This month, the AE team is bringing you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices and, as things begin to reopen here, our office office too! We’re focusing on the things that support our physical and mental health while practicing social distancing. Keep scrolling to find out what’s helping us through these challenging times – we hope they can help you too!

Annabel’s Pick

Annabel's July/August PCP - The Great

Annabel Youens, CMO & Co-Founder

The Great (TV Series – Amazon Prime)

In Short: The Great is a binge-worthy historical dramedy that balances horror and beauty.

This past month I’ve been watching “The Great “ miniseries on Amazon Prime. Season One has ten, one-hour long episodes very loosely based on the rise of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.

Now, I love most historical dramas with frilly dresses and courtiers, but The Great delves into the dramatic and the comedic. The show is more like a cross between Blackadder and Wolf Hall. The script is filled with lush, almost poetic language that’s partnered with hilarious and sometimes horrific visuals. You’re appalled, and then you’re entertained, and then you’re shaking your head. It’s this balance of beauty and horror that I love about the show. The episodes are carried by the brilliant script and the wonderful cast.

It is not a show I’d recommend if you are squeamish and it’s certainly filled with adult-only content that borders on the obscene. But if you like a show that oozes charm and then quickly tempers that with aristocratic violence and genius one-liners you’ll likely find yourself saying, “oh, just one more episode.”


Mike’s Pick

Mike's July/August PCP - High Fidelity

Mike Penhall, Senior Developer

High Fidelity  (TV Series – Hulu)

TLDR; High Fidelity is a must for music nerds. Love of the book/movie is a bonus but by no means required.

As a huge fan of both the original book by Nick Hornby (one of my favourite authors) and the 2000 movie starring John Cusack, it was almost preordained that I was going to love the updated TV adaptation starring Zoë Kravitz.

High Fidelity revolves around a small independent record store, Championship Vinyl, the lives and musical knowledge of its employees, and the love life of its owner Rob Brooks.

A lot has happened in the music world in the 20 years since the movie was released (26 years for the book!). We were still (sort of) buying and listening to CDs in 2000 for goodness sake! But vinyl and record shops are still here, albeit in an even more niche way than they were way back then, which plays nicely into the characters’ obsession with music.

While faithful to the source material (the movie in particular) the show does a great job of rolling with the times – mix tapes are replaced with playlists, and a customer is called out for “Shazaming” a track in store rather than actually talking to the teller.

Zoë Kravitz is perfect in the lead role, both awkward yet confident, neurotic yet self assured, and the switch from male to female protagonist and location from London (book) / Chicago (movie) to New York is handled effortlessly too.

Jenn’s Pick

Jenn's July/August PCP - 21 Things You Didn't Know About the Indian Act

Jennifer Paul, Intermediate Developer

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph (Book)

TL;DR: This book breaks down the real Canadian history in two parts: 1) 21 major laws that worked to systematically eliminate Indigenous culture and people in Canada, and 2) actions you can take to positively promote reconciliation and education in today’s society. 

It was Canada Day on July 1 – my pick for July is a book that I read recently in my quest to open my eyes about my country’s history. In growing up as a white person in Canada, I was taught a very limited history (ok, basically nothing) of the struggles of the Indigenous people here and how Canada systematically and brutally weeded them out. When I moved to BC in 2005 I immediately noticed the scene was quite different here. Indigenous people live here in the city alongside their fellow locals, there are Indigenous businesses throughout the city, and Indigenous art everywhere. Even now that is not the case for most of the rest of the country. This experience has prompted me to learn more about how our society came to be as it is now.

I found this book which was recommended to me to get an overview of how deeply systematic the abuse of the Indigenous population is, and how the changes happened over a long period of time. Here are some examples of the terrible “laws” that were created to control them:

  • Women (and consequently their children) would lose their Indian* status if they married outside their band.
  • Indians* were forced to move from their homes to reserve lands, and then forced to give up that reserve land when the land wasn’t suitable for agriculture.
  • Indians* were not allowed to leave the reserve without explicit written permission.
  • Indians* were forbidden to practice their language, hold cultural events such as potlatches, or wear their own regalia.
  • Indians* were not allowed to have alcohol, ammunition, or be admitted to places with these items.
  • Indians* were only allowed higher education or the right to vote if they gave up their Indian* status (“enfranchisement”).
  • And perhaps the most famous atrocity – children were forced from their homes and placed in residential schools, where it was drilled into them that their culture and language were evil. Countless children fell sick, died, and went missing in the many years when residential school were active.

*Referred to in relation to the language used in the book to reflect that time period

The list is endless but these were some points that stood out to me. When you put all that together – you can’t call it anything other than racism and a blatant attempt to annihilate Indigenous peoples. These horrifying facts are the real history of Canada and was not taught in school when I was growing up (it is now). As the title suggests, the second half of the book changes pace and offers ways for Canadians to educate themselves and take action to help with reconciliation. There is an actionable list and I highly recommend everyone to take a look. We have all benefited from this country as it is now, but it was built by knocking others down. I don’t know if I can make a difference, but I can start with educating myself. If you feel the same then I recommend this book as a great place to start.


Grant’s Pick

Grant's July/August PCP - The Last of Us Part 2

Grant Spychka, Head of Customer Success

The Last of Us – Part II (Video Game – PS4)

TL;DR – The Last of Us: Part II (created and developed by Naughty Dog) picks up where the original left off, replacing themes of hope with revenge, and showing players how violence begets violence, making for an epic finale to the first game’s overall story arc.

I’m going to keep this fairly vague because I don’t want to spoil either The Last of Us or The Last of Us: Part II, as the new game’s release might bring new players in to start from the beginning. That said, TLOU2 picks up a few years after the events of the first game, and takes the player on a massive 25+ hour journey from the mountains of Jackson, Wyoming to the heart of Seattle (my game clock came in somewhere around 35 hours), in a new world ravaged by a deadly spore infection that turns humans into some very unsettling non-human forms.

We originally take up the reins once again as Ellie, who in my opinion is one of the greatest video game characters in the last couple generations, as she seeks retribution against a new enemy faction called the Washington Liberation Front (WLF). On top of that, the game splits its time by giving us control of Ellie’s WLF counterpart, Abby, a military-trained badass whose path was set in motion unbeknownst to the player during the events of TLOU1. Controlling these two characters is an absolute treat, as they both feel so different. Because of Ellie’s background, I typically stayed in the shadows and stealthed my way through areas, while Abby’s brute strength lent itself to a more punishing approach against enemies. More than that, these characters are so beautifully written and have been given such a rich complexity that even though we’ve known Ellie for years, Abby immediately made me love her and buy into her motivations. Again, I’m not going to go any further but seriously, Naughty Dog has outdone themselves with this portrayal of two incredibly strong women, both of whom show strength in completely separate ways. It’s a masterclass in character development, visibility in gaming, and storytelling. And that’s without mentioning all of the supporting cast who, again, are so well written and connect with the player on a deeply emotional level. Plus, new enemy types both human and non-human (shout out to the Rat King) that require you to adapt and not get too complacent in your play style.

The game is definitely long. There were a few moments where I thought for SURE I was done, but….nope. Ok but maybe this next part will wrap things up? Nah, 10 more hours for you! I’m not complaining, mind you, but just know what you’re getting into. I also had to drag my play-through out across a number of sessions because, well, it’s intense. It’s gory and bloody and heartbreaking and at points hard to handle. A couple key moments had me turning it off for the night because the emotional toll it was taking was legitimately too much (I’m a huge TLOU fan though, so certainly appreciate that not everyone will be so invested).

For anyone interested in epic storytelling, beautiful visuals and sound design (easily the best of this console generation), and some of the best character development I’ve ever experienced in video games, I highly suggest picking this up. If you’ve not played the original, it often goes on sale for like $10. So if you’re not keen on paying full price for TLOU2 quite yet, pick up the first one for cheap, get a sense of the world, then decide if you want more. And now for my first spoiler alert: You will want more.

Roxanne’s Pick

Roxanne's July/August PCP - Kiki's Delivery Service

Roxanne Baker, Marketing Magician

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Movie)

In short: Looking for a heartwarming coming-of-age movie? Kiki’s Delivery Service might just hit the spot.

In late June, Netflix in Canada released a collection of Studio Ghibli movies. I’m a huge Ghibli fan, having watched my first movie (My Neighbour Totoro) when I was but a wee 4-year-old. While My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away are some of my favourite movies, I’m choosing to write about Kiki’s Delivery Service this month. This movie holds such a special place in my heart – I’ve even cosplayed as Kiki!

Kiki’s Delivery Service is the story of a young witch who leaves her family home to start a business and make a life in a new town. It’s a classic coming of age movie: Kiki struggles with accepting herself and finding her place in the world. These themes resonate strongly with me, and I’m sure others feel the same. This is my favourite quote from the movie.

I know this might be sacrilege to all you anime fans out there, but the 1997 Disney dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service is absolutely fantastic. The cast is star-studded: Kirsten Dunst, Tress MacNeille, and, to me the most important, Phil Hartman. Hartman voices Kiki’s sarcastic, cynical familiar, Jiji the black cat. Interestingly, Jiji has an entirely different personality in the original Japanese version.

Another change that I love about the 1997 dub is the original Sydney Forest songs that were added. I’m Gonna Fly is so uplifting and Soaring is an absolute banger. I think they’re a great compliment to Joe Hiasaishi’s incredible soundtrack.

To finish, I want to touch on the art of Studio Ghibli films. They are absolutely beautiful. Every scene has a stunningly painted background. I could look at the detail of the clouds and plants for ages, trying to piece together how each one was painted. All my computers have Studio Ghibli wallpapers and it brings me such joy.