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BUENA VISTA

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Various

Cast:
Jennifer Garner, Ron Rifkin, Michael Vartan, Bradley Cooper, Victor Garber, Merrin Dungey, Carl Lumbly
Writing Credits:
Various

Tagline:
Spying. Stealing. Murder. And You Think Your Family Has Issues.

Synopsis:
Golden Globe Award-winning actress Jennifer Garner is Sydney Bristow. Syd's not exactly your average grad student. Her life might appear normal, but she's hiding a secret life working as a spy for the CIA.

Sydney's world is turned upside down when she learns she may work for the very enemy she thought she was fighting. Now she's entangled in a covert lifestyle where she is forced to question the allegiances of everyone, including those closest to her.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 990 min.
Price: $69.98
Release Date: 9/2/2003

Bonus:
Alias Pilot Production  Diary
• "Inside Stunts" Documentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Gag Reel
• Audio Commentaries on Four Episodes
• Season 2 Sneak Peek
Alias Video Game Preview
• DVD-ROM Script Scanner
Alias TV Spots


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RELATED REVIEWS


Alias: The Complete First Season (2001)

Reviewed by David Williams (October 30, 2003)

If you aren’t familiar with Alias, all I can ask is, “What planet have you been on?” This weekly, hour-long series on ABC was created by JJ Abrams - the man behind Felicity - and it premiered to critical acclaim and fanfare on September 30, 2001. The show follows the exploits of Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), a young graduate student who leads a double-life as a double-agent. During her freshman year, Sydney was recruited by SD-6, whom she was led to believe was a shadowy arm of the CIA and whose high-ranking members included her estranged father, Jack (Victor Garber).

Sydney balances her life as an outgoing and good-looking student with that of being a spy in a clandestine and covert organization known simply as, “The Agency”. A very skilled and proficient agent, Sydney enjoys her job and is involved in all levels of international espionage. She keeps her life as a secret agent to herself, but when she spills the beans and inadvertently causes her fiancé to be murdered, she realizes just how serious the life she has chosen really is.

The first episode really sets up the entire series well, as Sydney, SD-6, and its Machiavellian boss, Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), are in pursuit of a strange device that is in the possession of a man named Rambaldi. However, through this mission, Sydney soon comes to realize that SD-6 isn’t a branch of the CIA after all, but an agency that’s part of a much larger alliance working against the CIA. The CIA promptly recruits Sydney as a double-agent to work against SD-6 by either sabotaging missions or simply performing reconnaissance for the CIA - all without blowing her cover at SD-6 … as you might imagine, close calls abound. As Sydney uncovers layers upon layers of deceit, she discovers her father’s involvement in the whole mess and leans on the only person that she feels that she can trust, CIA agent Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan).

While successive seasons have had some great moments, most would agree that season one has been the best from top to bottom. If you missed the inaugural season, or have been avoiding the show because you can’t follow the storylines, now’s your chance. Buena Vista has deftly and skillfully brought the first season to DVD and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be in anyone’s collection that considers themselves a fan of good TV.

Now, let’s take a look at the individual episodes …

- Disc One -

Truth Be Told (Original Air Date: September 30, 2001)
Commentary with actress Jennifer Garner and series creator J.J. Abrams.
In the pilot episode, we are introduced to Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner); for all intents and purposes, a grad student just trying to keep her head above water who’s delicately balancing school and a love life. However, she harbors a very deep secret – since she was a freshman, she’s been secret agent working for SD-6, a spin-off of the CIA, and she’s having a hard time keeping it to herself. Everyone from her partner at SD-6, Dixon (Carl Lumbly), to the resident gadget-guru at the organization, Marshall (Kevin Weisman), know how important Sydney’s secret is for her own safety and the safety of those around her and they discourage her from telling her boyfriend about it. However, Sydney decides to break protocol and tell her boyfriend Danny about what she does and it immediately places his life, as well as Sydney’s, in danger. Along the way, Sydney discovers that SD-6 isn’t what she thought it was and is actually an enemy of the United States and that her father, Jack (Victor Garber), is also a member of the organization. In desperation, Sydney turns to the real CIA and is assigned to Agent Vaughn (Michael Cartan) and he asks Sydney to become a double-agent and report back her missions and any relevant information about SD-6 directly to him. He tells her to remain at SD-6, as she will be a valuable source of information on what SD-6 is planning and how they are operating. However, when Sydney learns that her father also works for the CIA, she doesn’t know who to trust or what version of the truth to believe. (This pilot ran without commercial interruption and did a superb job of setting up the show’s entire – and sometimes complicated – premise in a scant 69 minutes.)

So It Begins (Original Air Date: October 7, 2001)
Commentary with director Ken Olin, producer Sarah Caplan and cinematographer Michael Bonvillain.
While working with SD-6 to bring down a nuclear arms dealer, Sydney begins reporting back to the CIA in an effort to bring the organization down. Sydney’s journalist friend, Will (Bradley Cooper), begins to grow suspicious of Sydney’s latest disappearance and starts asking a few questions … one which leads Sydney on a path where she learns some information about her father’s role in her boyfriend’s death. Agent Vaughn is removed as Sydney’s contact from the CIA after a very dangerous mishap.

Parity (Original Air Date: October 14, 2001)
Some ancient sketches and drawings by an ancient seer containing binary codes on the back are at the center of this episode, as Sydney and a rival Russian agency, the K Directorate, are both out to get them. It seems that these sketches and codes, by Milo Rambaldi, are at the root of a much deeper mystery. However, when they are retrieved, the container housing them seems impossible to open. In an effort to please their respective bosses, Sydney and rival Russian agent Anna Espinosa (Gina Torres) team up in order to penetrate the container and seize/memorize its contents. Will continues to dig deeper into Danny’s murder and Sydney’s best friend Francie (Merrin Dungey) confides in her when she thinks her boyfriend might be cheating.

- Disc Two -

A Broken Heart (Original Air Date: October 21, 2001)
Sydney finds herself tailing terrorists with intentions on dismantling the United Commerce Organization in quite an explosive manner. However, she is also corralled into helping Francie spy on her cheating boyfriend. In other developments, Will struggles with his feelings for Sydney while continuing to help her track down Danny’s killer and Jack struggles with some of the secrets he’s been keeping from his daughter. Agent Vaughn opens up somewhat about his feelings for Sydney and gives her a shoulder to cry on as she struggles with the pressures of being a double-agent.

Doppelganger (Original Air Date: October 28, 2001)
Sydney watches as a bomb is planted into the pacemaker of a member of the United Commerce Organization and its up to Sydney and Dixon to remove it before it’s detonated, Meanwhile, Will continues his investigation of Danny’s death by tracking down clues that lead him face-to-face with a woman Danny was supposed to fly with on the day he died. Vaughn helps Sydney avoid some potential problems with SD-6 and when something piques Sloane’s (Ron Rifkin) interest and arouses his suspicions, Sydney’s father Jack steps in to protect his daughter.

Reckoning (Original Air Date: November 18, 2001
After the explosion from the preceding episode triggered by Dixon, Sydney struggles knowing that it resulted in the deaths of four CIA agents. However, Vaughn convinces her that she did all that she could do. When she returns, Sydney learns that her father will now be working alongside her at SD-6 and when Vaughn arranges for Sydney to peruse her father’s CIA file, she begins to piece together clues that allow her to see Jack’s role in her mother’s death. Will hits a wall while working on his investigation and when Sydney is assigned her next case, she finds herself trapped in a Romanian asylum run by a sadistic K-Directorate agent, Doctor Kreshnik (Eugene Lazarev).

Color Blind (Original Air Date: November 25, 2001)
Sydney uncovers more clues about Danny’s death while trying to break out an assassin with some very important information out of the K-Directorate's asylum. Sloane realizes that not all of his agents are completely loyal to SD-6’s cause and Jack angrily confronts Vaughn about allowing his file to be viewed without his knowledge and without following proper protocol.

- Disc Three -

Time Will Tell (Original Air Date: December 2, 2001)
Sydney heads off to Mexico – followed by her old nemesis, Anna Espinosa – in order to find out some more information linked to the Rimbaldi sketches, while Sloane is planning some high-tech lie detector tests in order to root out the mole within the SD-6. Will is accused of falsifying information by his editor for the story on Danny Hecht’s death until some new information is unearthed. Meanwhile, Sydney discovers some information in her late mother’s book about her father that raises more serious questions about his involvement in her death.

Mea Culpa (Original Air Date: December 9, 2001) Dixon is shot while on a mission and is at the point of being comatose and Sydney becomes very nervous when she must use a satellite phone provided by the CIA in order to get help. Meanwhile, at SD-6 HQ, Sloane is informed by a superior, Dryer (Tobin Bell), that Sydney performed too well on her lie detector test and is therefore a top candidate for being the mole. Dryer convinces Sloane that he will “take care” of the problem and when Jack learns of the plan, he must convince the CIA to stand down, as he feels that it’s simply a ploy to draw them out into the open. Will’s investigation into Danny’s death puts him in more danger.

Spirit (Original Air Date: December 16, 2001)
Sydney’s cover is seemingly blown and she is captured by some of Sloane’s cronies. However, before she can be sadistically tortured, Jack steps in to save his daughter once again by diverting Sloane. Sydney then takes on a dangerous mission to win back Sloane’s trust. What she doesn’t realize is that her mission has put her dad, currently on a CIA mission, into a sticky situation with a rogue arms dealer, Ineni Hassan (Aharon Ipale). Ineni, recognizing Sydney as an SD-6 agent and unaware of the connection between Sydney and Jack, asks Jack to kill Sydney in order to prove he is no longer loyal to SD-6.

The Confession (Original Air Date: January 6, 2002)
Jack and Sydney work together to get themselves out of the aforementioned sticky situation and capture Hassan in order to deliver him to the CIA – therefore, duping SD-6 into thinking that he’s dead at the same time. Hassan and the CIA reach a deal and Hassan leads Sydney to the top-secret “package” that was in his possession, but it ends up being a deadly trap. Vaughn comes across some evidence that Jack may have been a KGB agent that was responsible for the deaths of dozens of CIA agents. However, Jack surprises Sydney with information that shows her mother was actually the KGB agent.

- Disc Four -

The Box: Part I (Original Air Date: January 20, 2002)
Sydney can’t deal with knowing that her mother was a KGB agent and she tells Vaughn that she wants to resign from SD-6. However, Jack warns her that the men Sloane reports to, The Alliance, will kill her if she quits. About that time, some heavily armed intruders, led by a former SD-6 agent left for dead, McKenas Cole (Quentin Tarantino guest stars), break into SD-6’s headquarters. Cole wants to crack open the agency’s wired-to-blow vaults and teach Sloane a very painful lesson. However, Jack and Sydney are undetected in the basement and must work together in order to keep the entire building from being blown to bits.

The Box: Part II (Original Air Date: February 10, 2002)
Vaughn steps in to help Sydney and Jack avert the destruction of the SD-6 headquarters. However, Cole is hell-bent on getting into the vault and is having a hard time getting Sloane to crack under the interrogation. Following up on a lead where the word “SD-6” was spoken, Will is encouraged by a determined woman to dig deeper into his investigation of the clandestine organization.

The Coup (Original Air Date: February 24, 2002)
Dixon and Sydney are sent to Las Vegas in order to track down a K-Directorate member who has ties with the group that attacked – and almost destroyed – SD-6 headquarters. However, a kink is thrown into the mission when Francie and her fiancé unexpectedly show up. Sydney and her dad finally talk about things other than international espionage, as Jack helps Sydney decide whether or not to continue attending graduate school.

Page 47 (Original Air Date: March 3, 2002)
Vaughn discovers a mysterious blank page in the Rambaldi book/manuscript that may hold the secrets of the entire package. However, the book is locked up at Sloane’s house and it puts Vaughn in the position of asking Sydney for a big favor – use her friendship with Sloane’s dying/cancer-stricken wife in order to get into the house to snap pictures of the book. However, when CIA analysts find that page 47 of the document is blank, they ask Sydney to steal the actual page itself and replace it with another. After taking the blank page back to the CIA and using a special “Rambaldi Liquid/Serum” on the document – similar to the type that McKenas Cole tried to steal from SD-6 – what’s on page 47 is revealed and it’s quite unsettling. Meanwhile, Will’s investigation of SD-6 places his life in grave danger and he is not so gently persuaded to drop it.

- Disc Five -

The Prophecy (Original Air Date: March 10, 2002)
The investigation deepens as to why Sydney’s mysterious picture is connected to the 500-year-old Rambaldi notebook and the “prophecy” contained within the text. When Jack alerts Vaughn and Sydney that the key to breaking the prophetic code is held within the walls of the Vatican, Sydney convinces Vaughn to go on the mission with her. Roger Moore guest stars as Edward Poole, a fellow “Alliance of Twelve” member from SD-9, and he has some information regarding a traitor in the ranks.

Q & A (Original Air Date: March 17, 2002)
Commentary with executive producers John Eisendrath, Alex-Kurtzman-Counter and Roberto Orci.
Now in the custody of the FBI, Sydney is getting grilled over her connections to Rambaldi’s doomsday prophecy. Jack and Vaughn, knowing that her cover may soon be blown, race against time in order to free her before SD-6 starts getting suspicious of her whereabouts. Sydney begins to find out more and more about Rambaldi’s writings that may shed light on an alleged weapon of mass destruction, as well as some of her family’s darkest secrets.

Masquerade (Original Air Date: April 7, 2002)
Sydney returns home after she is able to prove that she is not the subject of the Rambaldi prophecies and it’s then that she learns that the CIA is looking for her mother, Laura Bristow, who Sydney thought was dead. An old flame and fellow agent, Noah Hicks (Peter Berg) shows back up in Sydney’s life and helps Sydney locate a device that will hopefully explain her mother’s KGB work, as well as her whereabouts. Meanwhile, Will and Francie find a mysterious plane ticket that leads them to question who Sydney really is.

Snowman (Original Air Date: April 14, 2002)
Dixon and Sydney are dispatched to capture a K-Directorate assassin, known simply as “The Snowman”, when it’s learned that he is carrying out a hit on the man who was Laura Bristow’s superior at the KGB, Khasinau (Derrick O’Connor). Sydney and the assassin get into a brutal fight that ends with a twist. Meanwhile, Will and Francie confront Sydney about her travel plans and Noah and Sydney’s relationship begins to unravel … in more ways than you can imagine.

- Disc Six -

The Solution (Original Air Date: April 21, 2002)
In order to catch Khasinau, Sydney and Vaughn set a trap where they propose to sell a Rambaldi artifact – a second dose of the “Rambaldi serum” - to one of Khasinau’s associates. Sloane’s terminally ill wife tells Sydney that she knows about the existence of SD-6 and it puts both of them in danger when she lets the cat out of the bag. Will confronts Jack about his kidnapping.

Rendezvous (Original Air Date: May 5, 2002)
Will makes a startling discovery when he learns about the person who leaked his personal information to SD-6. Sloane gets closer to tracking down Khasinau when SD-6 finally captures his right-hand man, Mr. Sark (David Anders). Dixon becomes very suspicious of Sydney and the Alliance alerts Sloane of their plans to eliminate his wife for learning about – and speaking openly - about SD-6.

Almost Thirty Years (Original Air Date: May 12, 2002)
Commentary with actors Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Victor Garber, Bradley Cooper, Carl Lumbly, Ron Rifkin, Merrin Dungey, and Kevin Weisman.
In order to save Will’s life, Sydney and Jack must steal the Rambaldi manuscripts from SD-6, as well as the serum from the CIA. However, Jack tells Sydney that the CIA has a mole and she shouldn’t talk to Vaughn about their plan at all. Jack and Sydney reveal the true secrets of the blank Rambaldi page and use it as a negotiation tool in retrieving Will. Dixon questions Sydney’s loyalty and later she is captured by Khasinau’s boss … someone all too familiar to Sydney … and then we fade to black with lots of anticipation for season two.

Worn out? Good! Let’s move on and take a look at the other parts of Buena Vista’s impressive boxed set for Alias.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

The image for Alias is magnificent and Buena Vista is to be commended for doing such a fine job with the transfer to DVD. Thankfully, the studio changed their original tune of releasing the set in fullscreen and wisely decided to bring the show home in its anamorphically-enhanced televised aspect ratio of 1.78. The show is presented in HDTV on ABC and it looks as good here as it does week in and week out on the network.

The transfer is very tight and detailed and maintains a strong picture throughout all twenty-two of the season one episodes. The colors are spot-on and are properly balanced and saturated, with no bleeding or smearing seen in the print at any time. The series contains a lot of dark scenes and locales and Buena Vista’s transfer handles them masterfully. There’s a bit of grain and mild murkiness in some of these scenes, but it’s far from distracting. That being said, the black levels were very, very deep and solid and hardly ever showed any signs of softness or grain. Shadow detail and delineation looked great and allowed for a very film-like, three-dimensional appearance. Fleshtones were accurate and natural throughout the show, tending to be slightly more soft than harsh.

Flaws were minimal, as there was a bit of grain in many of the darker scenes and a few flakes and flecks here and there. All in all however, the flaws seen in Alias were very minor and the show – all twenty-two episodes of it – simply look great. Buena Vista has pulled out all of the stops here and it definitely shows.

Alias: Season One is presented in a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that comes across slightly better than the average “TV show” mix. Not being able to catch the show in 5.1 on my local network, this was really a welcome addition to the set and while the sound wasn’t leaps and bounds above its televised origins, it was definitely a noticeable improvement.

While there are some ambient moments during the show, the vast majority of the action takes place in the front surrounds, with great separation and split surround moments noted. Rear surrounds were admirable, but impressive moments were few and far between across the twenty-two episodes found in season one. Dialogue was front and center for most of the show and was crisp, clean, and intelligible at all times. Effects were accurate and natural and emanated from their proper place within the soundstage. The music and score used in the episodes sounded great in Buena Vista’s expansive soundstage and ultimately, there was very little to complain about in this exceptional mix. While not as impressive as most action-packed feature films, Alias managed to outclass most televised shows on DVD to date.

Buena Vista has also included English and Spanish subtitles, as well as a Spanish mix in Dolby 2.0. Good stuff all the way around and Buena Vista is to be commended for their handling of the transfer. Great job.

The supplements on the set are rather plentiful with the meatiest of the bunch being the four Audio Commentaries included across as many episodes. The commentaries and their respective participants are listed in the episode synopsis portion of my review and I’ll simply hit the high points of each commentary …

The commentary for ”Truth Be Told” features Abrams and Garner and they are magnificent together. Since neither has seen the pilot episode since it originally aired, it was fun to hear their opinions two years+ removed from filming it and they discuss their thoughts and fears about the show and how they were really unsure where it would all end up when they started. Abrams offers up the more technical aspects of the commentary and Garner recalls a lot of fond memories and anecdotes from the set. Not to be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of the show.

”So It Begins” features participants from three different disciplines and it’s really nice to hear their individual triumphs and obstacles while working on Alias. This commentary is a bit more on the technical side than most of the others, but it’s obvious here as well that the participants had a lot of fun on the series, as well as the episode in question. Again, a breezy and informative listen that’s well worth your time.

The commentary for “Q & A” features discussion on what it was like creating a “clip show” that would refresh fans, but at the same time, allow new converts to the show to catch up on the Alias storyline(s). However, according to the participants, it was also a good way to save money, as they had gone over budget in other areas and needed to conserve for the remainder of the season. This one was a nice change of pace from the other commentaries and engaging at the same time.

Finally, we have our standard-fare “actors commentary” for “Almost Thirty Years” and believe me when I tell you, it’s great fun. This is quite a rambunctious group and they really seem to enjoy working together … and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that their show is a bona fide hit either. The commentary is all over the place, but it doesn’t really matter, as you’ll learn a lot – as well as laugh a lot – when you check this one out. Here’s hoping for more of these on Buena Vista’s already announced Season Two set coming out in December.

Buena Vista has also included a DVD-ROM Script Scanner for the pilot episode, “Truth Be Told”, and it allows you to follow the script on the right-hand side of the screen, while the episode plays on the left. In a nice little twist, Buena Vista has added two modes – “synchronized” and “clickable” – and in “Synchronized” mode, the episode plays in real time and the script follows, while in “Clickable” mode, you click on a part of the script you’re interested in and the episode jumps to that certain scene and starts playing. Although it’s not a supplement that usually excites me, Buena Vista has done a good job with its implementation.

The remainder of the supplements all reside on DISC SIX and things start off with an Alias Pilot Production Diary (18:53) and this is easily, the most interesting supplement in the entire set. Narrated by J.J. Abrams and featuring interviews with tons of other Alias principals, we get a really neat behind-the-scenes look at how the pilot episode was created. It’s obvious the team responsible for Alias had a great time shooting the pilot episode and it really comes through in this supplement as we learn all about the little details that went into bringing it to life. The “narration” is a lot of rehash from Abram’s commentary and it seems a little redundant here, but the really nice part about it is we are able to see the scene develop as he speaks via some behind-the-scenes footage, as well as some split-screen moments that show Garner and company practicing and rehearsing in one window, with the actual scene from the show playing in a much smaller window. All in all, there was some really great stuff here and it was executed well … make sure you check it out.

Inside Stunts (10:28) is next and it does a really thorough job of covering many of the impressive stunts that Jennifer Garner’s character was required to perform during the first season. The supplement covers many stunts from many different episodes and gives each, on average, 90 to 120 seconds of running time to explain how they pulled it off. The stunts are quickly deconstructed and we usually get some sort of wrap up at the end that includes interviews with Garner and some writers and producers discussing how well it went over. Interviews, dailies, behind-the-scenes footage from the set, and clips from the show itself all work together to make this a fairly engaging supplement. Too short to be the totally informative, Stunts does a really good job of hitting the high points and moving on.

Next up are some Deleted Scenes (“Doppelganger” - Shipping off Kevin, “Color-Blind” - Christopher Threatens Sloane, “Color-Blind” - Remembering Danny, “The Confession” - Drowning His Sorrows, “The Confession” - Discussing Sydney, and “Rendezvous” - A New Look) and being that these are grabbed from well over 16+ hours of material, it’s hard to say whether or not they would have aided the particular episode in which they were slated to run and you really don’t have much of a clue of where they would fit in anyway without going back and watching the episode again. In addition, since there is no audio commentary or introduction to the scenes, they simply run as a random collection of snippets that really serve no purpose whatsoever residing on the disc. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take extras wherever and whenever I can get ‘em, but with 22 episodes in the season and only six deleted scenes from four of those episodes, it doesn’t make much sense to bother. Even so, using the –PLAY ALL- option, the scenes in total run for just slightly under 10 minutes.

An Alias Gag Reel (2:49) follows and it features the standard fare flubbing of lines and inside jokes that are only occasionally funny. While it’s good to see the cast and crew having such a good time filming the series, this is entirely too short and devoid of truly funny moments to be more than slightly interesting.

Alias TV Spots are next and this section features five TV spots for the episodes “Truth Be Told”, “Reckoning”, “The Confession”, “Rendezvous”, and “Almost 30 Years”. They may be viewed individually, or by clicking on Buena Vista’s –PLAY ALL- selection. This is followed by an Alias Video Game Preview (1:23) that shows as many clips from the series itself as it does the actual game. The game aesthetically looks really good, but as many of you know, looks can be very deceiving. (As an aside, the Acclaim video game has been pushed back from its original fall 2003 release to a February 2004 release and versions will be available for the XBOX, as well as the PS2.)

Finishing off the impressive set are some DVD Credits, as well as a Season Two Sneak Peek (1:39) that has me drooling already for the season two boxed set coming out in December.

ABC and Buena Vista have done an incredible job bringing Alias: The Complete First Season to DVD and fans of the show should turn in their card at the door if they don’t already have this set in their collection. If casual fans pick up the set, I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll be rabidly hooked by the time they have polished off the sixth and final disc in the inaugural season. This is simply an amazing show – very reminiscent of The X-Files at the top of its game – and Buena Vista has given it a DVD set to match.

If you haven’t already put two and two together, Alias: The Complete First Season is worth every penny of your hard-earned money. This set comes highly, highly recommended.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4772 Stars Number of Votes: 44
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