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!
Annabel's December 2021 PCP - her top three books

Annabel Youens, CMO & Co-Founder

Annabel’s 2021 Fiction Book Roundup

It’s time for a book roundup! Here are my top three fiction books from 2021:

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

A fictional account of Shakespeare’s family life. I was especially drawn to this novel since a key section takes place during the great plague; there are so many parallels to draw with our time right now. O’Farrell’s writing is flawless and the characters are richly developed. I especially loved that Shakespeare is a secondary character. 5 stars.

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton

Imagine Alicia Keys and Ed Sheeran team up to form a musical duo. Now take those musicians and involve them in a pivotal racism moment in the 1970s. A contemporary reporter decides to interview Opal as the pair debate a reunion tour in 2016. I couldn’t put it down. 5 stars.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I love a generational story and Homegoing delivered such a powerful story about two-half sisters: one is sold into slavery and the other is married to a British slaver. The 300 pages flew by and it’s a story I’ve reflected on a number of times. If you loved Pachinko by Min Jin Lee this one is for you. 5 stars.

Jeff's December 2021 PCP - Grim Dawn

Jeff Mitchell, CTO & Co-Founder

Grim Dawn (video game, available on Xbox and PC)

My PCP pick is an action role-playing game (ARPG), developed and published by Crate Entertainment, called Grim Dawn. I am big fan of the genre and I have sunk countless hours into the Diablo series.

The game was first released 5 years ago and I briefly took it for a spin at the time. I liked the lore and settings but I found the gameplay and mechanics pretty clunky compared to my experience with Diablo games, so I put it aside.

Recently I was looking for a game to play regularly with my brother and I had noticed Grim Dawn had been getting updates and expansions through the years. I suggested we try it again.

Wow, what an improvement since my first experience!

The gameplay is very smooth, even with tons of firework-like spell effects and tons of enemies on screen. You often need to keep moving to avoid the enemy attacks and this creates a really fun and dynamic combat experience. They have also added very good controller support which means I can relax on the couch and play the game on my TV (I stream games from my PC). The on-line game sessions with my brother have been a blast.

There is a lot of variability in possible ‘builds’ for your character. Currently, with expansions, there are 9 main classes called masteries. Your character can choose two of these, and the combination then creates a class of its own. Mixing and matching any two of these already means good diversity, but then after that there are different skills and other attributes to focus on that can be used to differentiate even further. I can already see that this means there are a ton of crazy builds you can think up creating a lot of replay value.

Many ARPGs are all about finding the ‘loot’, and Grim Dawn delivers well on that end as well. There is a lot of great looking gear that enhances your build or adds cool new abilities allowing you to evolve your character in unexpected ways. The fun of gameplay has meant that I have gone much farther into the story and I think the lore and world building are great.

As the game has been out for 5 years it is very well optimized and does not require any of the latest graphics cards to enjoy. They’ve also recently released it on Xbox so it may be worth checking out there, but my experience is based on the PC version.

If you are looking for good online multiplayer ARPG to play with friends, then I suggest checking it out!

Mike's Dec 2021 PCP - Ni No Kuni II

Mike Penhall, Senior Developer

Ni No Kuni II: Revanent Kingdom (video game, available on PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch)

I’d had Ni No Kuni 2 sitting around for my PS4 for a few years and despite being a JRPG fan for some reason it just didn’t grab me. Admittedly the start is a bit slow – it doesn’t really get good until you found your own kingdom a couple of hours in.

But when it was announced for the Nintendo Switch this year I decided to give it another go, and I’m so glad I did. Something about the cartoon graphics just felt like a better fit for Nintendo.

As well as a standard RPG Ni No Kuni 2 also features kingdom / city building system that is one of my favourite gaming mechanics in a long time. As you work your way through the excellent story you’ll meet various characters that you can persuade to join your fledgling kingdom, each with their own set of skills and areas of expertise. It adds an extra layer to the main game that makes exploration a delight. There’s also a battle skirmish system for larger scale battles, plenty of side quests and a tonne of post-game content that’ll keep you playing for hours.

The Switch version also includes all previously released DLC form the other cnsole versions, so this is the version to get. The first Ni No Kuni is also available for Switch and is also highly recommended – although its story is completely separate so you don’t need to play that first to fully enjoy this.

Morgan's Dec 2021 PCP - Cowboy Bebop Live Action

Morgan Deno, Captain of Customer Success

Cowboy Bebop (2021 TV series, available on Netflix)

Who had this land at the top of your Netflix list in November 2021? 🙋‍♂️

Fact: this new Netflix hit starring John Cho is based on the anime series launched in 1998. I’d encourage you to check out the anime series (also on Netflix) before jumping in with John Cho.

The original series, which ran for twenty-six episodes (in six “sessions” of four to five episodes each), is set in the year 2071, and follows the lives of a travelling bounty-hunting crew aboard a spaceship, the Bebop. The music in this series is SO GOOD and was composed by Yoko Kanno. The series does a great job of making you root for the 3 very disjointed main characters, Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, and Faye Valentine.

The story and casting in the new series are perfect in my opinion. After re-watching the animated series it’s fun to draw the parallels and I love how they have further developed the characters and the story. We get an interesting and much deeper look into the villain, “Vicious”. The first season of the new series is 10 episodes and is based on the 1st of the six “sessions” from the original.

If you love the perfect mix of sci-fi and comedy, these are the series for you!

Roxanne's Dec 2021 PCP - Bad Christmas movies

Roxanne Baker, Marketing Magician

Bad Christmas Movies (available on Netflix, the Hallmark channel, the $5 DVD bin at Walmart)

I love bad movies in general (The Room, Birdemic, anything by Neil Breen), but there’s something about bad Christmas movies that brings it to a whole ‘nother level, especially romcoms.

Hallmark is particularly great at producing trash Christmas movies (they released 31 in 2021 alone), so if you happen to still have cable and the Hallmark channel, they’re hard to miss. Netflix also has some real bangers, though they tend to veer more into the realm of cheesy than so-bad-it’s-good. Their Christmas Prince series is actually quite enjoyable, even more so if viewed through the lens of the dystopian Christmas Prince cinematic universe (seriously, go down the Jenny Nicolson rabbithole – you won’t be disappointed!).

Quite possibly my favourite bad Christmas movie is Christmas Mail, a romcom about a single postal worker whose niece’s Christmas wish is for him to find love. From the weird writing, to extras not knowing what to do in the background, to a CGI sprinkle fight (????), this movie is an absolute gem. Christmas Mail is actually kind of hard to find streaming online, so I highly recommend checking out this Drew Gooden video about it. It was my first introduction to the movie and it never fails to make me laugh. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pretend bread is guitar. Alright, bye.