrorist attacks, but the actual danger never seems particularly imminent. Because his introduction comes so late in the movie, Waltz has no time to really put together an interesting character, settling on “soft-spoken but evil” as the only two traits he can really express. We don’t have any sense of why he’s evil beyond the fact that he’s Blofeld and Blofeld is evil. And Blofeld himself is easily defeated by Bond twice in the third act. There’s just not much there.

So no story sense, no character sense, no sense of danger. It’s a miracle the thing was even watchable in the slightest!

But it very much is. Everything else is incredibly well-done. As I mentioned, the cast is excellent, and Craig remains a terrific Bond. Production design, spectacular. Music, outstanding. Action sequences and visual effects, very sharp.

And I’m not sure you even need to tweak the story too much to fix Spectre‘s structural errors. Let’s hop in the time machine back to 2013 and pitch these two options to the story team:

  • Option One: The Blofeld Option. Ditch the whole adopted-brother thing. Make it clear from the beginning that the villain is someone named “Blofeld,” but he’s a shadowy figure that Bond is tracking (with help from MI6 instead of bizarrely working against them). Have Blofeld hurt Bond directly in the opening scene to give him some real personal investment. (2015’s much better Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation did this sort of villain introduction perfectly.) Come up with a motivation and evil plan for Blofeld that is at least intelligible and vaguely logical. Make Hot Priest less obviously a bad guy from the beginning so his third-act turn on Bond has more impact. You can keep literally every set piece the same, just with substantially more logic and audience interest.
  • Option Two: The J.J. Abrams Option. Fine, the villain can be Bond’s adopted brother if you really insist. But actually take the time to set it up properly! Start with a flashback that briefly tells the story of their relationship (were Bond and this guy always at odds, or were they very close?), then jump into the opening set piece in Mexico City. Throw in a scene where Bond explains to someone, anyone, how he’s feeling about his adopted brother coming back to life. Take a minute or two to explain why the adopted brother has decided to reinvent himself as an evil mastermind. I still think this is kind of a dopey turn for a Bond movie, but at least there would be some sort of hook for the audience to latch on to.

There, ta-da, we’ve fixed Spectre.

Other airplane miscellany

  • I watched two other movies on the plane, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and The Italian Job (2003).
  • Ocean’s Eleven is a borderline-perfect movie, no notes. (And I’m not just saying that because director Steven Soderbergh uses the pseudonym “Peter Andrews” when he’s working as his own cinematographer.)
  • I loved The Italian Job as a kid (and still sort of wish I drove a Mini Cooper). I still think it mostly works — Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, and Donald Sutherland are all so good in roles they’re vastly overqualified for — but boy howdy is Mark Wahlberg a black hole as the lead. It’s not so much that he’s phoning it in as it is that there just isn’t much there. Throw in anyone with an emotional range greater than a teaspoon and it would be a classic.
  • Hey, what’s the deal with airplane food?

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Columbia Football Sports

The Columbia football team should wear Columbia blue uniforms, 2018 edition

I almost didn’t have it in me this year.

After three full seasons without the Columbia football team wearing Columbia blue uniforms — the color named after the school — and me writing two separate screeds attempting to convince the team to change course, it seemed about time for me to accept the futility of my quest.

Despite wearing the obviously wrong colors of royal blue and “anthracite” (a word that describes coal but here means a putrid shade of dark gray), it would be tough to argue with the results last season. Miraculously, Columbia put together its best season in over two decades, finishing at 8-2 — good for second place in the Ivy League. The come-from-behind, overtime victory against Penn on Homecoming was easily the greatest moment of my admittedly pathetic career as a Columbia sports fan.

These accomplishments are marred only slightly by the fact that they were accomplished wearing the wrong colors.

All of that, though, changed last Saturday, when Columbia announced what color they’d be wearing to take on Georgetown.

 

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Picture taken from Columbia Football’s Twitter feed

LIGHT GRAY.

LIGHT GODDAMN GRAY.

Gray is not an official color of Columbia University! As I observed in 2016, there is no such color as Columbia Gray. (Shout out to my friend Gray, who I met at Columbia!)

So, if you’re keeping track at home, the Lions now have four primary uniforms available to them. One is white, one is royal blue, and two are different shades of gray. At this rate, by 2036 the football uniforms will be… don’t make me say it…

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i’m sorry i’m trying to remove it

I genuinely don’t understand the infatuation with gray.

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The Columbia athletic department, in conversation with their graphic designer.

These uniforms aren’t awful by themselves — I love the way the COLUMBIA BLUE numbers catch the eye, splashes of brilliant color standing out from their drab surroundings. But when you pair gray jerseys with a white helmet, it just looks like you put white jerseys through a bad washer cycle. (Just ask the New England Patriots, who used to have an awful gray alternate of their own. I wonder what the connection is there.)

And now, a break for some guest rants

By now, you all know what I think about the Columbia uniforms. But I am, of course, not the only fan of the football team.

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I reached out to some other longtime fans of the football team to get their take on the uniform travesty. Their responses have been lightly edited so that this piece is not 8,000 words long.

Jonathan Jager

I looked at some pictures and they appear to have navy blue uniforms and light grey uniforms? Where did this come from? The school publishes a magazine called “The Blue and White.” The cheerleaders have some chant about “blue” and “white.” The official university design guidelines say the school colors are “blue” and “white”. Why are the uniforms navy and grey? At least the numbers are light blue… Is this what progress looks like in 2018?

Also, the jersey design is so uninspired. They look like generic “football” uniforms you’d find in a costume warehouse in Hollywood–recognizable enough that we know they’re football players, but not specific enough to distract us whatever Shondaland-equse melodrama is happening in the foreground. Did the uniform design crew forget they had a job, and then just choose some “cool” font in MS Word at the last minute and call it a day? The team is finally having some success and the Athletics department still can’t bother to do their jobs and design a uniform.

Sara Weaver

Tried to see the new uniforms. Went to Google.

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Sam Tydings

Columbia Blue. Pantone 290. B9D9EB. Call it what you will, it is the color that defines our university. Go out to any football game this fall and you’ll see countless students, alumni, and fans wearing Columbia blue shirts, jackets, and beanies, but you won’t see the players on the field wearing it for some reason. The team has four uniforms, yet none of them show off the color that represents our community.

Now that the team is less of an embarrassment compared to my time at the school (end of Wilson, beginning of Mangurian eras), it would be wonderful if the team returned to a color scheme that is easily identifiable with the school’s so that an era of success can be tied to the light blue that makes us unique.

I am not a crackpot.

What does the Columbia football team have to say about this?

It seemed only fair, too, that I give Columbia a chance to explain themselves. Frankly, at this point I’m insanely curious what the thought process is behind each year’s uniforms.

I reached out to Columbia Athletics a week before this post was published, asking for comment. This is something I’ve done before as a writer for IvyHoopsOnline.com. After sending a follow-up email, the staff person asked which outlet I was writing for. Passing up the opportunity to use a hilarious joke publication name, like Ivy League Athletics Uniforms Quarterly or Light Blue Aficiondado, I told him that I would be publishing this on my own web site.

At that point, I was told that Columbia Athletics had no comment on the uniform colors.

Now, obviously I can understand why a PR flack might not want to talk to me. My last two posts have been very critical of the football program, and hypercaution has always been the standard stance of the athletic department.

But if there’s a good reason why you’re doing something, you should stand behind that idea. You should be willing to talk about it with anyone, and maybe you’ll change their mind. (After all, Penn’s football team participated in a whole thing with the Daily Pennsylvanian about their new uniforms just yesterday.)

I remain open to understanding Columbia’s thinking on the matter. Instead, Columbia quite inadvertently proved my point.

They won’t defend the uniform colors.

Because they can’t.

Categories
Columbia Football Sports

The Columbia football team should wear Columbia blue uniforms, 2017 edition

One of the primary perks of obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the right to complain wildly about the decisions, big or small, that your alma mater makes long after you’ve graduated.

With great power, as we all know, comes great responsibility. So it is with a great sense of responsibility that I now, for the second year in a row, write a screed about the travesty that is the Columbia football team’s home uniform.

I wrote most of this down last year, and this post repeats and re-alleges each and every allegation from last year’s blog post as if fully set forth herein. If necessary, I will write a post on this issue at the start of football season every year until the Sun finally expands to swallow this Earth once and for all.

The short summary of the problem, for those of you who are bored already, is as follows:

  • Columbia University has a color named after it, Columbia Blue. It’s a pleasant shade of light blue (Pantone 290, to be precise, or the marginally darker Pantone 292 when used by the athletic department) and is the official color of the university.
  • For many years, Columbia’s derelict football team wore Columbia Blue uniforms for their home games.
  • This was the only bright spot for the football team, which has managed to be so bad for so long that even the Washington Generals are curious how Columbia has pulled it off.
  • In 2015, Columbia, finally taking decisive action after 55 years of incompetence and increasingly improbable methods of failure, hired a legendary football coach and changed their home uniforms to be “anthracite” in color.

Let’s stop here to ponder “anthracite.” Anthracite, as my friend Jonathan Jager informed me last year, is “a type of coal found primarily in northeastern Pennsylvania.” So, for starters, “anthracite” isn’t even a geographically appropriate color for the Columbia Lions, who are located in Manhattan, New York City, New York State. (You would think that New Yorkers, not known for their curiosity about any part of America outside the five boroughs, would’ve raised more of a stink about this.)

On top of that — and I really cannot stress this point enough — anthracite is a grey color, not a blue one. This would be like if Brown University, which also has a color named after it (“Brown”) wore green uniforms at home, because green is more manly and rough and whatever kind of bullshit you want to throw out there than brown is.

(In case it’s unclear, my annoyance with the new uniforms is 70% because they only changed colors because some marketing guru somewhere thought grey anthracite uniforms would make the team look tough, and 30% because there’s a perfectly good color called Columbia blue already out there.)

After slogging through 2015 with uniforms that had, essentially, no blue at all in them, the Lions took a baby step forward with their 2016 alternate uniforms, which you can see here. Wow!

columbia football 2 These were better, because (1) they reduced the wretched anthracite tops to only one appearance all season, (2) they actually had some of the color blue in it, and (3) parts of the uniform were Columbia blue! The sleeves and the numbers were restored to the official color of the university. For this bone, apparently, I should be thankful.

However. Let’s look at this helpful graphic on Wikipedia called “shades of blue.” Because it’s on Wikipedia, these are (of course) the only official shades of blue in existence.

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Look at the picture of the alternates. Now back here. What color blue are these alternates? They’re certainly not Columbia blue! I would say it’s either Egyptian blue or “International Klein Blue” (which, according to Wikipedia, is the official color of the Blue Man Group). But, again, the point is that they’re not Columbia blue.

It’s not like the Lions have been world-beaters in any of these uniforms. But it does seem like adding more Columbia blue helps! Since changing uniforms in 2015, they’re 3-7 when wearing white (on the road), 1-3 when in Egyptian blue, and 1-5 in the horrifying anthracite abominations. So — when at home, at least — more Columbia blue helps the team win. Clearly the only solution is to make the uniforms Columbia blue again and the Lions will finally win more than four games in a season.

(Screeds tend to run out of energy toward the end; mine is no exception. It’s exhausting to spend 700 words explaining why this vey obviously wrong thing is wrong. Time for the big finale.)

Peter Pilling and Al Bagnoli, please. You’ve done a lot in 2.5 years in charge of the Columbia Athletics program, from building a beautiful inflatable bubble over Baker Field to making our players no longer insanely racist on social media. You can fix this, too.

It’s so simple.

Call Nike. (They clearly make light blue football uniforms.)

Tell them you want Columbia blue uniforms for the Columbia football team.

 

 

Categories
Culture History

on Dunkirk, a masterpiece

I saw Dunkirk last night, in IMAX — the way you, too, should see it. Because it is one of the best movies I have ever seen, and it deserves to be seen at the proper scale.

Christopher Nolan’s greatest work is technically ambitious, riding a spare script and largely anonymous cast to create a movie of incomparable intensity that delivers a powerful emotional payload.

I can’t stop thinking about it. I haven’t, in fact, since I left the theater last night. So I’m going to write down some stuff about it, and see where that gets me.

I.

My favorite style of painting is impressionism. (Sometimes, I phrase this belief of mine as “the only good kind of art is impressionist” — but I’m trying to be more inclusive.)

A great Monet painting captures the beauty of reality, despite not striving to capture reality down to the finest detail. Through abstraction, we see the greater truth.

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I think that’s what Nolan is doing in Dunkirk.

One of the first things I noticed is that the lighting in scenes — particularly in those set on Dunkirk beach — is often inconsistent from shot to shot. A scene that begins under heavy cloud cover might then be bathed in hazy sunlight or feel more like dawn.

This felt, initially, like a practical choice, given the difficulties of shooting on actual beaches with minimal computer-generated effects. However, on reflection this feels more like an intentional choice by Nolan. He’s aiming to capture a feeling — the disorientation of being stuck on a beach, waiting for either deliverance or death — and inconsistencies in lighting only heighten that feeling.

Throughout the movie, Nolan chooses ambiguity over detail. I could not tell you the name of a single character, and a quick pop over to IMDB informs me that some major characters are literally unnamed — Cillian Murphy’s character is called “Shivering Soldier.” Somehow, this choice works (which I’ll talk about more in a couple of paragraphs).

There’s almost no mention of military strategy or tactics, or the relative positions of the Germans and the British. Instead, Nolan keeps it simple. The British are surrounded, and the unseen Germans are going to destroy them all if they don’t evacuate.

All we’re given to go on is the three-part structure, each with its own timeframe — the beach (one week), the sea (one day), and the air (one hour). The timeframes are never purely in sync. The one moment, late in the movie, that we see from all three angles is not shown in cross-cut, but rather from one perspective at a time.

What we get, instead, are impressions. We get disorientation. We get fear. We get tension — more tension, frankly, than most of us can handle — followed by some of the most powerful moments of catharsis I’ve felt in a motion picture.

Like a great Monet, the impressions are more powerful than reality could ever be.

II.

The most common criticism of Dunkirk, upon reading some critics and IMDB commenters, focuses on the characters. One reviewer stated: “as a film it lacks emotional firepower due to the absence of a strongly written protagonist […] it’s impossible for this film to not feel cold and empty.”

To start with, I was crying at the end, so clearly some people don’t find it cold and empty. And maybe it’s unfair to go after a reviewer who gave Batman v Superman: Punching in the Rain seven out of ten stars.

But let’s parse this “strongly written protagonist” nonsense.

If I were being completely uncharitable, I would suggest that “strongly written protagonist” in this review is standing in for the desire for a “heroic” character. A man — a strong man — a strong man with a big-ass gun who kills lots of Germans despite overwhelming odds. Maybe he has a wife at home, or a kid, or some other emotional attachment that makes hims “strongly written.” Maybe he has some really obvious flaw that leads to some sort of comeuppance late in the second act, followed by third act redemption. Wow. So strongly written.

Nolan is doing something more subtle than that here, something that adds to the deeper meaning of the story.

Dunkirk, fundamentally, is about survival in the face of overwhelming odds, the things the need to survive does to people, and whether survival can be a victory in its own right.

Each of the characters wants to survive because they’re human beings. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles’s impossibly young soldiers, Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden’s flying aces, Mark Rylance’s ordinary sea captain, and Murphy’s shellshocked soldier aren’t supposed to be special in any way, or in some way marked by their past or their relationships. They’re just people in an impossible situation trying to work their way out of it, reacting in different ways.

You see them struggle, throughout the movie, with choices. Do I try to sneak on this medical boat? Do I kill a young man who doesn’t speak English? Do I keep flying even as my fuel has started to run out? And so on. Their actions, even when not expressed through words reveal more about their characters than a small Polaroid of a young English lass in Hardy’s cockpit ever could. There’s no fact we could have learned about their past — save a perfectly dropped detail about Rylance’s character — that would have improved their character arc. That’s the mark of a strongly written protagonist.

Again, Nolan is using these stories to build to a more general truth, a broader moment of catharsis.

He paints in broad strokes, sure. But they’re strong strokes.

III.

My grandfather, Peter G. Andrews, was in the Royal Navy in 1940 — the year Dunkirk takes place.

Originally stationed upon the HMS Edinburgh, he was there when that ship was sunk by torpedoes in 1942.

Though he passed away in 2014, I still remember his story about the sinking. Forced to jump from his ship to a neighboring ship, over the frozen North Sea, his main consideration was to not end up with two broken legs. After making the jump, and finding his legs unbroken, he realized his mistake.

He had had enough time to fetch his heavy winter coat before the Edinburgh sank — and now, on a ship near the Arctic Circle he would be very cold.

I’m, of course, paraphrasing a bit. But he always told the story with the sort of nonchalance and dry British wit that characterized all of his stories. Maybe seventy years of hindsight will give that to you.

What you don’t always feel, in the stories and even in many war movies, is a sense that you are just a microscopic part of something bigger. War is basically too big for any one of us to actually comprehend. Instead, we’re left with the small moments of personal victory — of triumph and sacrifice, maybe, but also just staying alive for long enough to tell your story.

Dunkirk somehow captures that feeling, and it’s a function of Nolan’s impressionistic choices in both style and character. (It’s also, of course, down to a team of fantastic collaborators that are outside the scope of what I want to talk about here, but particularly Hans Zimmer’s score and Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography stand out as contributions that deserve little gold statues next February).

That’s why the end — which I won’t discuss in detail — hit me so hard. The end is triumphant, as the story of Dunkirk has always been in the British national mythos, but it’s also intimate and personal. The feeling of relief that the characters feel as they drink a cup of tea — the same feeling that the audience feels that the gunfire has finallystopped — is universal.

It’s how my grandfather might have felt. It’s how any one of us might have felt.

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

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Peter G. and Peter F. Andrews, approximately 1995.

 

Categories
Culture

Very brief reviews of the books I read at the beach

I recently returned from Rehoboth Beach, where I spent five days lounging with my family and reading books. Here are my brief reviews of the eight books I read.

Note: Reviews are based on the grading system at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. I trust that these reviews will be informative to you, the reader, as transcripts from my school would be.

Reviews

My Beloved World, Justice Sonia Sotomayor: HH

The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne: CR

The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu: HH

Point Made: How To Write Like The Nation’s Top Advocates, Ross Guberman: P

Stories of Your Life, Ted Chiang: H

Lincoln In The Bardo, George Saunders: H

TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz: CR

Straight Man, Richard Russo: P

Categories
Columbia Football Sports

The Columbia football team should wear Columbia blue uniforms

As any longtime reader will know, this blog is pretty much exclusively limited to topics that are so myopic that they are only interesting to me.

This particular post is probably the ultimate example of that vision, as I’m going to rant for a bit about the color of Columbia’s football uniforms.

Last year, in conjunction with the beginning of a “new era” in Columbia football, the Lions introduced a radical redesign to the traditional Columbia blue shirts that the team has worn for eons. The home uniform is a color called “anthracite,” which is a fancy word here meaning “really black-ish gray.” The road uniform is white, but the main trim color is also “anthracite” rather than Columbia blue.

This morning, I woke up to this tweet, announcing that this weekend Columbia will wear an alternate uniform for the first time.

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Setting aside the misspelling of “Wien Stadium” — which, as the location where Columbia plays its football games, is a word you’d think the appropriate people would spell correctly — these new navy alternate uniforms are not horrible. In fact, they’re perfectly good alternate uniforms. They have an appropriate amount of Columbia blue (sleeves, numbers) and aren’t “anthracite.” That’s enough for me.

But that doesn’t change the overriding point. I hate this entire uniform set so much, because none of the uniforms are Columbia blue.

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Which one is my favorite? I hate all of them.

In these seven uniform combinations, Columbia blue is the fourth most prominent color after white, “anthracite,” and navy. I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but the color Columbia blue is literally named after Columbia University. It should be one of the predominant colors that a team representing the university wears on the field.

There is no such color as “Columbia gray.” Though I do have a friend from Columbia named Gray. I suppose I could call him Columbia Gray.

There is also no such color as “Columbia navy.” There is a color called “Yale blue.” This color is basically navy blue. Columbia should not look like Yale, which is a different school, located in Connecticut.

I believe that head coach Al Bagnoli and athletic director Peter Pilling sanctioned these sacrilegious strips because they wanted to encourage a clean break with a losing past. And they’re certainly right that the Columbia football team has been very bad. In the 6.2 seasons of Columbia football I’ve had the burden to witness, the team is 10-52.

It might even have made sense to get a new uniform design. The Lions wore their last set for twenty games in 2013 and 2014, and the Lions lost all twenty of those games.

But to cut Columbia blue — the color that represents the University, the color named after the University — down to a mere accent, just because “anthracite” is more menacing or masculine or whatever stupid justification the marketing people at Nike cooked up for the athletic department, is insulting to the school, its alumni, and the entire point of the football program.

(After all, wearing Columbia blue didn’t stop the basketball team from winning the CIT.)

Frankly, I would rather the team never win another game than to continue to dress like a parody of a “serious” football team. Columbia football does not lose because they wear Columbia blue. They lose despite wearing Columbia blue.

I hope that Bagnoli and Pilling realize this and change the primary uniform in time for the 2017 season.

Columbia’s uniform history (2010-present)

It may not be worth tracing Columbia’s recent uniform history, but I’ve already done the research so I’m going to write down what I found.

Going back through the Columbia Spectator’s football archives is truly one of the saddest journeys a person can make. It’s filled with hilarious-in-retrospect sentences like “Pete Mangurian brings a wealth of experience to Columbia” and “it’s no secret that the Lions had a difficult 2013.”

As far as I can tell, the Norries Wilson Lions (2010-11) always wore monochrome at home — Columbia blue tops and Columbia blue pants — while alternating between blue and white pants on the road.

After large screaming man Pete Mangurian took over the program, the 2012 Lions stopped the monochrome look. Columbia blue tops were matched with white pants at home, and the team wore the reverse at home.

As part of Mangurian’s plan to restore the team to respectability, the Lions unveiled beautiful new uniforms before the 2013 season. For two years, the Lions wore Columbia blue tops with no crazy striping and piping paired with sleek white pants trimmed in navy accents at home, with the mirror-image white tops worn with either white or blue pants on the road. A subtle stripe added to the helmets completed the look.

This was a gorgeous, simple set of uniforms, and Columbia never won a single game wearing them. In two seasons, the team went 0-20, culminating in the resignation of athletic director M. Dianne Murphy and the dismissal of Mangurian. In three seasons, the man who said he wanted to use the “W” word — “win” — won exactly three games, finishing on a 21-game losing streak.

In 2015, Al Bagnoli broke out the current gray monstrosities, accented with navy and Columbia blue and with the word “LIONS” written on the pants for some reason. The Roar-ee Lion logo replaced the letter C on the white helmets — the only positive development of this uniform set.

Making matters worse, the team only wore gray pants, so at home the Lions looked like a team of lead pencils while on the road they looked like led pencils with a really, really sharp point. So far this year, though, the Lions did break out white pants for their road matchup against Georgetown, easily the best possible combination. And this weekend against Princeton they’ll wear navy blue for the first time, prompting this fun rant from me.

Categories
Football

Hire me, Jeffrey Lurie

Pictured: me, age 10, drafting some passing plays.

There is, truthfully, only one job I’ve ever wanted — to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

When I was six or seven, the Eagles were very bad. (The exact age is not important; they were very bad both of those years.) So I sent a letter to Ray Rhodes, the head coach, with a couple of plays written out that I thought he should try in a game. The letter was most likely written in crayon.

You may laugh at this story. However, Ray Rhodes never used the plays I sent him, and not long after that he got fired. So I think that, in fact, I had the last laugh there.

Now, despite the obvious football acumen I displayed at age six or seven, I have not yet been made the Eagles head coach. The position has only been open twice since I sent that letter. The first time, in 1999, they hired Andy Reid. As I was seven years old at the time I can’t fault the Eagles for passing over me.

The second time, in 2013, they hired Chip Kelly. I was in college and had my sights set on becoming the head coach of the Columbia Lions, so it didn’t seem like a great time to throw my hat in the ring.

But now, three years later, Kelly is gone. The position is open again. And this time the Eagles have to hire me, because I have a foolproof plan to turn the Eagles into Super Bowl champions.

Now, I am going to publicly reveal my plan. I realize that this will make it possible for my “competitors” to steal my plan and present it to the Eagles before I do. However, this is a risk I am willing to take, because I know that I alone could actually successfully execute the required steps. (Megalomania is, in my opinion, one of the most important traits for a successful football coach.)

Offseason

  1. Construct a rocket.
  2. Using said rocket, fire the following Eagles players into the Sun: Kiko Alonso, Riley Cooper, Byron Maxwell, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford.
    1. I have no idea whether disposing of these players via Sun-rocket will help or hurt the salary cap, but I don’t really care. What matters is sending a message.
    2. I will try to lure LeSean McCoy onto the rocket too, just on general principle.
  3. Get some good free agents.
  4. Use the first pick in the draft to acquire QB Jared Goff from the University of California.
  5. Use the remaining draft picks to acquire guys who are really, really good at football.
    1. Possibly use some sort of telekinesis to prevent other teams from drafting the players I want?
  6. Cut Donnie Jones, the punter. I like Jones, hence why he’s not going on the Sun-rocket. But I don’t like punting. My team will never punt.

Training Camp

  1. Hold practice the maximum number of times allowed. Gotta make sure those players know the plays.
  2. Wait, I should probably have some plays written down.
  3. Write down a bunch of really good plays.
  4. In order to avoid comparisons to Chip Kelly, I will instruct my players to play as slowly as they possibly can.
  5. I will also instruct my players to actually try on defense. As this is a completely foreign concept to the current Eagles, this will presumably take the majority of training camp.

Preseason

  1. Hire random Eagles season ticket holders to fill in for my guys in the preseason. This has three benefits: the actual players won’t get hurt, lots of Eagles fans will achieve their life-long dreams, and opposing players will be cowering in fear.
  2. If this specific cunning plan is not allowed, I will intentionally lose every game. It is important to keep expectations as low as possible, so as to quell any potential uprising among the fan base.

Season

  1. Win 10 to 13 football games.
  2. Spend all non-football time buttering up the local media. If you don’t talk to them enough, they will attempt to stir up the local populace to burn you in effigy.
    1. Have a list of prepared pithy sound-bites for press conferences.
  3. Make the playoffs.
  4. Win in the wild card round (if necessary).
  5. Win in the divisional round.
  6. Win in the conference championship.
  7. Win the Super Bowl.

After the season

  1. Go to parade.
  2. Never buy a drink for myself in Philadelphia again.

Now, you might observe correctly that I have no experience being a head football coach. Or a football coach. Or a football player. Or, for that matter, winning anything in Madden without turning the difficulty setting to “Ridiculously Easy.” But I did come in third place in my fantasy football league this year. Seems like that’s plenty of qualifications.

And I’m willing to admit that this plan might be missing a few things. For example, nowhere did I explain how I intend to dress on the sidelines. (I’m thinking sunglasses and a green pullover, but I’m open to refinement on this point.) Overall, though, I think it’s a very solid plan.

In conclusion, Mr. Lurie, there is a popular saying that I am quite fond of. “Shoot for the moon, but remember that if you miss, you will be floating off into the inky blackness of space with no hope of survival or rescue.” I think it applies to this situation.

I look forward to leading the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl victory, hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy in front of millions of screaming fans — or failing spectacularly in the attempt.

Categories
Culture

The music in Age Of Ultron is really bad

It’s rare to enjoy a movie, actively, for almost the duration of its running time, and yet walk out of the theater feeling a little cold.

But that’s how I felt about Avengers: Age of Ultron, the most recent movie in a long series of movies with a colon in its name — a series which will continue with Terminator Genysysys, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, and presumably its companion film Gone With the Wind: Civil War.

(This isn’t even counting the already-plotted pair of sequels to Age of Ultron — Avengers: Infinity War Part I and Part II.)

Though I have enjoyed most Marvel movies individually, collectively they have one flaw that particularly irritates me: they have terrible scores. The score for Age of Ultron, primarily credited to Brian Tyler, felt like little more than placeholder music. Tyler’s film credits “have grossed over $7 billion,” according to Wikipedia, but I doubt anyone went to the last four Fast and Furiouses or the Expendables “trilogy” to hear Tyler’s music. Danny Elfman also gets a credit for his work polishing Alan Silvestri’s theme from the first movie, the sole decent piece of music in Ultron.

Great scores are something that can truly elevate a movie, and its something that stands in stark relief when you compare Age of Ultron to two movies which share certain strands of its DNA: The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight.

Joss Whedon said while making this movie that he wanted Age of Ultron to capture the darker, grander feel of Empire. You know what Empire had going for it? One of John Williams’s greatest scores, including two iconic themes heard for the first time — the Imperial March and Yoda’s Theme. These two pieces completely transform the film, giving Darth Vader and the Empire a fresh bite of malice while deepening the mysticism surrounding Luke’s training with Yoda on Dagobah.

The Dark Knight is the second film of the most critically-acclaimed superhero movie trilogy of all time, and it is often (in my mind correctly) considered the greatest superhero movie ever made. It is often contrasted as a “darker” and “grittier” movie than any of Marvel’s offerings. It, too, benefits from an epic Hans Zimmer / James Newton Howard score, an innovative series of compositions which includes some truly memorable themes. It’s tough to imagine Heath Ledger’s Joker without the building, whining scream of guitar noise that announces his presence. Zimmer is unafraid of using bold, almost tuneless pieces that ramp up the tension and lend the film its distinct ambience.

After watching Age of Ultron, I can’t tell you whether or not there’s a specific theme or motif for Ultron, or the Vision, or any other character. Even if they theoretically exist within the score, they’re not particularly memorable or distinctive. This lessens the power of individual scenes (i.e. the face-to-face encounter between Ultron and Iron Man, or the moment when the Hulk chooses not to return to Black Widow), and contributes to the paint-by-numbers nature of some of the action sequences.

Combined with an extremely weak ending — seriously, the scenes at “New Avengers Facility, Upstate New York” are varying levels of both boring and annoying — and a dull mid-credits scene, and Age of Ultron didn’t leave much to chew on as I walked out of the theater. As much as I enjoyed most of the movie, I didn’t find it particularly memorable, and Marvel’s unwillingness to commit to the details that shape great films is a big part of why.

Some other thoughts:

  • I cannot believe the line “You know I support your Avenging” wasn’t played for laughs. It’s so self-evidently ridiculous, and this movie is on-the-nose about every other ridiculous thing that happens…
  • Ultron himself, played by James Spader, was the best part of this movie. The concept of “an evil robot trying to take over the world who has the voice and tics of James Spader” works perfectly, and I enjoyed almost all of his screen appearances.
  • This movie had too much track-laying. And I know that’s how Marvel movies work these days, but I never felt like (to pick an example) Captain America: The Winter Soldier was just moving pieces around the board. But the whole sequence where Andy Serkis popped up is clearly supposed to be a thing but I didn’t really get it, and whatever Thor was doing for most of this movie is clearly supposed to be a thing but I didn’t see Thor: The Dark World so I didn’t really get it, and Thanos’s cameo in the mid-credits scene is just a reminder that this movie is merely a pit stop on the way to juicier offerings. I recognize the goal is to set-up future movies, but it’s a disservice to the film and its viewers to do that at the expense of the current movie. This is especially ironic given that Whedon explicitly criticized Empire for “committ[ing] the cardinal sin of not actually ending.” Pot, kettle, etc.
  • I quite liked Man of Steel, which if you believe certain corners of the Internet is a belief that I am alone in holding. It’s cool, I don’t take it personally. Zack Snyder takes a lot of crap for that movie, but I give him credit for making something that has clear directorial choices and style. There’s an argument over at The Dissolve that the final battle of this movie was a direct response to Man of Steel. If so, is that something we really want to celebrate? It’s extremely convenient for the Avengers that the city in the final battle is located in an otherwise deserted valley, that just enough SHIELD ships arrive to save almost every single person, and that the team’s obligatory casualty is easily the least-developed character. We get plenty of shots of Captain America looking heroically stoic and refusing to not save every single civilian, but this was almost a catastrophic tactical decision on his part, because if he miscalculated every single person on Earth would have died! To get to the point, at least Man of Steel makes you feel like there are actual, serious stakes, which it looks like will be fleshed out even further in Batman V Superman. Not something you can say for any of the climactic battle in Age of Ultron.
Categories
Columbia Sports

Game 9: Columbia v. Cornell

The Game, in One Word: Preposterous.

The Game, in Four Words: Columbia 27, Cornell 30.

Was It At Least A Good Day For A Football Game?

“Football weather” is really an ambiguous term, if you think about it. I mean, technically all weather is “football weather,” in the sense that there are very few types of weather in which it is completely impossible to play football. Theoretically you could play football in a hurricane, though I think it would make the passing game a challenge. And when I say “football weather,” what I mean — between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, minimal wind, not a cloud in the sky — might be completely different from someone from Wisconsin — so cold that individual fingers start to fall off — or someone from Seattle — so rainy that our bodies begin to swell as we must absorb the moisture in the air — or someone from Florida — does anyone actually watch football in Florida? — and so on. Regardless, when I say that the fifth edition of the EMPIRE STATE BOWL took place in perfect football weather, I trust you will know what I mean.

So, Columbia Lost Again?

Yeah.

How Many In A Row Is That Now?

Twenty straight games. The last time Columbia won a football game, the number one movie in America was the instant classic Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part II. It was a simpler time.

Surely There Was Nothing Especially Bad About This Loss?

Hah! Of course there was! For starters, Cornell came into the game at 0-8, and had submitted a series of woeful performances on the gridiron so far this year, so they’re certainly the worst team the Lions are going to lose to this year. FiveThirtyEight even previewed the game as the worst college football game of the year.

But, more entertainingly, the Lions lost the game because they couldn’t do the simplest thing in football — kick an extra point. After a powerful Cameron Molina run gave the Light Blue a 27-21 lead, Columbia lined up to kick the automatic point after. Of course, the kick was blocked. And, of course, the blocked kick was returned all the way to the other end zone by an alert Cornell defender. Confusion reigned in the stands while fans tried to figure out how many points that action was worth. Turns out Cornell got two points for the PAT return, and it was those two points — coupled with the one point dropped by Columbia — that accounted for the three-point margin of victory for the Big Red.

The Norries Wilson “When Will Pete Mangurian Be Fired?” Death Watch

It would be a massive shock if Mangurian survived more than three minutes after Brown beats the Lions this weekend. Mangurian has been a complete and total failure as Columbia’s head coach, somehow managing to produce a worse and worse team every year. His teams were woefully underprepared and equipped with some of the least intelligent schemes ever concocted by a professional football coach. On top of this on-field futility, he has proved to be a malignant presence in the Morningside community, rude and disrespectful towards journalists while blaming almost every on-field failure on his players. His public Twitter presence disappeared soon after the 2013 Tweeting scandal, and his continued silence says more than the empty platitudes he favored ever could. #PunishMangurian, indeed.

(And yes — if Mangurian is fired consider me a candidate to replace him. #HirePete.)

Is Brett Nottingham Injured?

I hope not. The Stanford transfer got out at exactly the right time — and I don’t blame him for doing so. Mangurian’s penchant for yanking quarterbacks back and forth has been just one of millions of things he’s done wrong (one reason he needs to be fired is to make sure he doesn’t ruin talented freshman Anders Hill). Nottingham worked his ass off for the Lions, sacrificing a full year of his life to get ready for the season and being recognized for it by earning the captaincy. Mangurian gave him three and a half games under center.

Best CUMB Joke of the Day

“As well as the power of Spec’s executive editor going up, the comment count on Bwog going down, and attorney general Eric Holder at an all time sorry for persecuting journalists, the band now presents an all-star halftime gala salute to investigative journalism!”

The joke here is that Holder, a Columbia College and Law School alum, was actually at the game. Why he was subjecting himself to this football game is beyond me, but my understanding is that he was quite a good sport about it with the Band afterwards.

Stray Thoughts

  • You’ll notice I’m light on actual football analysis this week. To be honest, there’s not much to analyze. These two teams are both very, very bad and run very, very basic schemes very, very poorly. The only minor notes I’ll offer are: (1) Hill scored on a bootleg touchdown which was probably the only creative play the Lions have pulled off all year, and (2) the playcalling on the last desperate drive was ridiculous, as it seemed designed to get the Lions to the end zone by about 10:00 left in the sixth quarter.
  • For some reason, one of the giveaways at the game was pink foam whale hats. Surprisingly comfortable.
  • Shout-out to the Park Terrace Deli — located at the corner of 218th and Broadway, it makes some pretty excellent sandwiches at a much better price than you’ll find at Baker. I remain partial to the “Godfather,” which is hot roast beef, provolone, and horseradish — I tell them to hold the onions.
  • This is probably the last thing I’ll write about this team for a while, with the exception of my upcoming application for head coach. Not much more to say except good riddance.
  • It’s time for basketball season. Roar Lion Roar.
Categories
Columbia Football Sports

Game 3: Columbia vs. Princeton

The Game, in One Word: Fumbled.

The Game, in Four Words: Columbia 6, Princeton 38.

Was It At Least A Nice Day For A Football Game?

Emphatically, no. The heavy rain started well before kickoff and continued through much of the first half, though things mostly cleared up after halftime. Columbia’s FieldTurf surface prevented the game from turning into a mudbowl, but there was a lot of ugly football for the small, covered-up crowd.

Four Things I Think I Think

1. The first half was the best the Lions looked all year. They played tough defense, forcing two turnovers, and moved the ball well through the ground and the air. Cameron Molina played well, with over 100 yards receiving and another 45 on the ground. The Lions even had their first lead of the year! But the offense couldn’t find paydirt — one drive stalled at the Princeton 29, leading to a missed field goal, and the Lions couldn’t breach the end zone after either Tiger turnover.

2. Princeton’s last drive of the first half broke the Lions, as they moved 98 yards in just two minutes to take the 10-6 lead. Agonizingly, the drive continued despite a fumble by Princeton jack-of-all-trades Quinn Epperly which bounced in and out of the arms of several Lion defenders. Epperly also scored the touchdown, punching it in from the 2 as the clock expired — not without controversy, however, as it was extremely unclear whether the Tiger talisman ever actually made it into the endzone. Traditionally, that is a prerequisite to scoring a touchdown, a point made quite loudly by Pete Mangurian as the officials walked past. The Tigers would pile on four more touchdowns in the second half.

3. The lack of a stud wide receiver is really killing Columbia right now. Brett Nottingham must wonder whether his guys ritually coat their gloves in butter before each game, because many of his best throws were simply dropped. The receivers aren’t getting any separation from the cornerbacks, which leads to turnovers — Nottingham’s two picks weren’t great decisions on his part, but they were both the result of plays where receivers failed to come open for him. Whatever injuries are bothering Connor Nelligan and Isaiah Gross, hopefully they heal very soon.

4. I continue to be baffled by the cornerback play of this team, as they too often let their receivers go free without turning back to the ball. On Princeton’s last TD pass of the third quarter, sophomore defensive back Jared Katz completely lost his man in the end zone. From my vantage point, it looked like Katz tried to shove the receiver out of bounds, and believed he had been successful — of course, the receiver simply reset and hauled in the easy catch. (Another interpretation would be that the receiver pushed off, but from my angle that didn’t seem to be the case.) The Lions were marginally better in pass defense today, coming up with a few good break-ups, but this is still the weakest part of the team.

The Norries Wilson Memorial “When Will Pete Mangurian Be Fired?” Watch

Fourteen straight losses must weigh on a man, and we saw the first real flashes of anger from Mangurian today. After the above-mentioned touchdown, Mangurian let the officials have it, relentlessly, until he was assessed a personal foul penalty. Now, I don’t think this is a bad foul to take — it cost the Lions nothing, as the kickoff was likely to be a touchback anyway, and seemed to reject some of the passivity the head coach has shown all year.

But, once again, this passion didn’t come out in the game plan. The Lions were huge underdogs, but Mangurian again and again refused to go for it on fourth down, try any trick plays (or moderately creative ones), etc. The incredible writer Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball on Twitter) and others have talked about “David strategies” vs. “Goliath strategies” — basically, the idea that a heavy underdog can and should attempt strategies that have more risks but the possibility of a big payoff, because otherwise it will be nearly impossible to get a win. Mangurian appears to believe the opposite. (And, on defense, I can’t remember the last time this team did anything interesting schematically.)

I still think it’s unlikely that Mangurian is fired before season’s end. But, if Dianne Murphy were to pull the plug, it would almost certainly happen after the Penn game (week 5) or the Dartmouth game (Homecoming, in week 6). The pressure of Homecoming, where the Lions haven’t won since 2000, might push Murphy to make a move immediately before or immediately afterwards, if it seems necessary to placate an embarrassed fan base. The Lions must be competitive in the next two games to take that option off of the AD’s table.

Best CUMB Joke Of The Day

“Princeton’s most selective eating clubs: The Cap and Gown, The Tiger Inn, The Pastel Sweater.”

Is Brett Nottingham Injured?

No.

Phew. So, are we feeling optimistic after the game?

Not really. It’s hard to sit through a good first half, played in the rain, and watch it all come crumbling down so quickly. Columbia still seems very far away from being a competitive team. These next two weeks — both on the road — will take us to the halfway mark of the season. If they still haven’t scored more than ten points in a game by then, perhaps it would be better to burn Baker Field to the ground than suffer through another Homecoming disaster.

Stray Thoughts

  • I didn’t see my good friend Roar-ee today! Maybe he doesn’t like the rain very much.
  • Nothing particularly interesting in the uniform matchup. The Columbia coaches wore black instead of their usual light blue, which would make a great alternate uniform for the Lions. (Such a thing wouldn’t be unheard of in the Ivy League — Penn has both red and gray alternates, while Dartmouth actually has an alternate helmet.)
  • Props to new placekicker Noah Zgrablich for his lime green kicking shoes, which if I have to guess are borrowed from the other kind of football.
  • I enjoyed the Princeton Band’s second-half renditions of music from The Lord of the Rings. I enjoyed nothing else about the Princeton Band.
  • If you — yes, you! — are actually reading these posts: firstly, thank you. Secondly, feel free to offer some feedback on what you like (or don’t like) about these recaps and I will do more (or less) of those things! Leave a comment here or “tweet at me” @pfandrews.