Every month at the AE offices, we choose our Pop Culture Picks. It could be an album, a band, a book, a movie, a TV show, a podcast, or anything else we enjoyed over the previous 30 days. Keep scrolling to find out what caught our attention this month!
The Mandalorian (TV Show)
In short: A bad-ass gunfighter who chooses right over wrong and hooks up with his sidekick, baby yoda! What’s not to love.
The new Disney+ show, The Mandalorian, is set in the time period after Return of the Jedi. The Empire has fallen and chaos rules across the galaxy. Our main character is living in very uncertain times. He’s a man who lives by a strict Mandalorian code, which is slowly being revealed over the course of the season. Pedro Pascal plays our lead and does a remarkable job giving humanity and richness to a character who can never show his face.
The episodes released so far call back to spaghetti westerns. I’m reminded of a futuristic Man with No Name. Take off Clint Eastwood’s poncho, put him in armor and you’ve got a galaxy-roving gunslinger. This premise is a great vehicle for story-telling and allows for short, sharp episodes like Sanctuary, while moving along the overarching theme.
Our lone gunslinger has been coupled with the low, sad, desperate notes of the bass recorder to transport you far, far away. This musical theme echoes across each episode and creates another time and place quality that’s quite enchanting. It’s not the full and rich, romantic soundtrack of the original trilogy but a softer sound that emulates the lead character’s restlessness.
Our Mando, as he’s called, is complex. His higher purpose, his code, requires him to retrieve bounty and hand it in for payment. But of course, our hero is challenged when he’s obliged to hand off the world’s cutest baby yoda. This pivotal scene really sets us up for the series. We have a true hero who chooses right over wrong, even if it goes against his code.
I’m interested to see where the series is taken by showrunner Jon Favreau. For now, I’ll just have to wait impatiently like everyone else for Friday night’s airing on Disney+
Into The Badlands (TV Show)
TL;DR: This TV show features razor quick sword fights, fantastical acrobatics, and an interesting post-apocalyptic storyline.
Into The Badlands takes place in a post-apocalyptic world hundreds of years in the future, and more specifically in an area called “The Badlands.”
The Badlands has become a feudal society ruled by warlords called “Barons” who control different territories and commodities. While there is still some remnants of the modern world, the main weaponry is sword-based, and the Barons maintain an indentured army of sword-wielding mercenaries called “Clippers” to maintain their power.
The story mostly focuses on one particular Clipper called “Sunny” (Daniel Wu), and his journey from loyal Clipper (best in the Badlands) to rebel outcast. The series introduces another concept of this future scenario via the character of “M.K.,” a coming of age young man who has a “dark power” brought on by being cut. This power is known of, but rare, and essentially supercharges the individual into an unstoppable fighting machine.
If you are a fan of the Wuxia style films (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), then you may want to check out this series. It has some of the best-choreographed action scenes I have seen outside the big screen. The sword fights are often jaw-dropping in their speed and complexity and combine the fantastical acrobatics used generously in Wuxia films.
I watched the first season when it first came out, but took a long break before binging the last two seasons recently on Netflix. Other than Sunny, many other great characters are introduced and explored as the story progresses. One of my favorites being “Bajie” (Season 2 & 3), essentially a disgraced monk played by none other than Nick Frost (of Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc). It looks like he really enjoys being part of the frenetic fight scenes, plus he brings a levity that was missing in Season 1.
While there had been plans for a fourth season, apparently that has now been canceled. Still, the Season 3 ending does do a good job of tying everything together from the first few seasons and works well as a series finale.
Check it out!
KylaFit (Personal Trainer)
TL;DR: KylaFit offers great HIIT workouts around Victoria (also yoga, mindfulness practices, and essential oils workshops). I highly recommend this trainer to get you into shape!
Ever since our office moved across town (to the fancy new KWENCH coworking space), I’ve changed a few habits in my life. One of those habits was that I quit the gym and started cycling to work. Another change was that I met Kyla Gagnon when KWENCH brought her in to offer fitness and yoga classes.
I absolutely love Kyla’s HIIT bootcamp-style workout classes and I try to make it twice a week. It isn’t easy! If you aren’t familiar with HIIT, it stands for High Intensity Interval Training. Essentially, it’s a lot of different exercises in short intervals, so you get a great full-body workout. Exercises can range from TRX rows, skipping rope, burpees, or even the dreaded “zombie mermaid/walrus” (basically a plank with your feet on frisbees and you drag yourself around moving only your hands). It sounds hard but it is totally worth it. I have a Fitbit Ionic watch and I always track my heart rate and calories burned for these workouts. Then I share them with the other HIIT participants after the session as a fun way to see all the work we just did.
Kyla also loves yoga and essential oils and offers these as a part of her business. I went to her workshop for “sleep and essential oils” and it was really nice – I left super relaxed and with a custom blend of pure essential oils, a lavender oil roller, and some epsom salts. I was initially inspired to go because Kyla also offers a free mindfulness session at KWENCH on Fridays – a half-hour meditation with some relaxing essential oils. It is really nice to have all these benefits available to me and I am grateful that my workplace encourages my physical and mental health every day.
TL;DR: Motherhacker is a new masterclass in short-form audio storytelling by Gimlet Media about the dangers of getting caught up in the world of digital fraud.
Gimlet Media (of StartUp, Reply All, and Homecoming, and acquired by Spotify earlier this year) are back with another incredible podcast series called Motherhacker. The fictitious story follows Brigitte, a devoted mom with a bit of a dark side, who’s just barely getting by financially. When she falls prey to a tele-phishing scheme, Brigitte gets tangled up in a mysterious digital fraud ring in order to pay her debts.
I won’t get more into it at risk of spoilers, but I urge people to give this one a listen. If you liked Homecoming (which went on to become an Amazon Video tv series), then Motherhacker will be a welcome addition to your queue. There are only 9 episodes, each one clocking in at around the 12 minute mark. It’s easy to digest, short-but-engaging, and incredibly well-directed and acted. All episodes are available for download right now on any of your favourite podcast apps.
Pokemon Sword & Pokemon Shield (Video Game)
TL;DR: Best entry to the Pokemon game franchise to date, but perhaps not the complete overhaul that many (myself included) were hoping for.
The latest entries in the much-loved Pokemon game franchise, Pokemon Sword & Pokemon Shield are the first mainline games released on a Nintendo home console. Until this point the games have always appeared on Nintendo’s handheld consoles. Now, as both a handheld and “proper” console on the Nintendo Switch, it is a perfect fit for this generation.
Both games have been upgraded and slightly modernized, thanks to higher processing power producers, GameFreak. The main new addition is a free-roaming “wild zone” for the player to catch wild Pokemon – previously gamers had been limited to linear paths between cities to catch Pokemon, although these are still here as well. The other main addition is the ability to set up camp: a largely superfluous but fun feature that lets you cook meals and play with your Pokemon to create bonds and level them up.
Despite these changes, Sword & Shield still feel like an extremely familiar addition to the series. This is both a good and a bad thing. Fans of the series will have no trouble picking up and playing immediately, but it would’ve been nice to see the new hardware push the series into a completely new chapter. Last year’s Pokemon Let’s Go Evee and Pikachu games (remakes of the original Gameboy Red / Blue / Yellow entries) play remarkably similarly despite their base material dating way back to 1998.
Despite the lack of a total makeover, Sword & Shield are still a huge amount of fun and are undoubtedly the best entries in the series to date. Suitable for both newbies and long-time fans, there’s nothing quite as much fun as a good Pokemon game.
Self-titled by Allah-Las (Album)
In Short: Whether you’re on a road trip in your camperized van or getting some serious work done on the computer, Allah-Las chill you right out.
If you’ve read any of my previous pop culture picks, you know that I love music that is happily melancholic. This band is no exception.
Allah-Las are a garage/surf rock band from Los Angeles, California. The group formed in 2008, and have released 4 albums since then (which can be played one after the other creating a delightful super-album).
Their most recent album, titled LAHS, was released this past October. Reminiscent of lazy summer days, it offers a little warmth to the crisp Victoria winter. I’m always looking for good focus music and this album does the trick. The tracks flow into each other smoothly, the vocals are relaxing, and the upbeat guitar licks keep me energized. Heck yep!