This month, the AE team is bringing you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices! 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!
In short: Bill Bryson takes the reader through his Victorian Parsonage, room-by-room, detailing the history of things in our homes.
We’re all spending a lot of time at home right now, so it made sense for me to finally open up Bill Bryson’s non-fiction book, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.”
Each chapter is structured around the rooms in Bryson’s Victorian Parsonage, built in 1851. As readers we start in the hall and meander through historical, scientific and cultural events that tie loosely to the chapter’s title.
I love this type of nonfiction. Bryson combines anecdotes, historical letters, statistics, sarcastic humor, and major scientific discoveries together into a fascinating look at why we live in the places we do, how items arrived in our homes and how things are named. Here’s a little bit about sugar:
“Even though sugar was very expensive, people consumed it till their teeth turned black, and if their teeth didn’t turn black naturally, they blackened them artificially to show how wealthy and marvelously self-indulgent they were.”
If you’re looking to improve your trivia game this is a book that will add to your general knowledge. If you love understanding the context of things this book will give you a new appreciation for your dwelling. At a time when many of us are itching to get outside it’s nice to shine a different sort of light on our homes.
Crash – Nilüfer Yanya (single)
TL;DR: Nilüfer Yanya’s new single Crash takes you down a winding musical path that keeps you on your toes.
My PCP this time around is a short and sweet recommendation for a new single by Nilüfer Yanya called ‘Crash’, which will also be on a new upcoming EP called ‘Feeling Lucky?’.
I really enjoyed her debut album last year, ‘Miss Universe’, and ‘Crash’ carries on the style of leading you down a bit of a winding musical path, changing up styles mid-track or near the end and keeping you on your toes.
In interviews for the release she has mentioned that while on tour last year she started to develop anxiety around flying, and really started to notice turbulence more and more. Although Crash isn’t about flying specifically, this is the imagery used in the video. I can see how the song conveys that sense of a bumpy turbulent ride that eventually settles down.
Check out the new single and I also recommend her debut album.
9Round (kickboxing circuit gym)
TL;DR: Follow me in my new exercise routine if you want to burn 700 calories before 9am every day.
This month AE went back to full working-from-home (thanks, COVID). I immediately tried to brainstorm how to not get caught in a slump of despair, and decided to start an aggressive new exercise routine. I joined a gym!* My new routine is to wake up early, bike the 20 minutes to the gym, do a 9Round workout, bike 20 minutes back home, and then start my work day. So far it’s been a lifesaver!
The 9Round gym is a specific kind of workout – think HIIT meets kickboxing. There are 9 stations like jump rope, various punching bags, abs, weights, dip bars, and more. The workout takes about 30 minutes as you make your way around the circuit. You spend 3 minutes at each station, with 30 seconds between stations. Those 30 seconds aren’t for rest though as the trainer will have you doing things like jump squats and burpees between stations.
When I signed up I got all the equipment I needed, including boxing gloves, hand wraps, a bag, a fob to check in, and a heart rate monitor. There’s a tv on the floor that shows everyone who is currently working out and their heart rate. The section with my name will be a colour (blue-green-yellow-red) and the goal of the workout is to stay in the “yellow zone” as much as possible, which for me is a heart rate around 160. The colour takes up the whole screen and is great for quickly glancing over to see how I’m doing.
I love this gym and it’s quite fun to be able to jump in there with a jab-cross-hook-elbow combo. Having this new exercise/leaving-the-apartment routine has been the saving grace for my mental health lately and it is awesome being able to feel proud of myself every day for doing something challenging and fun. As one of our AE alumni employees used to tell me, it takes hashtag willpower lifestyle 🙂
* Covid cases are pretty low here on the Island, and that combined with 9Round’s covid procedures made me feel comfortable this was ok as my one “out of the house” activity. They’ve limited the gym to 4 people per workout (so one person at every second station, you have to book your spot online) and the trainers clean all the equipment constantly. If anyone is curious here’s some more info.
Let Me Roar – Northcote (album)
TL;DR: A great local Victoria musician comes back strong after 5 years off to release one of his most personal and easy-listening albums to date.
One of my favorite local Victoria artists, Northcote, are back with their first album in ~5 years called Let Me Roar. The thing that really stands out to me about this album is how accessible it is, even if you’ve never listened to Northcote before or haven’t loved a previous album (though how could you not…). Sonically, the album is incredibly cohesive and never seems out of step from track to track, without any one song feeling buried by another or feeling like there’s any filler.
The album kicks off with the title track, and indicating a calm and collective reminiscence from singer Matt Goud, and really sets the stage for what to expect from the rest of the album. Guitar and vocals are front and centre for the most part, while rhythm plays a strong role in holding down each track, and lead guitar pops in every once in a while for memorable hooks. The simplicity of it all is what really stands out to me, as if this is the first album since the stripped down “Borrowed Chords, Tired Eyes” that the artists really wrote a set of songs for themselves, and themselves alone. There’s nothing boastful or intense about it; it delivers what it promises from the onset. A beautiful look into the life of most of us who have spent the last 10 years kind of growing up. And I also want to mention, the first line of the whole album is so catchy and again, accessible, that it’s what my 3 year old son tells me to sing to him every night before bed – “daddy, sing I Used To Drive.” I guess I have Northcote to thank for a new tradition as well.
Avenger by Frederick Forsyth (book)
TL;DR: Avenger is a political thriller novel by Frederick Forsyth that focuses on one man seeking vengeance for the death of his son. It takes place in the international intelligence/security community in the years leading up to 9/11.
Forsyth is one of my favorite authors and I read his classic Day of the Jackal at least once a year.
In his typical style, Forsyth builds Avenger slowly with deep background on each of the major characters and many of the supporting cast:
- The son of privilege who is hideously murdered in the hills of Bosnia while on an aid mission, which kicks off the story
- A decorated WWII pilot who makes a post war fortune in Canadian metal
- The British SAS tracker who follows the faint trail of the boy’s disappearance
- The former Vietnam tunnel rat, turned small time lawyer and part time Avenger of murdered wives and children
- The leader of a secret team at the CIA using a former Balkan war criminal to flush out Bin Laden
The story is set in the real world as it was, from Vietnam to the Serb/Croat wars in the Balkans, to Desert Storm and the early intelligence around Bin Laden and Al Queda.
The 3rd act is a masterpiece of covert insertion, misdirection, stamina, will, planning and smarts. The story comes to a conclusion on Sept 10, 2001.
The rest is modern history.
The Simpsons (available on Disney+)
In short: The Simpsons is still funny after all these years.
I have a confession: as much as I love Disney movies, I wasn’t excited for Disney+ until I found out that the streaming platform would have the entirety of The Simpsons. I’ve been a huge Simpsons fan since I was young (thank you to my parents for letting me watch it!) and it’s always been my go-to, easy to watch, relaxation show. Since I haven’t had cable for the last 10 years or so, if I wanted to watch the Simpsons I would have to resort to Spanish language episodes on YouTube or other definitely totally legal methods of watching the show. There was absolutely no way I was going to drop $30-50 per season for the DVDs or three grand on the limited edition box set 😱
But now, with Disney+, I can enjoy the follies of America’s favorite mean, yellow family. And it’s been a blessing for shutting off my mind from the stresses of COVID and the world in general. Here’s 5 of my favourite episodes:
“Bart After Dark”, Season 8, Episode 5 – In this episode, Bart gets a job at Maison Derrière, Springfield’s burlesque house, in order to pay off damaging some of their property. I’m going to admit that I didn’t understand a good 80% of the jokes in this episode until somewhat recently. It’s definitely one of those episodes that makes much more sense and is much funnier when you’re an adult – especially when you finally understand what the “spring” in Springfield is referring to. Episode highlight: Is your name Bart? Does your father know you’re working here?!
“Lard of the Dance”, Season 10, Episode 1 – Like most Simpsons episodes, this episode has both an A and a B story. While the story where Lisa tries to keep up with her classmates acting older is quite good, the story of Homer attempting to make bank by selling grease is where this episode really shines. Homer’s get rich quick schemes are always hilarious! Episode highlight: No fooling, I’m from North Kilttown! Do you know Angus McCleod?!
“Treehouse of Horror V”, Season 6, Episode 6 – I’m a huge fan of anything spooky, and the Treehouse of Horror episodes always fulfill my spookiness quota while making me laugh. Every Treehouse of Horror contains 3 short stories that parody classic horror media. It’s difficult to pick just one Treehouse of Horror episode, but this one edges out the competition because it parodies some of my favourite media (i.e. the movie the Shining and the short story A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury). Episode highlight: the musical number at the end of the episode about the fog that turns people inside out.
“A Streetcar Named Marge”, Season 4, Episode 2 – Oh boy do I love a good musical episode. In this episode, Marge lands the role of Blanche Dubois in the local musical production of A Streetcar Named Desire, but it highlights how unsupportive and boorish her husband Homer is. Side note: this is also the episode where we learn that Flanders is a total babe. Episode highlight: STELLA! Can’t you hear me yell-a, you’re putting me through hell-a!
“22 Short Films About Springfield”, Season 7, Episode 21 – The episode is exactly it’s title implies: 22 short stories that are entirely unrelated other than taking place in Springfield. Every single story is a little glimpse into the lives of the residents of Springfield and it’s absolutely delightful. This is probably my most quoted Simpsons episode, and is definitely my favourite. Episode highlights (couldn’t pick just one!): Well Seymour, you are an odd fellow but I must say, you steam a good ham. and Do you find something comical about my appearance when I am driving my automobile?
Now my only hope is that Futurama will one day also be available on Disney+.
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! This month we’re focusing on things that make us laugh or bring us joy. Keep scrolling to find out what’s helping us through these challenging times – we hope they can help you too!
Tiny View (app on iOS and Google Play)
In short: Bite-sized comics for your phone!
My joyful pick this month is Tiny View. Tiny View is a comic reader app that formats comics into a scrolling format instead of your old school zig-zag order. It’s one of those tiny innovations that makes the biggest difference.
I originally discovered the app reading Gemma Correll’s comics. Her comic on “How to Practice Worrier Pose” made me giggle and was my gateway to other authors like Matt Bors’ political cartoons that explore America’s journey into a dystopian future. And as a parent myself I’m partial to F*wl Language: Comics For Imperfect Parents by Brian Gordon because we can all relate to “The New Homework”.
So many of us are experiencing anxiety and feelings of helplessness right now. Tiny View is bringing me joy because I love seeing how the authors explore the things we’re all struggling with in different ways. Enjoy the comics!
TL;DR: Hades is a fun, fast-paced dungeon crawler with a great story and excellent gameplay.
My pick this time around is the “rogue-like action role-playing video game” Hades. Hades is published by Supergiant Games, the developer behind other popular indie titles such as Bastion and Pyre. Hades has just come out for full release, but I have been playing via early access since the beginning of the summer and it’s been a staple of my game time since.
You play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, who is attempting to break free in search of his mother Persephone. Each run sees Zagreus take his weapon of choice (sword, bow, shield, spear, gauntlets, or gun) and make is way through the various levels of hell as he tries to make it to the surface. The room order is randomly generated, and will be full of a random collection of enemies that must all be defeated in order to receive the reward for that room and to progress to the next. The player is usually presented with two or more choices of exit from each room with the reward for each indicated.
As Zagreus progresses he will gain more and more power and abilities, as well as collecting differing currencies that can be used for later upgrades. One of the main types of abilities are ‘boons’, these are special granted abilities provided by the differing Greek gods, such as Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, etc. to help Zagreus on his quest.
If he dies, he is regenerated from the River Styx at the beginning ‘lobby area’ and must start his journey again, although he can use some of the spoils acquired during the run to upgrade.
This may sounds repetitive, but I have to say it is very hard to resist that ‘just one more time’ pull of doing another run. Each one presents a new experience. As mentioned the rooms and monsters are randomized, but furthermore, the weapon chosen by Zagreus combined with differing boons creates a unique ‘build’ or gameplay experience. The boon choices per God are random as well, so I don’t think I have even had the exact same combination twice.
Overlaying the gameplay just described is an engaging story with a collection of great characters and fantastic, humorous dialogue. Another mechanism of each run is uncovering new layers to the story (multiple stories really). I have been really impressed at the lack of repetitive dialogue, it seems like almost every interaction with a Greek God or other character presents different dialogue with superb voice acting.
If you are looking for a game that is easy to jump in and out of, has a great story combined with fun fast-paced arcade action then give Hades a try.
Radio Garden (app on iOS and Google Play)
TL;DR: Access over 10,000 radio stations from around the world!
Radio Garden is a simple app, yet powerful in how it connects us to anywhere in the world. The app shows a globe with all the radio stations that broadcast through an internet stream. The list is currently over 10,000, and you can submit more if you find one not there yet. You can spin around the globe, search for a station, and save your favourites. The search option also comes with some of their current recommendations in categories like Independent Sounds, Energetic Rhythms, Time Travel, Weird Frequencies, and Ends Of The Earth.
Some of my favourite stations lately have been Radio AkuAku in Hanga Roa (Easter Island has some great jams!), Seoul Community Radio, Bossa Nova Brazil, WWOZ FM 90.7 in New Orleans, 105.9 Classical WQXR in New York, and our office fave, KCRW Eclectic 24 out of Santa Monica.
This app warms my heart when I read reviews about how people listen to the radio stations in their faraway home countries and from when they grew up. Music and radio is a way to stay connected and Radio Garden makes it easy to both stay grounded and expand your horizons.
TL;DR: More Partridge antics form the brilliant mind of Steve Coogan. Can be an acquired taste but worth the perseverance.
Alan Partridge is a long running character of comedian Steve Coogan, who you may know from the likes of Tropic Thunder, Despicable Me, 24 Hour Party People and more. His Alan Partridge character started as a parody of British TV and radio personalities in the mid 90s but evolved into something altogether it’s own – think the dryness of Blackadder meets the awkwardness of The Office UK and you’re halfway there.
It took me a while to really click with the Partridge character, despite being a huge fan of British comedies in general. It wasn’t until 2010’s Mid Morning Matters series that I really fell in love with the character, and that remains the best point of entry for anyone interested in finding out more. His recent TV series This Time is also well worth checking out.
From The Oasthouse is the latest Partridge vehicle, this time in the form of a podcast; his first, although he has done a couple of excellent audio books, also available on Audible. The podcast follows his daily life and struggles, from his encounters with an internet troll, a pet magpie, his racist dog and his long suffering assistant Lynn. A must for fans of British comedies and the character alike. Simply brilliant.
In short: Three hilarious brothers bring chaos to their hometown under the guise of providing advice to their audience.
“The McElroy brothers are not experts, and their advice should never be followed. They’re just three brothers who created a podcast. And now they’ve returned to their hometown to tape a TV show. Also, this show isn’t for kids, which I mention only so you babies out there know how cool you are for watching. What’s up, you cool baby?”
The McElroy brothers, Justin, Travis and Griffin, have been taking listener questions and turning them, alchemy-like, into wisdom on their podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me (MBMBaM) for over 10 years now. Since 2010, the podcast has gotten, in the words of Justin (the oldest brother), buckwild. And in 2017, they made 6 episodes of possibly one of the greatest TV shows to exist.
This short-lived, but totally iconic show never fails to make me laugh. Whether the brothers are attempting to get hired at their old high school summer jobs, tricking the Mayor of Huntington, West Virginia to sign over honorary mayoral rights to them, or convincing the audience that there’s a secret augmented reality component to the show, I promise you will be entertained.
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!
TL;DR: This Studio Ghibli movie is a stunning standout with its beautiful, simple animation and story based on old Japanese folklore.
Ever since Netflix released the entire Studio Ghibli collection a couple months ago, I’ve had a weekly movie night to watch all the ones I haven’t seen before. This movie, released in 2013, is the biggest standout for me so far. The story is based on the 10th century Japanese folklore story (warning: spoilers in link) The Tale Of The Bamboo Cutter and it is delightful. A bamboo cutter who lives in a rural village finds a baby in a bamboo stalk; he and his wife decide to raise the girl as his own. The bamboo cutter also finds extravagant gifts in the bamboo, which he takes as a sign to bring the girl to the city to raise her as royalty. As she grows up, she is wanted by a series of suitors. The story is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, and will give you all the feels.
The art of the film is totally dreamlike – it is simple and vague but in that perfect way where your brain wants to fill in the details. This gives it a personal and interactive feel, and helps to give a deeper meaning to the movie. I was especially moved by one scene where the girl is running through the woods, and the animation is so abstract but incredibly portrayed through movement and music. It is truly a breathtaking moment.
You should watch The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – and the critics agree. This film was nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2014 Oscars (among many other awards), and was the first movie of the 2010’s to get 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Take some time out of your modern day to escape to this far-away world.
TL;DR – The Mpow M30 true wireless earbuds are the perfect companion for running/exercise in general, with a pretty solid overall soundstage, intuitive touch controls, locking eartips, and a USB-C charging case that gives up to 25 hours of battery.
This one is a little long overdue, but I’ve been meaning to write about my new favorite pair of true wireless earbuds for a while. Earlier this year I found myself in the market for a new pair of running headphones as my wired Shure in-ears bit the dust (or a toddler yanked on them too hard, no one will ever know). Budget-wise, however, I wasn’t in the market for much at all so had to steer clear of big name brands like Bose or Samsung. Luckily, after what seemed like an eternity of exploring numerous YouTube rabbit holes, I found a review made by a fellow trail runner for the Mpow M30s. He detailed how these wireless earbuds could compete with the Samsung Galaxy Buds on sound and function, and that their fit was reliable even in the sweatiest of training sessions. Plus, they were on sale at the time so I managed to snag them for around $50 CAD.
Honestly, these little guys have blown me away. First off their case is powered by USB-C which is an easy win to start. USB-C everything, please. Second, they come with 4 different sets of ear tips so you can find a solid fit, as well as these cool sharkfin-style external tips that help lock the buds into your ears. The sound is solid too, and quite clear. Soundstage is nice and open, with highs coming in clear, lows having a nice mix of punch and rumble, and mids not muddying up too badly (quick caveat – these won’t beat out a pair of $200 headphones from a competing brand, but at a quarter of the price it’s an absolute steal). As an added bonus they have some incredibly intuitive/responsive touch controls on the outer pads of the buds, making it super easy to adjust volume, skip tracks, play/pause, and activate Google Assistant. Since I use these when running, that feature is wildly underrated. It means you don’t have to click a physical button, which always feels uncomfortable and briefly pushes other headphones deeper into my ears. Just a couple quick taps and you’re good. Plus, they’re comfortable to wear for 1-2 hours at a time, though I wouldn’t wear them all day at my desk or anything.
Overall the Mpow M30s have been a welcome addition to my exercise routine. The carrying case (which charges the earbuds when not in use) is compact and easy to toss in my bag, and gives up to 25 hours of charge, so I’ve never found myself even close to being low on battery. Highly recommended for anyone doing moderate to intense exercise! My only recommendation, if you’re on Android, is to grab an EQ app like EqualizerFX to really unlock the M30’s potential.
In Short: Berlin Station is a TV series set in the German station of the CIA that ran 3 seasons. Modern threats faced by the CIA – violent right wing politics, Russian encroachment into Europe, moles inside US intelligence – are mixed with a stellar cast of recognizable sci-fi stars to create an insanely watchable series. And David Bowie sings the theme song.
If you like modern spy drama, it doesn’t get better than Berlin Station. It was created by Olin Steinhauer, one of the best known and award winning modern spy writers. His focus on ordinary people in jobs that have international consequences plays well in this series, where clandestine meetings, betraying your country, and dead drops replace James Bond type spy action.
The writing in this series is world class, but it’s the cast that makes me smile. At Appreciation Engine, sci-fi cred goes a long way and this cast has it in spades. The lead spy is played by Richard Armitage, more famous as Thorin the Dwarf King from The Hobbit movies, and he is matched by an excellent Michelle Forbes (BSG ‘s Admiral Helena Cain) throughout the 3 year run. Rhys Ifans trades his tighty whiteys for sleek suits as an on again, off again spy, Ismael Cruz Cordova from the Mandolorian is a very alpha field agent in season 3 and Commodore Oh from the Picard series, Tamlyn Tomita, provides personal balance to the spy game in season one. The most unfortunate character name belongs to Ashley Judd, whose character is a Washington DC fixer who you are not sure can be trusted with the moniker BB Yates. Somewhere, off the planet of Naboo, Poe Dameron is missing his droid.
In short: Find a friend with Disney + and watch Hamilton. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will dedicate far too much time to trying to convince everyone around you to watch it.
This month’s PCP is no surprise to anyone who knows me. I haven’t stopped talking about the musical Hamilton since it was released on Disney + back in July. I walk around my house singing the songs, I’m stuck firmly in Hamilton TikTok, I even sneak Hamilton songs into our Three Track Thursday playlists. I’m obsessed.
Hamilton was created in 2015 by Lin Manuel-Miranda after he read and was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States. The musical follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, from his roots as an orphan in the Caribbean, to the American Revolution, to the politics behind how the US financial system was structured and finally to Alexander Hamilton’s death at the hands of his lifelong rival Aaron Burr.
If you’re wondering how a musical about a historical figure could be interesting, let me assure you that Hamilton is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The music is a delightful mix of classical musical theatre, rap and R&B (check out the Schuyler Sisters and Guns and Ships). Almost every song is a total bop (and the memes about the “worst” songs are hilarious). The choreography is incredible – every movement is intentional, with the ensemble performing actions in the background that foreshadow events later in the play.
All the major roles in Hamilton, barring King George III, are played by non-white actors. While this decision has caused controversy and led to cries of “reverse racism”, I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Broadway has traditionally been very white. It’s time to see some diversity on our stages and provide role models for those who don’t necessarily see someone who looks like them in the spotlight.
Casting non-white actors as the Founding Fathers also adds another layer of storytelling. I think Christopher Jackson (George Washington in the original Broadway cast) puts it best: “It was a very powerful choice to take the idea of these men and present them through the bodies and vessels of Black and brown actors. It represents the fact that our role in building this country has never truly been acknowledged, and I think it opened up the audiences’ minds to the spirit of what these men meant, even if they were woefully incapable of living it out in their own experiences.”
If you love the music from Hamilton, you’re not just limited to the soundtrack. A year after the Original Broadway recording was released, an album of remixes, covers and unreleased deleted songs called the Hamilton Mixtape came out. Does your fancast include Usher, Kelly Clarkson, Sia and Jimmy Fallon? Well you’re in luck, because they’re on the Hamilton Mixtape.
After the Hamilton Mixtape was released, Lin Manuel-Miranda released a series of Hamilton-related songs called “Hamildrops”. Some of my favorite artists were included in the series: The Decemberists, Sara Barielles and even Weird Al Yankovic (Hamilton Polka?! Yes please!). My favourite Hamildrop? The 44 Remix of One Last Time, featuring Christopher Jackson from the original Hamilton Cast, a gospel choir and President Obama reading George Washington’s farewell address. Even as a Canadian, it’s a total tearjerker.
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!
In Short: The Great is a binge-worthy historical dramedy that balances horror and beauty.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
TL;DR: Zombies, Run! is a zombie apocalypse themed augmented reality app that will get you up and running.
I appear to be fixated on experiences that somewhat amplify our current pandemic situation. This month my PCP is the mobile app ‘Zombies, Run!’, a combination of running/fitness app, episodic podcast, and interactive game with a bit of augmented reality thrown in.
‘Zombies, Run’ is set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies where the last bits of humanity are holed up in isolated bases. You are ‘Runner 5’ and your job is to head out, running around to gather supplies and perform other jobs for your base. Each episode is a ‘mission’ that you need to complete.
When you start the mission, a radio operator or other runners talk to you over your headset (headphones), revealing the overall story arc that each mission is a part of. As the mission plays, you run and the app tracks your pace and route — just as any other running app would but with a few extra elements. As you run you will get notifications of various supplies you have picked up along the way, these can be used to upgrade your base. You may also find clues and other story elements that you can inspect after the mission.
At various points there is also a ‘Zombie Chase’, in which you are required to sprint for a minute to avoid being caught by Zombies. If you don’t maintain at least a 10% increase in pace you will be caught and lose supplies. Even though the worst outcome is loss of supplies, these chases will definitely get your heart racing as you hear the zombies getting closer and closer.
If you are looking to add some flavor to your current runs, or looking to get into running I recommend checking this app out as great motivator.
TLDR; Huge but complex JRPG for the Switch. Highly recommended for fans of the genre, but beginners beware.
My first ever pop culture pick was for the original Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles, way back in February 2018. The original pushed the Wii to its absolute limits, but with the Wii not being known for its huge adventure games and the game not being as readily available for purchase as it could have been, meant was more of a cult classic than a best seller. A re-release for the New 3DS was decent but not amazing, with graphics even worse than the original due to that machine’s limitations.
So finally we have the definitive version of Xenoblade Chronicles, and it really is definitive. The graphics, in particular the character models, have been given a nice facelift, and the UI has been given a nice overhaul, making some of the game’s trickier elements (the combat, for example) easier to understand and less of a hurdle for first time players.
Also there’s just something wonderful about holding a massive gaming world in your hands in the way that the Switch allows. The game’s world is set on the back of two massive monsters (or Titans) and the game is, at times, breathtaking as you explore the vast playing areas provided. The game can still be confusing at times — there’s a lot to take in. The combat is complex, plus there’s armour, skill trees, gem creation, city building, item collection, sub quests and more to get your head around, which may be off-putting for first time JRPG players.
But if you’re after an immersive, complex but rewarding JRPG experience, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is the game for you. In many ways it is THE definitive JRPG experience on the Switch to date.
TL;DR: Chromatica is an awesome album which is full of dance beats, like the good-old-days, and emotional growth and expression
I love Gaga. I’ve been listening to her from Day 1, and would definitely call myself one of her Little Monsters. I have fond memories of my spouse and I going out dancing (a decade ago, “back in the day” haha), and whenever Lady Gaga came on those were “our songs”. Her versatility in covers and duet performances is incredible – from The Sound of Music to singing with Metallica.
I had to listen to Chromatica a few times when it was released this past week. My first impression was definitely “ok, this feels like a throwback to those clubbing days with those beats”. After a few repeats I can say I LOVE this album! It does have that feel that this is an ode to the early days, but this time she’s filled it with her experiences and growth, and a more confident feel to say what she wants. The songs with the big club beats are easy to sing along to, and these days being stuck at home (thanks, 2020) it just feels good to belt one out.Rolling Stone’s review said it better than I ever could:
“Although she initially had reservations about putting out Chromatica at the start of pandemic shutdowns, there’s something comforting about the way the album captures the feeling of banging your feet on a sweaty dance floor and bumping into strangers during the loneliest, most isolated moment in history.”
The songs “Alice”, “Enigma”, “911” are fun dance beats that really demand I crack out my beloved extra-bass headphones. The duets – particularly “Rain On Me” with Ariana and “Sine From Above” with Elton – are also songs that I really enjoyed in the album. The standout emotional songs “Fun Tonight” and “Replay” feel like Gaga is using her lyrics to work through her experiences in a simultaneously sad and catchy way. The album as a whole is a hit and I will be listening to it as a great pick-me-up this month. The goal has been the same all along… JUST DANCE
TL;DR – Floating Grip is a minimalist wall-mounting system for any gaming console, with great design, easy installation, and 360 degree venting.
Taking joy in the smallest wins these days, the thing that’s making me incredibly happy is a tiny wall-mounting system for my gaming consoles. Look, I’ve got two little kids who like to get their hands on EVERYTHING. Doesn’t matter what it is, but if it’s expensive and has electric components, you can bet they want it even more. Which is why having my PS4 Pro and Xbox One S sitting at ground level in a TV cabinet was a terrible idea, not to mention the fact that the cabinet doors had to stay open during play sessions so my consoles didn’t melt from the inside out.
Enter Floating Grip – a simple wall-mounting system that takes about 2 minutes to install and keeps my consoles off the ground, arranged more like art (honestly) than a gaming platform. Bonus points awarded because everything fits nicely behind my TV (also wall-mounted), and because there’s a small gap between the hardware and the wall that allows for a full 360 degree venting area. Imagine playing cat’s cradle with the console using some reinforced “rope” (instructions included thankfully, but their 1 min YouTube tutorials are even better). It’s all out of sight and out of mind when it comes to the boys breaking stuff, and it cleans up my previous mess of cables running up to the TV, especially since I added a power bar to the wall behind the TV too.
The design is minimalist, ease of installation is welcome, and it doesn’t break the bank – all in all, HIGHLY recommended. Keep in mind that you need to buy one per console, and they’re made very specifically per console. Now to reverse engineer it and build my own controller mounts…
In short: Houseplants transform your living space into the cozy hipster retreat you’ve always dreamed of and support mental health and well-being.
I think my obsession with indoor plants started with re-watching Jenna Marbles’ plant tour during quarantine. I already had a few succulents in my kitchen window (courtesy of friends who have way more confidence in my plant parenting abilities than I do), but the idea of filling my apartment with luscious greenery appealed to me.
If I’m going to spend the majority of my time inside, I want to live my life in sunny rooms, surrounded by quirky and eclectic furniture and bountiful house plants (this is basically my dream room, credit: Curbed). Why not make my living space beautiful? And hey, indoor plants may also benefit mental health as well — big thumbs up from me for self care!
So I began researching which green amigos would suit my lifestyle. I didn’t want particularly fussy plants and, most importantly, all my plants have to be pet-safe because my boy Owen loves chewing on green things.
Within a very short period of time, I have accumulated 3 plants for my living room.
Here are my leafy buds:
- PepperAnn, the Peperomia obtusifolia (aka pepperface peperomia)
- Wally, the Peperomia argyreia (aka watermelon peperomia)
- Grimace, the Maranta leuconeura (aka red-veined prayer plant)
Grimace was actually supposed to be a Calathea Medallion, but there was a mixup at the plant store I ordered from. Fixing this happy mistake just means I end up with more plants in the long run – which is, of course, the goal.
It was the summer of 2016. I had a stockpile of my favorite snacks (ketchup chips, sour candy, veggies and hummus), got into my coziest PJs, and curled up on my couch for the 4-hour spectacular, WWE’s SummerSlam. Halfway through the show I was treated to the delightful absurdity of wrestlers Dolph Ziggler and The Miz, dressed as KFC’s Colonel Sanders and a chicken. They were pitted against each other to prove that KFC made the best chicken sandwich.
It seemed like an odd pairing — you don’t immediately associate athleticism and fast food — but the live audience was enraptured and joined in by chanting “Colonel Sanders” during Ziggler’s entrance. Video of the match garnered almost 1 million views on YouTube, and WWE has continued its successful partnership with KFC at SummerSlam and other live events every year since.
The lesson here? When two seemingly unrelated brands collaborate, it can create something magical.
WWE isn’t the only company using the synergy of brand partnerships to drive fan engagement and sales. Let’s have a look at three unexpected, yet successful, sports brand partnerships.
1. The Social Distance Season Schedule
While the NFL released their schedule for the 2020 season in the typical unimaginative fashion, the Detroit Lions surprised their fans with a creative announcement through the videogame Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
The team tweeted a 7-minute video featuring an Animal Crossing player decked out in Lions gear. In-game activities were set up to represent the weekly match-ups. The activities included:
- Burying a teddy bear, representing the Chicago Bears
- Hitting villagers dressed in Green Bay Packers jerseys with a net
- Deleting a bulletin board message from the New Orleans Saints
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) May 8, 2020
Engaging Fans Through an Unlikely Brand Partnership
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been wildly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic and the era of social distancing. While you wouldn’t immediately think there’s an overlap of Animal Crossing and football fans, the Detroit Lions saw an opportunity to engage their audience through the shared cultural phenomena of the game.
Not only did the Detroit Lions tap into Animal Crossing’s popularity, they realized that in order to successfully engage fans of the game, they had to be authentic.
By referencing Animal Crossing inside jokes (like the horribly cheesy puns about different fish species), the Detroit Lions earned acceptance and respect from the fanbase. The team wasn’t taking advantage of the game’s popularity — they were expressing their love for it.
To captivate their audience further, the Detroit Lions posted a follow-up tweet with the Nintendo Switch Online Design IDs so that Lions fans could wear their gear in-game.
Want some #Lions gear for you and your villagers? Input the corresponding Design ID at the Custom Designs Portal in the Able Sisters shop to claim these designs for yourself. (Must have Nintendo Switch Online to claim.) pic.twitter.com/izQY35ZfVw
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) May 8, 2020
The Detroit Lions’ Animal Crossing schedule announcement was an overwhelming success on social media. Their usual low engagement on Twitter was replaced with a video with over 185k views, plus 2.5k retweets and 8.7k likes.
2. “Fire, Aim, Ready” Puts the Biscuit in the Basket
Traditionally, the theme music for broadcast hockey games has largely been instrumental. That’s why it was unexpected when the NHL announced they had signed a multiyear partnership agreement with the punk rock trio Green Day.
The agreement includes the use of Green Day’s “Fire, Ready, Aim” as the opening theme song for NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Hockey, as well as use of other music from the band’s latest album in promotional materials.
This @NHL season is hereby known as LOUD season…where the toughest athletes to ever lace up a pair of skates meet the baddest rock band on the planet. Turn up the volume, “Fire, Ready, Aim” & enjoy. Wait, did we just tease a BRAND NEW SONG?! @NHLonNBCSports #WNH #NHLGreenDay pic.twitter.com/WDnxnktET6
— Green Day (@GreenDay) September 30, 2019
While you may not immediately associate hockey and punk rock, NHL CCO and executive vice president Steve Mayer put it best:
“Their music fits so perfectly with the energy, speed and power that we witness on the ice and each and every night.”
A Brand Partnership that Brings the Hype Home
You know that feeling when your team scores a goal and the familiar music riff fills the arena? It’s electrifying.
Goal songs are an essential part of the live hockey experience. These beloved songs get the fans out of their seats, loudly singing along and cheering for their team while riling up the opposing team’s fans.
With the regular-season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fate of the playoffs is still uncertain there’s no guarantee arenas will be open to fans anytime soon. The post-goal celebration as we know it could be a thing of the past.
Green Day’s upbeat punk rock music brings the arena experience home. The energetic tempo and aggressive vocals of songs like “Fire, Ready, Aim” evoke the same excitement that fans feel when their team scores.
For the NHL, building and sustaining fan engagement at home is now more important than ever. And Green Day’s music is helping that happen.
3. The Iconic Sneaker that Nearly Never Was
I know what you’re thinking: The Air Jordan sneaker is the quintessential example of a perfect pairing between a pro-sports athlete and consumer brand. How is this collaboration unexpected?
We now automatically associate the NBA with Nike but it was Converse and Adidas that 5were the original shoes of choice for Mr. Jordan. In 1980? Michael Jordan was asked what company he’d partner with and he responded without hesitation: “Adidas.”
In the mid-’80s a brand partnership with Converse fell through so Nike pitched a deal to Jordan. The then rookie player almost passed up the offer, only agreeing after his agent recruited his mother to convince him that it would be worth it. Turns out they were right.
Long-Lasting Brand Partnership Success
In 1985, Nike projected that Air Jordans would bring in $3 million — instead, they brought in a staggering $126 million.
Despite Nike’s colorful design being banned by the NBA, Michael Jordan wore the sneakers in every game and his rebellious attitude resonated with young fans. Seeing the potential in this new target audience, Nike created a campaign around the banned shoe — what better way to emulate your favorite player than to sport the symbol of his rebellion?
The brand partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan has only grown, expanding to a full clothing and accessory line and pulling in a revenue of $3.1 billion in the last fiscal year. Wow, talk about brand synergy!
Choosing the Right Brand to Partner With
When two unexpected brands join forces, the result can be magical. Brand collaborations that resonate with a fanbase spark conversation, drive engagement, and encourage fans to become brand advocates.
What’s a brand advocate and why are they important? See our article here.
Collaborations like Michael Jordan x Nike or WWE x KFC may seem like a once-in-a-lifetime success, but they don’t have to be. With AE’s Cross Brand Analysis, you can see what brands have a strong customer overlap with your own. Take the guessing out of brand partnerships, and start relying on real-time data.
This month, the AE team is continuing to bring you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices. 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!
In Short: Find something just for you, that fills up your engine.
When I started writing this month’s Pop Culture Pick, of course I was going to write about the new season of The Great British Sewing Bee. This is not the first time I’ve posted about my adoring fascination and love of series. But this year I find the Bee is filling a different need.
Many of us are still in lock-down, binge watching anything our wee hearts desire. I have bored myself scrolling through Netflix and Amazon Prime numerous times. With The Great British Sewing Bee I have to wait until Wednesday to watch the next episode of season six. I’m reminded of the “olden days” of Must See TV when I’d get my brother to tape an episode of 90201 if I was out with my friends.
Initially I resisted having to wait a whole week for a sewing fix, but I find I really enjoy looking forward to Wednesday night. It’s my quiet time to myself with Joe, Patrick and Esme, along with a block of chocolate and a cup of tea. It’s soothing to have a ritual that’s not tied up with work, my daughter, exercise or household tasks. It’s something just for me.
So that’s my pick this month for you. Go and find that thing that’s yours, and yours alone.
TL;DR: The Long Dark is a game about isolation and survival set in the stunning Canadian wilderness.
The Long Dark sits in the category of first-person survival games (not a genre I actually play very often), but I bought it a few years ago during early access because I liked the initial glimpses I saw of its art direction and due it it being a made by a local Indie studio, Hinterland Games, currently based in Vancouver. I tinkered with it a bit at the time, but didn’t go too far into the game as I got distracted with other things and it was still pretty early in the game development.
For some reason during this period of self-isolation I decided to revisit a game about surviving while very isolated in the rugged and brutal Canadian wilderness. While the game shares many of the aspects of survival games such as exploration, collecting resources and crafting, it does not have a horde of zombies, mutants or other forms of post-apocalyptic marauders to deal with.
Rather, your main nemesis in The Long Dark is the wilderness and weather. For this reason I actually find the game very relaxing. Often all you hear are the sounds of birds, wind rustling through the trees or the distant and lonely (I hope!) howl of a wolf. The Long Dark apocalypse was a quiet one, a geomagnetic event that shut down electronics but left nature untouched.
The landscapes are beautiful, and done in an art style reminiscent of famous Canadian landscape artists. This really drives the exploration aspect of the game for me as I am always stumbling out of the woods half frozen and hungry, only to find myself pausing to take in a scene (and screenshot) of a beautiful frozen lake with majestic snow covered mountains in the background. Perhaps I should just lie down here and admire the view…
But my temperature is dropping fast and is that a cave I spy on the other side? I can make a fire, warm up… must… keep… moving.
You will find some traces of civilization – a snow covered highway, an abandoned road side gas station and perhaps a cabin to escape the blizzard from with precious old clothing and canned food inside. But you will also have to learn to craft clothing, medicine and tools.
The game has three main modes currently: a story mode (which is great), your classic open world survival mode (with various levels of difficulty), and a challenge mode (basically mini stories with specific objectives).
If you are already tired of isolation, then this game may not be right for you at the moment but I do recommend checking this out if you ever felt like escaping into one of those beautifully painted Canadian landscapes.
In Short: This hour long series on traditional network TV tells the story of fictional Seal Team Bravo and their leader Jason Hayes, played by David Boreanaz. It stands out for tackling PTSD, faith, loss, family without being too jingoistic as some other American military shows.
The first season of this series was good, but not great, with solid back stories established for the Seals while they “spun up” for missions around the world. In seasons two and three, more personal struggles were revealed as character changes in their home lives bled into their missions. In his past series, Buffy, Angel, and Bones, David Boreanaz has not received much credit for his acting, despite being in a leading role for 23 straight years on TV. As Bravo One on Seal Team, his character suffers personal and professional losses while contemplating his own mortality and the end of the only career he has ever know.
TL;DR: An exceptional remake of an exceptional game. Recommended for both fans of the original and beginners alike.
As the name suggests, Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7R) is a fully remade and remastered version of the beloved PS1 JRPG of the same name. As a concept FF7R is kind of unique — most remakes or remasters are a straight retelling with tidied up graphics. FF7R rebuilds the game from the ground up — what Hollywood might call a reboot, but with a 23 year gap between cycles – and expands, improves and builds upon the original story along with vastly improved graphics and audio.
So that’s the background. In many ways FF7R was destined to suffer from the same double edged sword of opinion that Star Wars The Force Awakens did: no matter how good the actual result, the end product could never possibly live up to the weighty expectations of its fanbase.
The good news is that in almost every aspect the game manages to meet these expectations. Voice acting (the original was text based) is very well matched to the characters, and well performed. The magic and leveling system is retained but improved upon, making it familiar but updated to meet modern standards. The levels are vastly expanded – the game covers only the first disc of the original story-wise, so this is a necessity. For the most part, the levels are improved upon (e.g. climbing the Sector 7 wall and Shinra Tower) although occasionally they overstay their welcome (e.g. the Train Graveyard). The combat, which switches from turn based in the original to action based in the remake, is among the best I’ve encountered in any RPG. Overall the updates are so well done that they feel effortless — it’s easy to overlook how much pressure the devs must have been under to get things right.
TL;DR: If you’re stuck inside with a spouse or roommate then this is a great game to creatively pass the time and get you thinking outside the box.
This game is a board game that gained fame from how you play – you have to work with and destroy the pieces as you go, so you can only play it once! Each Exit game has a different theme which is weird and fun. The game comes with a booklet to work through, a deck of Riddle Cards, a deck of Answer Cards, a bunch of Clue Cards, and a couple other odds-and-ends. You start with the story at the beginning of the booklet, which tells you to grab the first riddle. Then you’re off!
The Clue Cards are only for when you get stuck, so try your best. The Answer Cards are funny – some are just big red X’s. If you don’t solve the Riddle properly then you’re bound to pick up one of these X cards and you’ll have to think outside the box a bit more. Some riddles are so creative and different that they just had me in stitches! There are some fun twists that’ll leave you feeling impressed at the sheer ingenuity of it.
“Exit: The Game” has a ton of games to choose from ranging from Level 1-5. I’d say I’m pretty good at puzzles and logic in general – that’s my job as a software developer and also I’m a big fan of events like Puzzled Pint (check it out sometime – if you like beer and games you will love this). That being said, these games are not easy. Trust me on this, you want level 2 or 3.
The Exit games also come with an optional app which I highly recommend downloading when you play. It gives you a timer and also has a unique background music soundtrack for each game. The specific game we played was “Haunted Roller Coaster” so you can only imagine the soundtrack to go along with that. Mood music for sure.
I’ve seen Exit: The Game being sold at lots of hobby and game stores, so get out there and support your local stores by buying a take-home game or two!
TL;DR – Better Call Saul is a relatively slow-burn crime drama with Bob Odenkirk as a sketchy lawyer with a good heart but poor execution. Season 5 is one of the best yet, helping bridge the gap between this show and Breaking Bad more than any other season, with some of the best performances from the entire cast in the series.
I’ve been a fan of Vince Gilligan’s work since the Breaking Bad days, but have become an even bigger fan as the Better Call Saul series has evolved. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Better Call Saul follows the life of notorious lawyer Jimmy McGill from the Breaking Bad universe, before Walter White and Jesse Pinkman hit the scene. While this PCP is about Season 5 in particular, what I love about the show is how well it portrays the complex emotions surrounding a troubled man trying to make a name for himself while struggling to get out of his successful brother’s shadow. It has the gritty and tense drama paired with dark humor that you’d expect from Vince Gilligan, but with a much more relatable human aspect than Breaking Bad (in my opinion).
Now, for what makes Season 5 special (spoiler alert, kind of I guess – but come on, it’s the name of the show)? Honestly, it’s that we finally get to see Jimmy become Saul Goodman. We’ve been WAITING for 4 seasons for him to become the infamous dirtbag lawyer, but the time has finally come! We see him transform from a man trying to make his mark in the world of law, to a man staking a claim in the seedy underbelly of the legal system. More than that, however, is that Rhea Seehorn absolutely steals the show in her role as Kim Wexler. She is the center of everything. She is more than just the title character’s partner and I’d argue that her storyline could stand on its own, given how well Seehorn brings Kim to life. Her performance is captivating and it’s amazing to watch her balance the devil and angel on her shoulders. I won’t say more about it because I don’t want to spoil anything, but seriously put this in your queue.
In short: Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches is a lovely read (or listen!) by the actor, writer, and podcast host John Hodgman.
John Hodgman is one of my favorite people that I don’t know. My first introduction to him was the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials that aired around the mid-2000s in which he played the very uncool (but, let’s be honest, kind of relatable) PC character. In the last couple of years, I became a fan through his podcast Judge John Hodgman where John, alongside his “baliff” Jesse Thorn adjudicate disputes between couples, family members and friends. John Hodgman is witty, wise, and most aptly, incredibly judgmental.
Though I knew John Hodgman had written a few books (5, to be precise), I hadn’t gotten around to reading any of them. However, now that I have some more free-time on my hands, I hit up my local library’s online audiobook catalogue to see what I could find. I landed on John Hodgman’s penultimate book, narrated by the man himself: Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches.
Vacationland is a collection of stories from John Hodgmans’s life, with a focus on him and his family’s many vacations to their summer homes in the state of Maine. From the anxieties around lying to the employees at the dump about which town he lives in, to the evolutionary purpose of the mustache, John explores the realities and eccentricities of his transition into middle age and his acceptance of becoming a “Weird Dad”.
Did you catch the plural in “homes” up there? John Hodgman has two summer homes. The privilege he has a well-off, straight, white male is one of many serious topics that John explores in this book alongside his comedic wanderings. Not only is Vacationland hilarious, it is poignant, though-provoking and deeply heartfelt.
As Covid-19 changes every aspect of our lives, from how we work to how we spend our free time, there’s a unique opportunity for game developers and studios to adapt their marketing strategy and fill a new hunger in the market. The cancellation of key gaming events and conferences has changed the industry, and the success of games like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons points the way forward during these troubling times. Let’s take a look at what makes New Horizons so special.
A Feat in Games Marketing: New Horizons’ Record Breaking Launch
In Japan alone, New Horizons set a Nintendo Switch launch record by selling 1.88 million copies in the first 3 days after its release on March 20th, 2020 — as Japanese citizens were being asked to follow more and more quarantine restrictions. After just 10 days, New Horizons exceeded 2.6 million sales in the region. This doesn’t even include digital sales. Woah, that’s a big launch!
While we don’t have any North American numbers yet, it’s clear that New Horizons is a phenomenon this side of the pond as well. What can game publishers and studios learn from this success?
Tapping into Nostalgia
The first Animal Crossing game was released in North America in late 2002 on the Nintendo GameCube. For many gamers who were not so enamored with the fast-paced fighting game Super Smash Bros. Melee (released the year prior), Animal Crossing provided a more casual gaming experience. No longer were players subjected to being crushed by their older brothers in Melee, but instead enjoy building our quiet little villages and not worry about being competitive.
Animal Crossing also introduced a novel game mechanic: using the GameCube’s built-in clock, the game ran in real-time. Along with its cheerful graphics and soundtrack, the real-time gameplay made Animal Crossing unique and memorable.
With the last game in the Animal Crossing main series being released in 2012, fans of the franchise have been trying to fill the hole in our hearts with farming simulators and spin-off games like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for mobile.
In the wake of this pandemic, I’ve missed coming home after school to plant money trees, interact with my animal neighbors and yes, even be yelled at by Mr. Resetti for turning off my game without saving (oops!).
Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides the familiarity that so many have been looking for right now. Players don’t need to learn new mechanics as the game plays similar to previous titles. They get to interact with their favorite characters and relive good memories through the nostalgic tunes of K.K. Slider. Now that the world feels so chaotic and unpredictable, the nostalgia is comforting.
Nostalgia can be a driving component in your game’s marketing strategy. Check out how AE helped a major record label to use nostalgia marketing to engage their fans.
Routines for “Normal” Living
With social distancing measures and parks being shut down, we’re no longer enjoying weekly outings with friends. We’re wanting to complete projects around the house, but are faced with the dilemma of whether or not it’s okay to order gardening tools because it’s not really essential.
In comes New Horizons, a game that provides the player with an escape to a chill, stress-free world. On my island, I don’t need to worry about the risk of going to the local garden centre — Nook’s Cranny is open and I can plant flowers if I want to. Players have a chance to feel productive in New Horizons without the stress that real-world productivity can bring.
New Horizons runs in real time. There are certain tasks (like finding fossils) that can only be done once a day. So instead of my daily walk to work in the morning, I’m running around my island to dig up fossils. Players are encouraged to do these tasks daily through in-game rewards. We can establish a regular routine, something that many of us are craving in these uncertain times.
The game also has little, if any, consequences and the players’ success is entirely self-defined. There’s no “losing” or “game over” in New Horizons, and that’s incredibly appealing in a world where we all feel like we are “losing” right now.
Virtual Social Events
In the times of social distancing, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of New Horizons’ gameplay is the ability to connect meaningfully with others through the game. While developers like Epic Games have hosted hugely successful in-game events as part of their marketing strategy, New Horizons allows for smaller, more intimate social interaction.
New Horizons allows for players to visit and interact with their friends’ islands, something that people have been taking advantage of in order to hold social events that they currently cannot have in the real world. One Reddit user even held an in-game wedding in light of having to cancel their real life wedding due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the pandemic, many of my non-gamer friends have come to the darkside of being forever indebted to Tom Nook. While Animal Crossing has always had a large fanbase, there’s been a substantial influx of new players with the release of New Horizons. Many people are even buying a Switch or Switch Lite console for the sole purpose of playing the game!
Players of Animal Crossing: New Horizons are talking to their friends and family about the game. I’ve personally been texting or messaging non-gaming family members gushing about it, and have had non-gamer friends reach out to ask for my “friend code” so that they can join me in game.
Without our normal activities to keep us busy, for more and more people the answer to “What are you up to right now?” is becoming “I’m gaming.” Animal Crossing: New Horizons shows that these virtual conversations are a key factor in the acquisition of new players to a game’s overall success.
The Importance of Social Media in Games Marketing
Social media is ablaze with conversation about New Horizons. As reported by Forbes, Animal Crossing saw a 71% rise in overall conversation on Twitter after the release of New Horizons. The number of subscribers on the Animal Crossing subreddit also skyrocketed, rising from 330k at the end of February to over 642k by the end of March.
Not only are gamers telling their friends and family about New Horizons, they’re engaging with the game on social media. They’re tweeting memes about Tom Nook’s shady business practices. They’re making a TikTok about how much they hate the new animal that has moved into their village. These posts are getting hundreds and thousands of views, spreading the word about New Horizons and reaching people who are new to gaming.
Want to know more about the role of social media in marketing strategy? We talked about social media and Ariana Grande’s digital marketing strategy here.
Opportunities for Your Game Launch Marketing Strategy
With initiatives like #PlayApartTogether, the gaming industry is beginning to recognize the unique and important part that video games play and will continue to play in our changing world. Now, more than ever, video game publishers and developers have the opportunity to attract new players to the space.
Here’s the takeaway lessons from the launch of New Horizons that you can apply to your game marketing strategy:
- Highlight the nostalgic aspects of your game. Players are looking for a safe, familiar space that reminds them of the good times.
- Look for what people are lacking in their lives right now. How does your game meet needs that can otherwise not be met (e.g. productivity and routine)?
- Provide a virtual social space and emphasize the social aspects of your game, whether those aspects are in-game on another platform such as social media.
- Give gamers something to talk about and encourage conversation about your game.
- Actively build a social media community around your game.
Animal Crossing isn’t the only game we love. Check out our top 10 video games here!
This month, the AE team is bringing you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices. 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!
The short: No pop culture is the right fit for now, but my shotgun weed puller is doing the trick!
Being at home and isolated in my family bubble I’ve found that media doesn’t have the same appeal it did before the pandemic. I am a huge fan of any TV show set in a dark and snow-bound country with a serial killer on the loose. But those shows aren’t what I need right now. Turns out what I do need is my brand new Fiskars Weed Puller.
A year and half ago my husband I purchased our first house in Victoria, BC. She’s a wonderful home near a local waterway built in 1942. She’s also a house that needs a lot of TLC – good bones, the home inspector said – and part of that care is focused on the garden. Our lawn is covered with dandelions and broadleaf plantains. It’s more weed than grass and while my 10 year vision is to have minimal grass and lots of native plants, right now our lawn needs help.
Last week I was on a clear-my-mind-what-the-f**k-is-going-on walk when I saw a neighbour using a long pole and pushing down with her foot to remove dandelions. We chatted for a bit and she told me how satisfying she found the process thanks to her weed puller.
Two days later I owned my very own Fiskars Weed Puller. I try to spend at least 20 minutes every day pulling up weeds. It is incredibly satisfying to push the tool into the earth and pull up the weed complete with root! I’m also getting outside. I’m breathing fresh air. I’m improving my garden. I’m clearing my mind. I’m also connecting with passersby; a number of couples have also asked about my tool.
The pièce de résistance is that dropping the weed off the tool is a shotgun action. I’ve got my own Winchester Rifle: “Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”
TL;DR: Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an engaging game with gorgeous visuals.
I’m a big fan of platformers or “Metroidvania” style games. They were my favorites as a kid, and I’ve continued to play them my whole life. In fact, one of the things I really like about game stores like Steam, etc. is that you can find so many lovingly made, retro style platformers developed by indie studios all over the world.
A good Metroidvania game combines a great story with exciting and challenging combat that takes place within the confines of tricky level design. It requires the player to perfectly jump, swing, slide, etc. to navigate and reach a destination or “boss”. Usually the games include initially inaccessible areas on the maps that you can go back to later once you acquire some new talent (e.g. a wall bash or double jump).
From my perspective, the great thing about this style of games is that they are usually easy to start and stop. Navigating the levels essentially requires solving puzzles and then executing a series actions near perfectly. If you die, you can try again pretty quickly. If you get stuck, you can turn the game off and come back later, starting from where you left off.
So with that context, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is probably one of the best I have played. This game continues the storyline of the first game, Ori and The Blind Forest (which I also loved). It is really an engaging story and they know how to bring the feels.
The visuals are absolutely gorgeous. Even though this is basically a 2D sidescroller, you really feel the depth of the environments due to the layering of foreground and backgrounds.
I feel combat is better in this version than the first and the developers have provided quite a bit of flexibility in playstyle by giving players the ability to equip different combinations of skills. Each of these skills can be improved and so players can focus on the attacks and navigation abilities they prefer. In some case a special ability is needed to progress, but there is usually more than one way to tackle these obstacles.
There is a decent amount of choice in exploring the world since you can choose the order of which paths to follow, rather than a purely linear progression. This also helps with the frustration factor as you can quickly warp out of an area and try somewhere else.
If you like these types of games like I do, then I highly recommend. If you haven’t played many of these types of games then this could be a great intro. My only suggestion is to start with Ori and the Blind Forest so that you can experience the full story.
In Short: Melissa Hunter writes and stars in 5 min episodes as the grown-up version of the death-obsessed little girl from the Addams Family TV shows/movie.
How this little series made it to YouTube without being pulled by the Addams Family licensees, I have no idea. But it’s brilliant. Follow along as Wednesday applies for a job, goes on a date, walks the dog, or deals with cat-callers on the street. It is a simple idea, take a well known character as a child and observe them as an adult – and in this case through Wednesday’s macabre lens that involves blood, death, and sleeping in a crypt.
TL;DR: Taking my bike out for a spin every morning before working from home has been a lifesaver during this time of self-isolation.
Last August I decided to buy a bicycle and start biking to work. It’s really been great getting in some daily exercise, and although there have been some challenges (so many flat tires, and extremely dark and rainy winter) my route is beautiful and I don’t have to take the bus every day anymore. My route takes me down the Lochside trail past Swan Lake, and then down the famous Galloping Goose trail, over the Selkirk Trestle, and to the scenic Victoria harbour.
Now that Canada is pretty much in lock-down mode with the COVID-19 pandemic, the “new normal” is to work from home. My first week of working from home took some getting used to in terms of carving out my personal “office corner” and trying to keep a routine. After about 5 days though I turned into a stiff blob from not moving much, so I decided to treat the mornings like I’m still going in to the office. I wake up early, make a coffee in my Hydro Flask, and I bike my usual route downtown. Then I’ve been having my coffee in an empty plaza overlooking the harbour and the Blue Bridge, and then going back home!
In the pre-self-isolation days this tiny routine may have been a silly thing to mention. I think the pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes to the little things in life that we are grateful for every day, and because of that I wanted to share my pick of my beloved bicycle. I am grateful for the chance to work from home, grateful for having a home at all, grateful for being “cooped up” with my other half and not being alone, grateful for my bicycle which starts my day off right, and grateful for my beautiful city and the great weather.
TL;DR – Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch is the perfect way to spend your days self-isolating, with adorable characters, a bit of humour, a rewarding gameplay loop, and a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful music.
I’ll be honest, this is my first time ever playing a proper version of Animal Crossing (other than the mobile Pocket Camp game). But when I saw all my friends and video game critics raving about New Horizons, I knew I wanted in (hooray peer pressure!). In fact, I bought a Nintendo Switch mainly for this game alone (and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild). What strikes me about Animal Crossing: New Horizons is its simplicity. Like I said it’s my first go at the franchise but I immediately knew what I was getting into. The character models are cute – nothing fancy, but functional and fits the aesthetic. The music is relaxing and immediately got me feeling a bit zen. And the visuals overall are great! Again, nothing special since the Switch isn’t exactly a powerhouse console, but it’s charming and easy to look at.
But the thing that REALLY got me hooked was the gameplay. For reference, I’ve recently being playing a ton of Destiny 2 and Division 2 – you know, games where your character constantly dies and you have people online yelling in your ears. Needless to say, it’s all a bit stressful during these weird times we find ourselves in. Enter Animal Crossing. The game where, at worst, you faint from getting stung by bees or bitten by a tarantula, only to wake up at your front door ready to go off on another adventure. The goal of the game is to terraform a deserted island that you’ve been dropped onto with a few new pals, with more to join you as things develop. You collect materials found in nature, craft tools like fishing rods, bug catching nets, axes, etc. Then you do it all over again! You can honestly do whatever you want. Got a green thumb? Plant a garden and some trees! Keen on home decoration? Better Homes and Gardens, here you come (at a price, resident capitalist Tom Nook will keep you up to your nose in debt if you’re interested in home ownership)! Up for a little runway modelling? Treat yourself to a fancy Starfleet outfit (looking at you, Roxanne). The world is your oyster.
And one of the best parts is that the game syncs with your real-life timezone. The days advance as your day advances. A lot of the capabilities in the game are limited to what you get done in a day, but there’s also no rush. You can jump in for 10 minutes every morning, or for a few hours here and there. It doesn’t discriminate or punish you. It just wants you to have fun. And honestly, with the way things are right now, if we have to isolate ourselves on our own little islands then why not make it a more enjoyable experience? Plus, with the ability to have your real-life friends who own the game visit your island, I can’t think of a better exercise to put the social in social-distancing!
In Short: Wonderful! Is a podcast about good things and the things that make them good.
When I’m craving a little shot of positivity and goodness, I make a cup of tea, curl up on my papasan chair and put on the podcast Wonderful! Hosted by husband and wife Griffin and Rachel McElroy, Wonderful! journeys through all that is good, lovely, and well, wonderful in the world.
Each episode begins with Griffin and Rachel’s “small wonders”, like open-window weather (episode 80: Jarpin’) or the Zamboni driver who filled in as goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes (episode 123: Nasty Jupiter). They then share their “big wonders”, delving deeper into what makes that particular thing so wonderful to them.
I absolutely love Griffin’s absurd sense of humour, and Rachel’s dulcet tones (especially when she recites one of her favourite poems during the recurring Rachel’s Poetry Corner segment). The chemistry between the two is a treat to listen to – this podcast just oozes love and happiness.
Don’t know where to start? Try episode 93: The Ghost Ship McDonald where Rachel details the rich history of the McBarge, a floating McDonald’s restaurant built for Expo ’86 in Vancouver or episode 71: Baby Like It Sweet where Griffin deep-dives into video game preservation.