The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

Category: Games

Super Bowl ad winner: Darth Vader and Volkswagen

 Super Bowl ads will be the highlight of choice for millions of viewers Sunday. You’ll see a lot of high production and fevered story-making crammed into 30 or 60 seconds. Some of it’s pretty good, but the one that will really grab you is one of the simplest--a little boy in a Darth Vader costume trying desperately to make the force his own.

Bucking the tradition of trying to wow 'em only on game day, Volkswagen posted the Vader ad on YouTube at mid-week. By Saturday night it had already rung up more than 11 million views, and it seemed to be gaining momentum as kickoff approached.

Several other car makers will also show spots Sunday, but the ad for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat will get inside people’s heads and stay there because it combines the iconic “Star Wars” character and a classic sentiment—a child’s desire to be larger than life. Somehow a simple sedan parked in the family driveway makes his wish come true.

The spot is one of two Volkswagen of America will show during the game. The other features an animated beetle, the creature, to highlight the Beetle, the car. On YouTube, where viewers vote with their clicks, the Beetle ad also drew a crowd, about 1.1 million by Saturday, but not nearly the throngs viewing the Darth Vader ad. The ad agency Deutsch Inc. gets credit for the great spots.

In contrast to the VW ads, other car makers will be laboring profusely to make their point--like summer blockbusters taking on a charming little indie pic. They meet varying degrees of success.

El Segundo-based David & Goliath has come up with a clever take for the Kia, with everyone from a cop to a billionaire, to a sea god to, well, you’ll see, going to extreme length to try to snatch possession of the Kia Optima.

PMK BNC offers an elaborate story to try to burst the bubble of one luxury brand, Mercedes-Benz, in favor of another, Audi. The 60-second spot has a couple of wealthy swells trapped in a prison of convention. When they make their jail break (they take their stuffed Dodo with them) the greatest threat is their starchy old habits.

That sets up a fun little kicker to the spot, involving Kenny G. But good luck getting viewers to pick up all the subtle details (in prison, the rich clink crystal; no tin cups raking across the prison bars) while they're pounding brew and dip at a Super Bowl party.

Kethcum, in contrast, tries to spread it’s message for Hyundai’s Sonata across three 30-second ads. The conceit is that we have been hypnotized into thinking compact cars can’t be special (part 1)  wowed with some graphics that show the unexpected can happen (part 2) and then showing that old, anachronistic  technology (a giant cellphone, a phonograph worn around the neck like an iPod) doesn’t have to be accepted.

All of the efforts are worthy. But the one you’ll actually want to see again is Volkswagen's, powered by the force of a tiny Darth Vader who tells a simple story, with a little body language and nary a word.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey


Sarah Palin chasing the legendary Mr. T

Sarah Palin provokes love and hate. Now both fans and frenemies can always have a dose of Sarah within reach. It's a novelty. It's a talking keychain. It's "Sarah Palin in Your Pocket."


The gizmo is the brainchild of a New Orleans company, which earlier brought the world "Mr. T in Your Pocket" and other talking keychains. It's got 11 of Palin's sound bites, from "I’ll betcha!" to "You can see Russia from Alaska" to "We eat, therefore we hunt." 

Entrepreneur Steve Winn attributes the popularity of the Palin device to a triumph of style over substance. "Its the rhythm, the cadence, the cartoony up and down of her voice," Winn said. "I don’t know how to describe it. I'ts beautiful. It's enchanting!"

Winn's Emanation Inc. has sold about 35,000 of the keychains online and through retailers like Urban Outfitters, he said. It will take some doing to overtake his all-time biggest seller, "Mr. T in Your Pocket." That keychain, about a decade on the market, features classic T-isms like "Pity The Fool" and "Quit Your Jibba Jabba!"

 Winn considers the Palin sound bites fair game for commercial use, thrown into the public domain during news events. Palin could not be reached. But we suspect her response to that might not be a hearty, "You betcha!"

--James Rainey

--Twitter: latimesrainey


Why Sen. Bernie Sanders can single-handedly filibuster tax cuts for rich

BerniesandersSen. Bernie Sanders became a sensation on cable television and new media outposts like Twitter with his filibuster Friday of a proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans.

Twitter lit up with highlights from Sanders’ (an Independent from Vermont) prolonged and sometimes angry speech, decrying an agreement between President Obama and Republicans to allow the breaks even for millionaires, while he said many of his constituents are going hungry.

The filibuster, from a Dutch word meaning “pirate,” has a long and not so proud history in the U.S. Senate. Those in the majority have tried for more than two centuries to make it go away. They have failed.

Vice President Aaron Burr paved the way for the filibuster with a seemingly innocuous move in 1805 to simplify the Senate’s rules. He argued that the Senate debate guidelines were too complex and that one rule, allowing “previous question” motions, should be stricken.

The previous question rule had allowed lawmakers to end debate and call for a vote. But the Senate went along with Burr and dumped the rule. It wasn’t until more than three decades later, in 1837, that a filibuster stalled Senate action for the first time.

The filibuster became more common as Senate expanded and as issues, such as slavery, became more contentious.

The Senate several times over the decades debated whether to end the practice and free the way for legislation. It took a crisis, in 1917, for a compromise to be hatched. In the spring of that year, President Woodrow Wilson wanted to arm merchant ships for World War I. Senate Republicans  blocked him.

Wilson and Democrats framed reform as a national security issue and won approval of Rule 22, which provided that a vote by two-thirds of the Senate could force an end to debate.

Still, senators from the South made liberal use of filibusters to block civil rights legislation. That included stalling anti-lynching legislation, according to the Senate website, until cloture was invoked after a 57-day filibuster against the Civil Right Act of 1964.

It was not until 1975 that the Senate reduced the number of votes required to shut off debate from two-thirds to three-fifths. That means 60 votes to end debate with the current complement of 100 senators.

Sanders finally broke off his prolonged performance just before 7 p.m. Eastern time Friday, some 8 1/2 hours after he started. The extended speech was technically not a filibuster since it did not delay a vote or other business.

But there Sanders stood, protesting a vote on the tax measure that could come as early as Monday. He had the Senate floor microphone all to himself (with a brief bit of assistance from Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana), with only a staffer and a bare minimum of other Senate personnel in attendance.

He talked about the "insanity" of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans. He savaged the accompanying idea of cutting the estate tax--which he said would expand the national debt by $1 trillion over 10 years.

With a lot of time to fill, the 69-year-old senator with the giant spectacles also talked about the weather, the delights of his native Vermont (inviting outsiders to come ski at Stowe), his opposition to the Comcast-NBC merger and scads of other things.

Sanders paused occasionally for a sip of water or to confer for a moment with his staff. But he kept going. By days end Friday he had the top TWO trending items on Twitter and his own hashtag, #filibernie, highlighting Twitter posts about his exploits. Websites like had popped up to celebrate his fete. Pollsters purportedly were ready to measure the lefty-legislators appeal as a possible president candidate.

It's anybody's guess whether the filibernie could resume next week, but his persistence Friday heartened many liberals and conjured up a raft of Senate history.

--James Rainey

Photo: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Dec. 7. The Obama administration is pushing for Congress to extend Bush-era tax cuts in a compromise with Republicans. Credit: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images



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