Just forget the words and sing along

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Obtaining the Holy Grail

Well, Christmas vacation 2012/2013 is coming to a close.  I took 2 weeks off for my Christmas vacation, rather than my usual 1 week.  Around the middle of November I got an e-mail from the boss, informing me of my unused vacation days and asking me to use them up.  I was taken aback, usually because I get that e-mail in the middle of January and I take a week off in February to use them up.  But everything seemed to be moving ahead of schedule this year, so I proposed doubling my Christmas vacation to get those unused days off the books, which everyone around the office seemed to be OK with.

And boy, do I know how to cap off a vacation or what, because for my final day (yesterday), I made...A DENTIST'S APPOINTMENT!  Yup, got my teeth cleaned.  I made the usual small talk with the hygienist, which usually revolves around why a guy from Athabasca goes all the way to Spruce Grove to see the dentist.  Quite simple really:  every time I start asking around Athabasca, the dentists in the area keep telling me they're not taking new patients.  So finally I said, "Screw it, I'll keep going to my regular guy."

Besides, it gives me a reason to take a day off work, and as we've already established, I have a real problem with not using up my vacation days.  

So, with a mouthful of clean teeth, I was off to Edmonton to spend all those lovely, wonderful Christmas gift cards.  First stop:  Wal-mart.  For you see, I was in need of a new pair of shoes.  Now that winter is in full swing, I wearing snow boots, of course, but what to do when I get to work?  I don't like wearing the snow boots around the office, because wearing them all day, the feet got hot and sweaty -- and not in the good way.  So I like to slip off the boots and wear some more comfortable footwear.  I know some colleagues at some of our sister stations have been known to wear slippers or Crocs, but a few years back a memo was sent out, saying that such footwear is officially frowned upon.  My solution:  cheap, $10 runners.  And my usual pair of "office runners" had become worn down to just nothing.  Seriously, it was like binding my feet in rags.

After I got my new shoes, and a few shirts I liked, I fell back into old habits and headed to the toy section to see if there were any new action figures I wanted to obtain for my collection.  And yes, there were.  A few years back, they started this group of Star Wars figures called "The Vintage Collection," where the packaging is designed to look like the original Star Wars figures from the early-80s, and I'm a sucker for that retro stuff.

Aurra Sing, in retro packaging.

I remember the summer of 1999, when me and most of my friends were in a cloud of new Star Wars stuff, thanks to the release of The Phantom Menace.  For those few of my friends who dove head-first into the new Expanded Universe stuff that came along, they were quick to tell me that Aurra Sing - a character with barely a second of screen time in Episode I, was quickly becoming a rising star in the Star Wars fanfic community.  So, with all those memories of my friends telling me about the awesomeness of Aurra Sing, I figured I should grab her action figure.

Ashoka Tano, in retro packaging.

As I've blogged before, I never really got into the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Seeing the very-bad movie version that started the series was when I officially declared myself burnt out on Star Wars.  Although, my friends who've stuck with it tell me it's gotten a lot better as the TV seasons wore on.  As such, The Clone Wars is vastly under-represented in my collection.  But, from what I did see, I do know that Ahsoka Tano is one of the stars of the show, being the Jedi apprentice of Anakin Skywalker.  She's a tragic character without knowing she's tragic...as we all know from the events of Revenge of the Sith, she's going to die.  As she's not in Revenge of the Sith, she'll probably die in the final episode of The Clone Wars.  But she'll live forever, encased in carbonite blister packaging.

Now I was off to Best Buy, to start spending my Best Buy gift cards.  I already had one Blu-Ray picked out.  As you know, I'm a huge fan of the folks over at Pixar.  And, in late fall, they released their second compilation of the short films, entitled The Pixar Short Film Collection Volume 2.  So, of course, Pixar junkie that I am, I knew I had to get it.  That was the only one I was planning to get, but as you may recall, I blogged a few months ago that, as part of the Skyfall hype, pretty much all of the James Bond films are now being released to Blu-Ray.  And I saw the brand-new Blu-Ray release of the Timothy Dalton Bond The Living DaylightsThe Living Daylights was the one I had earmarked to be upgraded to Blu-Ray next, as I have the basic edition DVD with no bonus features.  And there was the shiny new Blu-Ray, loaded with all the bonus features...for just $6.99!  How could I say no when the price was so ridiculously low?

New DVDs in hand, it was now off to West Edmonton Mall to catch a movie the way it was meant to be seen...on the big screen.  I just wasn't going to let my Christmas vacation end without catching a movie.  (While I'm at it, apologies to my mother, who was really hoping I'd take her to see Les Miz before going home.  Being the only one in the family who actually takes time to go to movies anymore, most all of my family waits for me to come visit so they have an excuse to go to the movies.)  But before I was off to the movies, there was a small side trip.

As I blogged a couple of weeks ago, my Holy Grail of Star Wars action figures has been the McQuarrie Concept Stormtrooper.  Every time I got to the city, I swing by the comic book and collectible shops to see if one is in...and to see if the price is something I can afford.  Many years ago, when I started this action figure collecting hobby, I said I'd never pay more than $20 for a figure.  And, if you've never been to a comic book and collectibles shop to buy an action figure, let me tell you, they are rarely less than $20 in those places.  Now, as you'll recall in that blog entry from a few weeks ago, one of my shops in West Edmonton Mall had the McQuarrie Concept Stormtrooper for $25.  Just $5 more than my self-imposed limit, when such a limit made sense to a 14-year old kid working part-time in a grocery store.  So I sucked it up and walked away, because I guess I don't like spending five extra dollars to be happy.  I fully expected it wouldn't be back when I returned.

I returned and...it was still there.  And, even better, it had been marked down to the "Mark can sleep at night" price of $19.99.  I could not believe that it had been marked down to less than $20.  Not even the clerk could believe it when he rung it up for me!  "I paid a lot more than $19.99 for mine on eBay," he grumbled, as he placed it in a shopping bag.

So, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me a great sense of joy and accomplishment to reveal to you my Holy Grail of Star Wars action figures...the McQuarrie Concept Stormtroooper.

The McQuarrie Concept Stormtrooper.

It's a Stormtroooper!  With a lightsaber!  And a shield!  How awesome is that?

As great as it would have been to call it a day after that, there was one last thing left to do.  I went to see Django Unchained.  The latest from Quentin Tarantino, as he offers up his rendition of the Spaghetti western.  Set 2 years before the Civil War, Jaimie Foxx plays Django, a freed slave who becomes a bounty hunter and goes after the ruthless plantation owner that bought his wife.  Christopher Waltz, the German actor who won an Oscar for Tarantino's last film, Inglorious Basterds, plays Dr. King Shultz, the dentist-turned-bounty hunter who frees Django, and becomes Django's partner, best friend, and mentor in the bounty hunting trade.  And Leonardo diCaprio plays the ruthless plantation owner. Calvin Candee.

The usual Tarantino flourishes are there, in the dialogue and the blood.  My God, the blood...probably Tarantino's bloodiest film.  Not his most violent...but definitely his bloodiest, as each gunshot just sends out geysers of blood.  Probably his most cameo-filled movie too, as Tarantino loves bringing out these fondly remembered actors from TV and exploitation movies and giving them one more shot.  The one cameo I was pleasantly surprised to spot was Tom Wopat, Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard, showing up as a Texas marshal.

(Another Dukes of Hazzard reference I kept getting...it's established that Calvin Candee's plantation is in Chickasaw Country...in The Dukes of Hazzard, Chickasaw County was Hazzard County's neighouring county.)

If I have a complaint, that would be that this is the first Tarantino movie where I felt it kind of dragged in places...it felt about a half-hour too long.  It was like Tarantino was allowed his indulgences a little too much.

All in all, though, a very entertaining film, and another great addition to the Tarantino filmography. 

And that's it!  Christmas vacation 2012 draws to close, and I'm back at work on Monday.  I'm buff, I'm tan, I'm well-rested.  I should take vacations more often. 

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