Saturday, February 7, 2015

Phil Robinson RIP

One of Phil Robinson's creations, Erin Esurance.
Phil Robinson, the animator perhaps best known for co-founding the animation studio WildBrain, died on January 28 2015 after a three year struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Phil Robinson was born in Wales and attended Southampton College of Art in Hampshire. He began his animation career working on the feature The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (1976). In the late Seventies he also worked on such projects as the TV productions Heinz Rühmann erzählt Max und Moritz von Wilhelm Busch and Wilhelm Busch - Die Trickfilm-Parade: Max und Moritz und andere Streiche as well as the Hanna-Barbera TV series Scooby's Laff-A Lympics.

In the Eighties Mr. Robinson worked as an animator on the features Heavy Metal (1981) and The Plague Dogs (1982). He worked in various capacities on the TV shows SuperTed, Sealbert, The Bluffers, Snorks, The Flintstone Kids, Yogi's Treasure Hunt, Fantastic Max, The New Yogi Bear Show, and The Dream Stone. He worked as a storyboard artist on the TV shows Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats, Moon Dreamers, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. He worked as a visual effects animator on the feature film Howard the Duck. It was in the late Eighties that he was put in charge of  Hanna-Barbera's overseas operation, Fil-Cartoons, in Manila, Philippines.

He returned to San Francisco, California in the early Nineties where he worked as a director at Colossal Pictures. There he directed commercials for such clients as Apple and Cinnamon Cheerios, Carl’s Jr., and Cap’n Crunch. He also directed an episode of the animated TV series Back to the Future and worked as an animator on the feature film Casper (1995). It was in 1994 that he co-founded WildBrain with  John Hays and Jeff Fino. At WildBrain he directed the direct-to-video feature FernGully 2: The Magical Rescue (1998), as well as the cel animation for the feature The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000).

In 2001 Phil Robinson directed the award winning short "Hubert's Brain", on which he also worked as a storyboard artist. WildBrain came into its own in the Naughts, producing commercials for Lamisil and Kraft Lunchables. Perhaps their most lasting creation would be Erin Esurance, the sexy superspy in commercials for Esurance from 2004 to 2010. In 2009 Phil Robinson and the other original founders left WildBrain. Mr. Robinson formed  Special Agent Productions with producer Amy Capen. Special Agent would continue with the Erin Esurance commercials, as well as the Lamisil commercial featuring Digger the Dermatophyte.

Phil Robinson had a career in animation spanning nearly forty years. During his career he worked at several different studios, and co-founded two studios (WildBrain and Special Agent) of his own. He was very talented, not only creating a good deal of memorable animation in TV shows and feature films, but also creating some of the most memorable commercials of the Nineties and the Naughts. Despite moving onto other advertising campaigns, to this day Esurance is identified with Erin Esurance, the superspy Phil Robinson helped create. From those who worked with Mr. Robinson it is reported that he was a warm, kind, and patient human being with a great sense of humour. While Phil Robinson may not be a household name, he will always be remembered by fans of animation.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Late Great Lizabeth Scott

A publicity still from The Strange Love of
Martha Ivers
Lizabeth Scott, best known for her many appearances in films noirs, died on January 31 2015 at the age of 92.

Lizabeth Scott was born  Emma Matzo in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She was only in first grade when her parents sent her to a local elocution school. She also received six years of piano lessons and two years of voice training. She attended Marywood Seminary in Scranton before transferring to Central High School in the same city. She performed in many of the plays produced at Central High while a student there. After high school she attended Marywood College, but dropped out after six months. She then moved to New York City where she attended  Alvienne School of Drama. She then toured with a road company production of  Hellzapoppin, during which time she was billed as "Elizabeth Scott". After touring 63 cities in the United States, Miss Scott returned to New York City in 1942.

Back in New York City Miss Scott became the understudy for Tallulah Bankhead in Skin of Our Teeth on Broadway. The two did not get along and Lizabeth Scott never got to take the stage as Miss Bankhead refused to miss even one performance. Later Miss Scott would return to modelling, and appeared in a photo spread for Harper's Bazaar which came to the attention of movie agent Charles Feldman of Famous Artists Corporation. Mr. Feldman, who had just signed Lauren Bacall, asked Miss Scott to go to Los Angeles for a screen test. She took screen tests at Universal,  International Pictures (William Goetz's short lived studio that would eventually merge with Universal), and Warner Bros., all of who rejected her. Fortunately Hal Wallis saw her screen test, and he saw to it that she was signed to Paramount Pictures.

Lizabeth Scott made her film debut in You Came Along in 1945. It was the following year that she appeared in her first film noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. It would be followed by another film noir and the first movie in which Lizabeth Scott was the female lead, Dead Reckoning  (1947) with Humphrey Bogart. Over the next few years Lizabeth Scott would appear in several more films noirs, including Desert Fury (1947), I Walk Alone (1948), Pitfall (1948), Too Late for Tears (1949), and Dark City (1950). She also appeared in the movies Variety Girl (1947), Easy Living (1949), and Paid in Full (1950). She made her television debut on an episode of Family Theatre in 1949.

The early Fifties saw Lizabeth Scott appear in more films noirs, including Two of a Kind (1951), The Racket (1951), and Stolen Face (1953). She also appeared in other sorts of films, including  the dramas The Company She Keeps (1951) and Bad for Each Other (1953),  the Westerns Red Mountain (1951) and  Silver Lode (1954), and the thriller The Weapon (1957). Miss Scott also starred in the Martin and Lewis comedy Scared Stiff (1953) as well as the Elvis Presley movie Loving You (1957). By the mid Fifties Lizabeth Scott's film career slowed down and she increasingly appeared on television. In the Fifties she guest starred on such shows as Lux Video Theatre, The Eddie Cantor Comedy Theatre, Studio 57, The 20th Century Fox Hour, ITV Television Playhouse, The Big Record, and Adventures in Paradise.

After the Fifties Lizabeth Scott more or less retired. She guest starred on an episode of Burke's Law in 1963 and an episode of The Third Man in 1966. She made her final film appearance in Pulp in 1972. She also appeared on a few game shows and talk shows in the Fifties and Sixties.

In the Fifties Miss Scott pursued a singing career for a time. She recorded an album entitled Lizabeth for RCA Victor. She performed as a singer on CBS's music show The Big Record in 1958.

Lizabeth Scott spent much of her career in the shadow of Lauren Bacall, to whom she was sometimes compared unfavourably. This was very unfair, as Miss Scott was a very talented actress with smouldering sex appeal all her own. Indeed, while Lauren Bacall had to learn to speak in a lower tone (her natural voice was higher pitched), Miss Scott's smoky voice was entirely natural. With regards to talent, Lizabeth Scott had a very good range. Indeed, she started out her career in film noir playing ingénues before going on to play femmes fatales without missing a beat. She was convincing in both sorts of roles. And while Lizabeth Scott was best known for film noir, she was quite capable of acting in other genres. She was actually quite adept at comedy, giving good performances in both Variety Girl and Scared Stiff. On television she delivered an over the top performance as the widow of a big game hunter who is not exactly mourning his death in the Burke's Law episode "Who Killed Cable Roberts?".

Of course, given how many films noirs Miss Scott made, there can be no doubt that it will be the genre with which she will remain most identified. And there is little wonder why she was cast so often in films of that genre. Lizabeth Scott was nearly perfect for film noir. She was smouldering in a way few actresses even then could be, and she had the talent to play nearly any role. For much of her career she may have been compared unfavourably to Lauren Bacall, but ultimately Lizabeth Scott was a talent very much her own.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Godspeed Geraldine McEwan

Film, stage, and screen star Geraldine McEwan, who played both Jean Brodie and Miss Marple in television shows, died on June 30 2015 at the age of 82. She had been in hospital following a stroke.

Geraldine McEwan was born Geraldine McKeown on May 9 1932 in Old Windsor, Berkshire As a child she won a scholarship to Windsor County Girls' School. She was only fourteen years old when she made her stage debut in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Theatre Royal in Windsor. From 1949 to 1951 she was a part of the Windsor Repertory Company.

Geraldine McEwan made her debut on London's West End in 1951 in Who Goes There! at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made her film debut in There Was a Young Lady in 1953. Her television debut came the following year in a regular role on the series Crime on Our Hands. Later in the decade she guest starred on ITV Play of the Week. On stage she appeared in The Entertainer at the Palace Theatre in London, as well as in Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing in Stratford.

In the Sixties Geraldine McEwan appeared in the films No Kidding (1961) and The Dance of Death (1969). On television she appeared on the television shows Our of This World, Profiles in Courage, The Wednesday Play, and Jackanory. On stage she appeared in The School for Scandal at the Haymarket Theatre in London. It was in The School for Scandal that she made her Broadway debut in 1963. In 1964 she appeared on Broadway in the production The Private Ear and The Public Eye. She also performed in Loot at the Wimbledon Theatre, and she was part of the National Theatre Company for five years. As part of the the National Theatre Company she appeared in such productions as Dance of DeathLove for Love, and  A Flea in Her Ear.

In the Seventies Geraldine McEwan played the title role in the TV series The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She appeared on the TV shows Thirty Minute Theatre, BBC Play of the Month, Away From It All, ITV Saturday Night Theatre, and Late Night Theatre. She appeared in the films The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976) and Escape from the Dark (1976).

In the Eighties Miss McEwan played one of the title roles in the TV series Mapp & Lucia. She also appeared in recurring roles in the mini-series The Barchester Chronicles and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. She appeared on the shows All for Love and Tears Before Bedtime. Miss McEwan appeared in the films Foreign Body (1986) and Henry V (1989). On stage she appeared in The Rivals at the National Theatre in London.

In the Nineties Geraldine McEwan had a regular role in the TV series Mulberry. She guest starred on the TV show Red Dwarf. She appeared in the films Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), The Love Letter (1999), Titus (1999), Love's Labour's Lost (2000), and Contaminated Man (2000). She appeared on Broadway in The Chairs and The Way of the World at the National Theatre in London.

In the Naughts she appeared in the films Food of Love (2002), The Magdalene Sisters (2002), Pure (2002), Vanity Fair (2004), and The Lazarus Child (2005). She was the voice of Miss Thripp in the Wallace & Grommit feature film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and the Wallace & Grommit short "A Matter of Life and Death". She also provided the voice of Haru in Arrietty (2010). From 2004 to 2007 she played the role of Miss Marple in the TV series Agatha Christie's Marple.

Geraldine McEwan was a marvellous actress. As Miss Marple she shined in a role that had already been played by many great actresses. While Miss McEwan may ultimately be best remembered for her stint as Miss Marple, she gave many other fine performances throughout her career. The soft spoken but sadistic Sister Bridget in The Magdalene Sisters (2002) was about as far as one could get from Agatha Christie's famous amateur detective as one could get. Although known for performing in many dramas, she had a gift for comedy, as shown by her role as Lucia in the TV series Mapp & Lucia. Geraldine McEwan was a most remarkable actress with a considerable range.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Little Animal" by The Raveonettes

Depending on your tastes in music, you might not have heard of The Raveonettes. The Raveonettes are Danish music duo, made up of f Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo. Their style can roughly be defined as Everly Brothers-style harmonies combined with Phil Spector-style production combined with power chords. The Wikipedia entry on The Raveonettes claims their music belongs to such indie rock, noise pop, surf rock, garage rock, and even post-punk revival. For whatever reason the Wikipedia does not include the genre to which I think their music obviously belongs: power pop. Everly Brothers-style harmonies, Phil Spector-style production, power chords, they all add up to power pop.

Anyhow, if you have never heard a Raveonettes song, here is one for you. It is "Little Animal" from their first full length album, " Chain Gang of Love".  I do have to warn you that there is *one strong word* in the song, so if you are offended by harsh language you might not want to listen to it (think A Christmas Story).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Disturbing Commercials

This past Sunday saw what was to many the darkest and most depressing commercial to ever air during the Super Bowl. The 45 second spot for Nationwide insurance entitled "Make Safe Happen" began with a mop headed boy telling how he would never learn to ride a bike, how he would never get cooties, how he'll never learn to fly, how he'll never travel the world with his best friend, and how he'll never get married. The boy's narration is accompanied by the most whimsical imagery, from animated cooties to the boy in a boat at sea with his dog. Unfortunately, it turns out the boy will never do these things because, in his words, "I won’t grow up because I died from an accident." The whimsical imagery then gave way to the stuff of parent's nightmares: an overflowing bathtub, an open cabinet filled with poisonous chemicals, and a gigantic flat screen TV that had crashed to the floor. The reaction of viewers on various social media sites was swift, immediate, and almost universally negative. Many were shocked by the commercial's morbid tone, aired during an event when funny and inspirational commercials generally rule the day. Others were outraged, thinking that Nationwide was preying upon people's emotions simply to sell insurance. Nearly all viewers hated the advert.

In response to the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the commercial, Nationwide issued a statement saying "The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance. We want to build awareness of an issue that is near and dear to all of us — the safety and well-being of our children." Whether Nationwide succeeded in starting a conversation about child safety is perhaps debatable. They did succeed in getting people talking about their commercial.

While Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" may be the first truly morbid commercial to air during the Super Bowl, it is hardly the first disturbing commercial to air on American television. Non-profit organisations from the ASPCA to Save the Children have been known to use disturbing imagery to get their point across. Even federal agencies have created some disturbing adverts over the years, the most recent example being a series of ads by the Centres for Disease Control to discourage people from smoking. That having been said, it is a rare thing for a product manufacturer or a service to create a commercial that is intentionally disturbing, which is perhaps why Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" made such a negative impression with viewers.

Even political commercials, not generally known for their subtlety,  tend to avoid anything that is overly shocking, disturbing, or morbid. Of course, this isn't always the case. In fact, what may be the most controversial, most disturbing advertisement of all time in the United States was a political commercial. Its official title was "Peace, Little Girl", but it is better known as the "Daisy" commercial. "Daisy" was a political commercial for the campaign to elect Lyndon B. Johnson President of the United States. It aired only once, on Labour Day, September 7 1964 during a broadcast of the film David and Bathsheba (1951) on NBC Monday Night at the Movies. Although his name is never mentioned, the advert implied President Johnson's opponent, Barry Goldwater, would start a nuclear war. The commercial capitalised on fears of nuclear annihilation that were still all too real less than two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The controversy resulting from "Daisy" was immediate. The commercial appeared on newscasts for all three networks at the time (NBC, CBS, and ABC). A still from the commercial appeared on the cover of the September 25 1964 issue of Time, the magazine's "Nuclear Issue". As might be expected, the Republican Party was incensed by the advert.  Republican National Committee Chairman Dean Burch  not only denounced the commercial, but filed a formal complaint with both the National Advertising Council and the Fair Campaign Practices Committee. Republican Minority Leader Senator Everett Dirksen wrote a letter to the National Association of Broadcasters maintaining the commercial violated the NAB's  Code of Ethics. The National Advertising Council, the Fair Campaign Practices Committee, and the NAB all declined to get involved in the controversy. Other Republicans also spoke out against the commercial or took action against it.

Despite the controversy, it seems possible that "Daisy" was only meant to air once. According to Bill Moyers, then a special assistant to President Johnson, the commercial was only ordered to run once. According to Lloyd Wright, then Democratic National Committee Campaign Media Coordinator, the commercial was ordered to be run more times, but after the reaction to the commercial it was decided the one time was enough. Regardless, the commercial has run many times since on documentaries and newscasts and is even available on YouTube.

"Daisy" was not the only disturbing commercial created by the campaign to elect Lyndon B. Johnson as President. Only five days later another advert for the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign aired that was nearly as disturbing as "Daisy". "Little Girl, Ice Cream Cone" aired on September 12 1964 during a broadcast of The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. In the commercial a little girl eats an ice cream cone while a motherly voice discusses the danger of radioactive poisons in the food supply from nuclear testing. She goes on to mention how Barry Goldwater had opposed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The message of "Little Girl, Ice Cream Cone" was clear. Barry Goldwater was unconcerned about the possibility of radiation poisoning from nuclear testing.

Although not as well known now as the notorious "Daisy" commercial, "Little Girl, Ice Cream Cone" also generated a good deal of controversy. The two commercials were often mentioned together. Like "Daisy", "Little Girl, Ice Cream Cone" only aired once as a paid advertisement in prime time.

"Peace, Little Girl" (AKA "Daisy") and "Little Girl, Ice Cream" marked the advent of modern day political advertising. While there had been  attack ads long before 1964, the two commercials were the first political commercials to utilise Madison Avenue advertising techniques that appealed more to emotion than intellect. They would also remain two of the most disturbing commercials of all time.

Of course, both "Daisy" and "Little Girl, Ice Cream" are rare as commercials in referencing nuclear annihilation. That is not to say that there aren't commercials that have not relied upon other disturbing material to get their point across. Car crashes can be among the most catastrophic events in life. Most of us have known at least one person who was killed in a car crash, and the list of famous people who have met their ends in cars have been long ones. For the most part only public service announcements and some rather dodgy law firms have relied on automobile accident imagery in their adverts. It is for this reason that it was rather shocking in 2006 when Volkswagen released a set of commercials that rather graphically portrayed car crashes.

These Volkswagen commercials had roughly the same format. The commercials would begin with people in a Volkswagen Jetta going about their business when suddenly they are hit by another vehicle. The commercials would end with the passengers standing on the street safe and sound and staring at the remains of their Jetta. Text on the advertisement would then read "Safe Happens". The car crashes in Volkswagen's "Safe Happens" commercials seemed so real because they were. Stunt drivers were at the wheels of the vehicles as they actually crashed into each other. It was this very realness that made Volkwagen's "Safe Happens" commercials so shocking for many. Previously when auto manufacturers wanted to demonstrate the safety of their vehicles they simply filmed crash tests with dummies in the car.

As might be expected, the commercials did upset many viewers. At the time Volkswagen's "Safe Happens" adverts were circulated widely on YouTube, where many viewers complained about them. Many viewers did not simply find the commercials upsetting, but downright traumatising. Some even went so far as to write Volkswagen with their complaints.  Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, the Miami advertising agency responsible for the commercials, won a Creativity Award for the adverts despite the complaints.

As disturbing as Volkswagen's "Safe Happens" commercials were, they were perhaps nowhere nearly as disturbing as a series of public service announcements from last year. In April 2014 a commercial created by the United States Department of Transportation began airing as part of their “U Drive, U Text, U Pay" campaign. The commercial featured three young people talking in a car. Unfortunately, the driver decides to text while she is driving, at which point their car is hit by a rather large truck. Unlike the Volkswagen Jetta commercials from 2006 there was no happy ending. In fact, it seems unlikely that anyone survived the crash. While there can be no doubt that many viewers found the "U Drive, U Text, U Pay" commercials disturbing, there seems to have been little controversy as a result of the ads. This is perhaps, as mentioned earlier, historically public service announcements in the United States, even those created by government agencies, have used shock tactics to get their message across.

While the Department of Transportation's "U Drive, U Text, U Pay" campaign caused little controversy, this was not the case for a commercial for Life Alert that started airing in the summer of 2014. Life Alert is a personal emergency response service. Its customers wear a pendant-like device with a button that when pushed connects them to the company's call centre, who can then notify the local authorities of the customer's emergency. As expected their clientele mostly tend to be older people. For most of its history Life Alert commercials centred on testimonials from their customers. Any scenarios portrayed in their commercials were always so unrealistic as to verge on camp. In fact, their advertising catchphrase, "I've fallen and I can't get up!", was inherited from a rival company called LifeCall. LifeCall's original commercial featuring the phrase was so unrealistic and so campy that it was often mocked and parodied when it first debuted in 1989. The line even became an oft quoted catchphrase in the Eighties. 

Life Alert's commercial "Basement" was then a sharp break with their earlier commercials. As ominous music plays, the camera moves through a person's house. We hear an elderly woman whimpering in pain. She cries for help, the line "I've fallen and I can't get up" now taking a more frightening tone. At last the camera arrives at the basement stairs, where at their base lies an elderly woman on the floor, her laundry spilled out before her. She has clearly fallen down the stairs. The commercial then shifts to what one would usually expect from a Life Alert commercial, an explanation of what Life Alert does, complete with a testimonial. As to the old woman at the bottom of her basement stairs, the viewer is left to assume she received no help and died.

Reaction to the commercial was almost entirely negative. The general consensus was that the commercial was much too disturbing and frightening, to the point that it was exploitative. Indeed, many thought Life Alert was using fear to sell its service. Not surprisingly, several people posted their complaints on Life Alert's Facebook page, while others tweeted their complaints about the commercial on Twitter. There was even a petition to remove the commercial created on and a community page created on Facebook simply called "Boycott Life Alert". Neither the petition nor the Facebook page appeared to get much reaction from people, but they do show the intense response many people had to the commercial.

In response to the complaints Life Alert issued a statement that basically said that the commercial was worth it if it convinces people to get a medical alert system for family members who may need it, even if it is not Life Alert. Despite Life Alert's initial response, "Basement" would be pulled two months after it first aired and replaced with a commercial in which an individual uses the Life Alert pendant and is saved.

Despite their occasional use over the years, it is unclear whether disturbing and shocking commercials are truly effective. It is often assumed that the "Daisy" commercial played a pivotal role in Lyndon B. Johnson's defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, but that might not have been the case. After the "Daisy" commercial had aired there was no real change in Barry Goldwater's poll numbers. That having been said, a Harris poll conducted the week that the advert aired indicated that 53% of women and 45% of men thought that if elected Mr. Goldwater would get the United States into a war. In the wake of the "Safe Happens" campaign sales for the Volkswagen Jetta actually rose.

While the "Daisy" commercial appears to have had some impact and the Volkswagen "Safe Happens" commercials appear to have been effective, it seems possible that they could have been isolated cases. After all, there have been several instances in which an unpopular commercial has resulted in a drop in sales for a company. While Burger King's "Herb" campaign of 1985 was in no way disturbing (at least not in the way the above commercials are), the campaign was actively hated by many people. During the run of the campaign Burger King's sales actually plummeted. Overly disturbing commercials are generally hated by large numbers of people. If the unpopularity of a commercial can have impact on sales, then, it would seem that an overly disturbing commercials could result in a drop in sales. One has to wonder what impact on sales Life Alert's "Basement" commercial actually had.

It is perhaps for this reason that, beyond public service announcements and the occasional political commercial, truly disturbing commercials tend to be rare. Quite simply, companies do not wish to offend potential customers with a commercial that shocks or upsets them lest sales fall. It will be interesting to see what will happen in to  Nationwide in the wake of their  notorious "Make Safe Happen" commercial.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Super Bowl Commercials 2015

A shot from Nationwide's controversial Super Bowl ad
I have always suspected that most Americans do not actually watch the Super Bowl. Instead they watch the commercials that air during the Super Bowl. At least since the Eighties the Super Bowl has been the event during which companies have trotted out their best in advertising. Over time commercials have become a large part of the Super Bowl, so much so that I think in most years they actually overshadow the game.

Unfortunately, if there was a Golden Age of Super Bowl Commercials, I think it may well be over if this year's crop of adverts is any indication. Many of the commercials that aired during this year's Super Bowl were no different from commercials that would air at other times of year. Several could have easily made their debuts on reruns of Jane the Virgin in July. To wit, Victoria's Secret aired their first commercial during the Super Bowl since 2008. It looked no different than Victoria's Secret commercials from any other time of year. The commercial for Carl's Jr./Hardee's also differed very little from any of their other over the top commercials. Lexus's "Make Some Noise" commercial was little more than a generic car commercial that could have aired in September.

Like many of the other commercials that aired during the Super Bowl, a lot of the movie trailers seemed as if they could have aired at any time of year as well. For that matter, many of the movies advertised seemed hardly worthy of a spot during the Super Bowl.  Pitch Perfect 2? Fast & Furious 7? Ted 2? There was a time when only the summer blockbusters and a few other "big" movies would get a spot  during the game. Both The Dark Knight and Marvel's The Avengers were advertised during the Super Bowl. With the possible exceptions of Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, Minions, and 50 Shades of Grey, none of the films advertised seemed Super Bowl worthy. Indeed, I am not even sure 50 Shades of Grey  is Super Bowl worthy, as I suspect it could turn out to be a non-event.

Of course, Super Bowl commercials have always been known for their humour. Unfortunately, most of the commercials that were supposed to be funny simply weren't. The past several years Doritos has held their Crash the Super Bowl contest in which people can enter their own self-made commercials in hopes of a spot during the Super Bowl. Sadly, Doritos must not have had very many good entries this year. While "Pigs Can Fly" was very funny, "Middle Seat" was a complete misfire. Doritos was not the only company with a commercial that simply wasn't that funny. T-Mobile's commercial "with Kim Kardashian was another dud as well.  Bud Light's "Real-Life Pac-Man" fell flat, in part because it was poorly shot and just too long.

While there were still plenty of commercials that tried for humour this year, the big trend in Super Bowl commercials was towards seriousness. This was particularly true of one of the most important commercials during the whole Super Bowl. The commercial for domestic violence advocacy group No More featured the phone call of a battered woman pretending to order a pizza while actually calling 911. The commercial was very tastefully done, showing only a few signs of violence about the house (overturned furniture, a busted wall, and so on) while showing nothing graphic. The NFL, who has faced its share of controversy due to domestic violence the past year, donated time for the sixty second spot.

In keeping with the seriousness of many commercials were ads that were (or at least tried to be) inspirational. Dodge had a very good spot simply called "Wisdom" in which centenarians passed on their words of wisdom. Carnival Cruise Lines, Jeep, Microsoft, and Toyota were among those who made commercials meant to be inspirational with varying degrees of success. Among the best of the inspirational commercials was one by Always feminine product manufacturer. Their commercial "Like a Girl" sought to redefine what it means to do something "like a girl". In keeping with the theme of feminine empowerment was Toyota's "How Great I Am" which featured Paralympic athlete Amy Purdy. Fatherhood was a recurring theme in many of the inspirational commercials. Commercials for Dove for Men, Nissan, and Toyota were all devoted to dads and their children.

Of course, every year there is at least one commercial that generates a great deal of controversy and 2015 was no different.This year it was a commercial from Nationawide Mutual Insurance titled "Make Safe Happen". The commercial begins innocently enough, with a mop headed boy telling of all the things he will never do (from learning to ride a bike to getting married).  Unfortunately we learn that he couldn't do these things "because he couldn't grow up" because he had died in an accident. The screen is then filled by images from every parent's worst nightmares: an overflowing bathtub, a kitchen cabinet wide open with household chemicals spilled all over the floor, and a wide screen TV that had fallen and apparently crushed a child.

Reactions from viewers to "Make Safe Happen" varied from shock to outrage. The general consensus was that the commercial was too depressing and too morbid to run during the Super Bowl. Nationwide issued a statement, which they had already apparently prepared, that began, "Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don't know that." Nationwide further stated, "The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance."

Here I have to say I have some problems both with Nationwide's commercial and their statement regarding it. First, "Make Safe Happen" was a bit of a bait and switch. In the beginning it seems as if it is going to be a typical, "funny" Super Bowl commercial, right down to computer animated "cooties". By the end, however, it has switched into horror movie mode. This shift from whimsy to horror makes the commercial even more dark and depressing than it might have otherwise been. Second,  the commercial was terribly out of place during the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is an event during which people expect to have fun. If commercials aired during the Super Bowl are not humorous, then they expect them to be upbeat and inspirational. The last thing they expect is an ad that centres on a child who died. Third, even if Nationwide's statement is correct that most people don't know that preventable injuries in the home are the leading cause of the deaths of children in the United States, I suspect most people are aware that they are one of the leading causes of death. After all, the term "child proofing" exists for a reason. While I think reminders about child safety could serve a purpose for those who are not aware of the dangers the home can present a child, I think that purpose would be better served by a commercial with much more subtlety than Nationwide's commercial had. A commercial should inform people, not frighten them. Fourth, I do have to point out that children do watch the Super Bowl. I have to wonder that many of them did not have nightmares because of this ad. Ultimately, I think Nationwide failed miserably at starting a conversation about child safety, but they succeeded quite well at starting a conversation about their commercial.

Although not nearly as offensive as "Make Safe Happen" from Nationwide, the Jublia commercial was out of place on the Super Bowl. For those of you who don't know, Jublia is a topical solution for the treatment of toenail fungus. The animated commercial featured an anthropomorphic foot, complete with toenails infected by fungus, playing American football. Given food is often served at Super Bowl parties, it was perhaps not the best time for a commercial about a subject that can cause people to lose their appetites.

Of course, there were some very good commercials this year in addition to the misfires. Without further ado, then, here are my favourite ads.

Budweiser "Lost Dog":

This could easily be the most popular commercial this Super Bowl. It is a sequel of sorts to "Puppy Love", again featuring a puppy and the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Snickers "Brady Bunch":

One would think since its debut with the 2010 Super Bowl that Snickers would run out of ideas for its "You're Not You When You're Hungry" campaign, but the brand may have come up with their best commercial since the initial one with Betty White. Imagine the sitcom The Brady Bunch with appearances by Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi.

Turbotax "Boston Tea Party:

Turbotax offers a humorous take on the Boston Tea Party....

Esurance "Say My Name":

This commercial from Esurance offers the interesting situation of having one's usual pharmacist replaced by Walter White from Breaking Bad.... This is the extended cut that didn't air during the game.

Clash of Clans "Revenge":

You do not want to make Liam Neeson angry when he's playing Clash of Clans

Nationwide "Invisible Mnidy Kaling":

Nationwide's other commercial may have provoked viewer outrage, but "Invisible Mindy Kaling" is actually quite funny and clever.

Mophie "All Powerless": 

This was mobile phone accessory manufacturer Mophie's first ever Super Bowl commercial, and I have to say that they made a great debut. It has fantastic special effects, a great narrative, and one of the best punchlines of any commercial during the Super Bowl.