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Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (Ulverscroft large print series. [mystery])
Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (Ulverscroft large print series. [mystery])
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poriot's Last Case, 12 Aug. 2003
Christie herself regarded the character with a mixture of bemused affection and frustration, and frequently expressed the wish that she had never created such an eccentric person--but of all her creations, Hercule Poroit was the most popular with the reading public. Indeed, such was the public's devotion that in the 1940s or 1950s Christie became concerned that others might attempt to "franchise" the character after her death, resurrecting him for other novels for the sake of a fast buck. Determined to thwart this, in the 1950s Christie wrote CURTAIN--and then withheld it from publication until the very end of her own life.
Once more Poroit and his faithful Captain Hastings return to the great country estate of Styles, the location of Christie's first novel and Poroit's first appearance, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. But time has wrought many changes. Styles has been sold and converted to a second-rate guest house. Captain Hastings is in mourning for his much loved and recently deceased wife. And Poroit... is dying.
But although his body is failing, Poroit's little gray cells remain as sharp as ever, and he is once more on the trail of a killer--indeed, the perfect killer, one completely unlike any he has pursued before. A killer who now resides at Styles and who is coiled to strike again. But can Poroit defeat this killer before mortality rings down the curtian on his fabulous career? Stylistically, CURTAIN belongs to the great Christie novels of the 1940s and 1950s, and in terms of plot it is easily among her most remarkable achievements, easily ranking with such celebrated twists as those found in THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD and A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED. The writing is strong, the characterizations are vivid, and when the solution unfolds one is left with a startled gasp.
I do not recommend CURTAIN for those new to Christie's novels. It is indeed Hercule Poroit's last case, and it really should be read as such. But for those who have followed Poroit through a number of adventures, it is a truly satisfying conclusion to the character's long and brilliant career.
--GFT (Amazon.com Reviewer)--


The War of the Worlds (Modern Library)
The War of the Worlds (Modern Library)
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Have Met The Enemy--And They Are Us, 31 July 2003
Today H.G. Wells is chiefly recalled by the general public as the author of three seminal science-fiction novels: THE TIME MACHINE, THE INVISIBLE MAN, and most famously THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. But these are only three of the more than one hundred books Wells published in his lifetime, and it is worth recalling that Wells himself was a socio-political and very didactic writer, a determined reformer with distinctly socialist leanings. And his point of view informs everything he wrote--including these three famous novels.
In each case, Wells uses the trappings of science-fiction and popular literature to lure readers into what is essentially a moral lesson. THE TIME MACHINE is essentially a statement on the evils of the English class system. THE INVISIBLE MAN addresses the predicaments of the men and women to whom society turns a blind eye. And THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a truly savage commentary on British imperialism and colonialism.
This is not to say that it isn't science-fiction--for it most certainly is, and moreover it is science-fiction well grounded in the scientific thinking of its day: intelligent life on Mars was believed to be entirely possible, and Wells forecasts the machinery and weapons that would soon become all too real in World War I. Set in England about the beginning of the 20th Century, the story finds a strange meteor landing near the narrator's home--and from it emerge Martians, who promptly construct gigantic and powerful killing machines and set about wiping the human population of England off the face of the earth. The Martians and their machines are exceptionally well imagined, the story moves at a fast clip, and the writing is strong, concise, and powerful. And to say the book has had tremendous influence is an understatement: we have been deluged with tales of alien invaders (although not necessarily from Mars) ever since.
But there is a great deal more going on here than just an entertaining story. Both the England and Europe of 1898 were imperialistic powers, beating less technologically advanced cultures into submission, colonizing them, and then draining them of their resources. With THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, Wells turns the tables, and imperialistic England finds itself facing the same sort of social, economic, and cultural extermination it has repeatedly visited on others.
The upshot of the whole thing is that Wells ultimately paints the English Empire's habit of forced colonization as akin to an invasion by horrific blood-sucking monsters from outer space--and even goes so far as to suggest that if the present trend continues we ourselves may follow an evolutionary path that will bring us to the same level as the Martians: ugly, sluggish creatures that rely on machines and simply drain off what they need from others without any great concern for the consequences. If we find the idea of such creatures horrific, he warns, we'd best look to our own habits. For these monsters are more like us than we may first suppose.
And this, really, is why the novel has survived even in the face of advancing scientific knowledge that renders the idea of an invasion from Mars more than a little foolish. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a mirror, and even more than a century later the Martians reflect our own nature to a truly uncomfortable degree. A memorable novel, and strongly recommended--at least to those who have the sense to understand the parable it offers.
--GFT (Amazon.com Reviewer)--
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2014 1:41 PM BST


Greek Myths
Greek Myths
by Robert Graves
Edition: Paperback

245 of 253 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exhaustive Text for Advanced Students of Greek Mythology, 13 April 2003
This review is from: Greek Myths (Paperback)
Robert Graves' THE GREEK MYTHS falls between the Victorian bombast of Bulfinch and the popular style of Edith Hamilton, less stylistically intimidating than the former and more scholarly than the latter. Originally published as a two volume set in 1955 with author revisions in 1957 and 1960, this single volume text does not abridge the original text but merely confines it to a single binding.
One's reaction to THE GREEK MYTHS will depend to some extent on one's purpose in acquiring it. This is an exhaustive collection of Greek mythology that far outstrips any other modern anthology that I have encountered, including myths both better known and extremely obscure. Each myth is presented in concise, graceful prose, and where possible Graves includes genealogies of the characters and major variations of each myth; an interpretive essay also follows each myth.
While Graves' retelling of the myths themselves have been widely praised, his interpretations of the myths have been somewhat criticized--and justly so. Graves tends to see incarnations of the "White Goddess" and the "Sacrificial King" in every third story; more dangerously, he tends to tie the myths to historical events in a highly speculative way. While this does not undercut the interest of his interpretations, it does hold a number of traps for the casual reader, who may assume that Graves' essays offer standard, scholastically unbiased interpretations based on proven historical events.
For myself, I use Graves' THE GREEK MYTHS as both reference and pleasure-reading, and I enjoy it a great deal; it is an indispensable purchase for any one with a serious interest in Greek mythology or for any one who must frequently reference the same for scholarly purposes, and I strongly recommend it to them. At the same time, however, I would hesitate to recommend it to readers who have not previously been exposed to Greek mythology or who wish only a general knowledge of the major Greek myths; in such cases I would instead recommend Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY: TIMELESS TALES OF GODS AND HEROES.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 9, 2011 11:17 PM GMT


Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade
Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade
by Patrick Dennis
Edition: Paperback

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Original Comedy Classic, 22 Mar. 2003
The notorious Mame Dennis has so many incarnations that it can be hard to keep track. In the 1950s there was a famous stage version followed by the still more famous film version, both starring the illustrious Rosalind Russell; in the 1960s there was an extremely popular stage musical starring Angela Lansbury, and then there was a disasterous screen adaptation of the musical starring Lucille Ball. But this is the first, the original: AUNTIE MAME, one the 1950s' most talked-about books, a true runaway bestseller and one of the great classics of American humor.
The episodic book concerns an orphaned child, Patrick Dennis, who is sent to live with an aunt he has never before seen in 1920s New York--and the aunt is Mame Dennis, a fast-living, intellectually sharp, and decidedly eccentric woman beset by both the fads and fashions of the day and the money and social connections with which to indulge them. Although time has rather blunted the actual way in which Patrick Dennis writes (his framing device of a magazine article is more than a little tiresome), it certainly has not blunted the character herself: madcap Mame runs riot through the roaring twenties, goes through largely self-induced hysteria during the Depression, works for the boys during World War II, and along the way gets involves in art movements, theatrical performances, fox hunts, Southern country society, British war orphans, a wealthy husband, an Irish poet, a college lover, and most famously her beloved nephew's unfortunate engagement to the shallow and snobbish Gloria Upson. Each comic disaster is more memorable than the last, and Mame herself lingers in the mind as an inspiration to live life to the fullest no matter the consequences.
Fans of the Rosalind Russell film version will quickly realize that Russell has captured the character perfectly; the book, however, is at once less structured and considerably broader than the Russell playscript and film. Very episodic and considered quite riske for its time, it contains a number of adventures (such as Mame's seduction of one of Patrick's college friends or her introduction of Patrick to the Maddox sisters) that never made it to any performance version. Both fans of the various plays and films and even the completely uninitiated will adore meeting the sparkling original, certainly one of the greatest comic creations in 20th Century literature. AUNTIE MAME deserves a special place on the shelf of any one who enjoys a range of humor that runs from sly giggles to screaming laughter. Strongly recommended.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Special Edition) [DVD] [1988]
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Special Edition) [DVD] [1988]
Dvd ~ Bob Hoskins
Price: £2.99

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rabbit Gets Some Justice At Last, 22 Mar. 2003
Filmmakers have been combining animation and live action since the days of silent film--but 1988's WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT not only bested everything done previously, it set a standard that is unlikely to be surpassed. Although it has been available on VHS and in a mediocre DVD release for quite a few years, the film finally gets the star treatment in this "Vista Series" double DVD release, which includes the film in both pan-and-scan and letterbox formats and an assortment of extras, many of which are quite interesting.
The concept and story are well known: cartoon characters are not drawings, but are living entities who work in the film industry, and when Maroon Cartoon star Roger Rabbit is accused of murdering Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), he turns to private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) for help. Trouble is, Eddie hates "Toons." After all, one of them offed his brother, and Eddie hasn't been sober since. The concept is a clever one, and the story could have gone in any number of directions--but ROGER RABBIT hops down a completely unexpected trail. Set in 1947 Los Angeles, the film uses classic "noir" elements (and references everything from THE MALTESE FALCON to CHINATOWN); it also makes considerable sly social commentary on racism, with the "Toons" performing in a Cotton Club-like nightclub, literally working for peanuts at the studios, and more or less confined to living in "Toontown," which might easily be read as social ghettoization. And all of these sidelights are interesting and entertaining. But the most attractive thing about ROGER RABBIT is that it is just plain fun to watch.
Part of that fun comes from the marvelous performances of Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd (as the evil Judge Doom), and Joanna Cassidy (Valiant's sidekick Delores), who lead the live action cast. Another chunk of the fun is the way in which the film cameos a host of famous cartoon characters, ranging from Betty Boop to Bugs Bunny and the Warner Bro.s gang to Dumbo--and animation buffs will love the fact that Betty Boop and Bugs Bunny, to name but two, are voiced by the artists (Mae Questel and Mel Blanc) who created the character voices in the first place. But the big deal here is the extremely believable way in which the "Toons" fit into the real world. They rendered with astonishing detail and remarkable three dimensionality. It's just an amazing thing to watch.
The overall DVD package is a bit odd, for it offers less in the way of bonuses than one might expect. The first disk includes a pan-and-scan version of the film, three Roger Rabbit/Baby Herman shorts, a kid-friendly documentary, and a CD-ROM game; the second disk offers the letterbox film with extras that will appeal to more mature viewers, most particularly on-set shots and a nifty documentary called "Behind the Ears." The upshot is really a one-disk release that has been expanded to two by the trick of cramming both pan-and-scan and letterbox versions into a single package. That's annoying--but even so, this is easily the best release of this film to date. It at gives the rabbit some justice at last, and I give it five stars on that basis.


Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too) [DVD] [2001]
Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too) [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Maribel Verdú
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.47

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End of Innocence, 22 Mar. 2003
Often described as one part buddy-film, one part road-film, and one part coming-of-age film, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN offers the story of two teenage wannabe studs who coax a slightly older and somewhat more sophistocated woman into a road trip to the beach--never dreaming that the woman might have a personal agenda of her own. The premise is hardly an original one, but in the hands of director Alfonso Cuarón and a truly remarkable cast the result is absolutely astonishing.
As a number of people have pointed out, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) are not entirely likeable characters: they are thoughtless, self-indulgent, crass, and rarely think above their belts or beyond the next joint. But their encounter with Ana (Maribel Verdú) will shake them out of their adolescent-inspired sense of superiority in more ways than one: as their friendly rivalry for Ana's favors escalates into open jealousy, their revelations demonstrate that they are no less hypocritical than the pompous and corrupt adult society against which they so pointedly rebel.
The film is unexpectedly satirical, neatly adopting a "boys will be boys" smile and then quietly but sharply undercutting it by transient images of poverty, decay, and death that the trio encounter as they move out of their rather sheltered existences in Mexico City and travel the backroads to the sea--images that the boys ignore with a youthful zeal but which foreshadow and then underscore the series of punches the film delivers at its conclusion. The cast is impressive, with Luna and Bernal the very image of thoughtless, vulgar youth, while Verdu is remarkable as Ana, a woman in her late twenties who seems to be fleeing from a faithless husband and seeking revenge in casual sex but who secretly has a still more weighty motive behind her actions.
The film has a great deal of nudity and sexual activity; there is also considerable drug use and profanity. A great deal has been made of that, and particularly of the intense kiss between Luna and Bernal--but ulitmately Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN is less about sex, drugs, and youthful excess than it is about responsibility in relationships and how failure to keep trust can have devastating consequences in platonic, romantic, and sexual relationships. The DVD package is quite nice, with several interesting bonuses, and although the subtitles are in white they are easy to read. Overall, an impressive film--but one perhaps best viewed by middle-agers with some perspective than by the youth it satirizes. Recommended.


Austin Powers - International Man of Mystery [DVD] [1997]
Austin Powers - International Man of Mystery [DVD] [1997]
Dvd ~ Mike Myers
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £6.27

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Antedote for a Rainy Day, 22 Mar. 2003
I'm not a Mike Myers fan, and I avoided this film--and its sequels--like the plague when they were on the big screen. But I now know the error of my ways: AUSTIN POWERS is one of the freshest bits of purely entertaining, mindless fluff to come along in quite a while, the perfect antedote to an overcast and bad-mood sort of day.
The story is an amalgamation of the more excessive plot ideas of such films as DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and OUR MAN FLINT. Fashion photographer by day and swinging spy by night, Austin Powers is the toast of psychedelic London--and more than a match for Dr. Evil. But when Dr. Evil has himself frozen, Powers does the same, and the two defrost some thirty years later and resume their battle in the much more up-tight 1990s. The most obvious target of the spoof is the James Bond films, but fans of 1960s film will have a field day spotting the film's take offs on such characters as Matt Helm, Derek Flint, Emma Peel, celebrities like The Beatles and Andy Warhol, and such diverse films as THE TENTH VICTIM and the camp classic DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMB. And dare we mention the sixties' own classic swinging spy spoof, the infamous CASINO ROYALE?
Myers is greatly amusing in the double role of Austin Powers and Dr. Evil, both of whom have considerable difficulty adjusting to everything from safe sex to inflation, and Elizabeth Hurley is quite good in the Diana Rigg-ish role of sidekick Vanessa Kensington. But the real fun here is in the details--and the details include every one from Michael York to Robert Wagner to Burt Bacharach to Carrie Fisher, "Fembots" with killer pasties, and Italian sexpot Fabiana Udenio as a character with the most devastating name since Honor Blackman hit the screen in GOLDFINGER. The soundtrack is just as swinging as it gets, with blasts of everything from "These Boots Are Made For Walking" and "I Touch Myself." And look for a hilarious spoof of Bob Fosse-inspired choreography during the main credits!
You won't find any deep thoughts in AUSTIN POWERS, and thank heaven for it: giggles and grins are the order of the day, and the film delivers them in abundance. The DVD is a nice one as well, offering your choice of widescreen or pan-and-scan, some entertaining notes and deleted scenes, and amusing commentary. Buy it and keep on your shelf for that rainy day.


My Big Fat Greek Wedding [DVD] [2002]
My Big Fat Greek Wedding [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Nia Vardalos
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £2.62

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming and Expert, But Very Slight, 7 Mar. 2003
There is a lot to like about MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, a well-made romantic comedy that presents the story of Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos), a young Chicago woman of Greek ethnicity who must overcome family opposition when she decides to marry an upscale yuppie WASP. The cast is expert; there are quite a few belly-laughs and chuckles aplenty; and the script is witty and plays with stereotypes without ever descending to mean-spiritedness. But perhaps the single most likeable thing about GREEK WEDDING is the fact that the romantic leads look like real people instead of the Ken and Barbie actors so typically found in this sort of romantic comedy. That is indeed a real joy, and I suspect it is at the heart of what has drawn so many to the film.
I do indeed indeed recommend MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. But I also offer a slight caution: unless you are a die-hard romantic comedy fan, you might do better to rent the film before you actually go to the expense of purchasing it. It is expertly done; it is charming; and I certainly look forward to seeing more from Nia Vardalos in the future. But all that said, I found GREEK WEDDING extremely slight, and do not think I will revisit it in the future. I found it enjoyable for an evening, but nothing more. The DVD package, by the way, is as slight as the film. There is extremely little in the way of bonus material, and if your decision re VHS vs. DVD rests on bonus material I would suggest you purchase the VHS; you will miss nothing in terms of extras.


East of Eden (Steinbeck "Essentials")
East of Eden (Steinbeck "Essentials")
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Eternal Struggle, 7 Mar. 2003
John Steinbeck's EAST OF EDEN was not well received by critics when it debuted in the 1950s, and although passing years have seen several re-evaluations it is still reguarded as secondary to the likes of GRAPES OF WRATH and OF MICE AND MEN. It is true that the novel is flawed: it is a great big rambling thing crammed with obvious allegory, metaphor, and allusion, loosely structured to say the least. And yet, in a odd sort of way, the very rambling, the looseness, the obviousness of the work gives it a tremendous grandeur that Steinbeck's more tightly structured work lacks. The novel is as broad and vulgar and lively and provocative as the America it describes--and it is my favorite of Steinbeck's fiction.
Any one who comes to the novel from the famous film adaptation starring James Dean will be surprized, for the roots of the novel run much deeper than the film, which is based only on perhaps a third of the novel. This is not so much the story of brothers Aaron and Caleb Trask as it is the story of their parents, Adam Trask and Catherine Ames. And in "Cathy" Ames, Steinbeck creates one of the darkest characters in all of 20th Century American Literature, a creature devoid of virtually anything recognizable as human emotion. Fleeing from a past that includes murder, perversion, blackmail, and prostitution, Cathy assumes an angelic demeanor and lures the emotionally needy Adam Trask into love and marriage. And when she no longer requires his protection... she destroys him.
It is the stuff of classic melodrama, but in Steinbeck's hands it becomes more than melodrama; it becomes a novel that alternately reads at leisurely pace and then suddenly reads with the speed of a whirlwind, a tale that forces us to consider the nature of good and evil and the legacies we may leave for later generations. For Adam and Cathy have two sons, and in the wake of their tragedy they will be left to fight out issues of moral choices, right and wrong, and love and hate in the sun-drenched Salinas Valley of California, the "golden west" of the "new world" as it rushes headlong into the modern age. It is a novel epic in history, geography, and morality.
Some will find the novel's constant reference to the story of Cain and Able more than a little obvious; others will find it too meandering, filled with too many side-issues and minor subplots. Still others may be put off by the very slow way in which the novel gathers itself during its first hundred or so pages. But once the pieces are in place, Steinbeck suddenly pulls the threads together to create one of the most remarkable tapestries in American letters--a tapestry that has no clearcut boundaries and that, for all its simplistic tone, offers little in the way of simplistic answers to the issues it raises. Flawed, yes, but a great novel by a master of the form, so great that its flaws become intrinsic to its virtues. Strongly recommended.


The Others (2 Disc Collectors Edition) [DVD] [2001]
The Others (2 Disc Collectors Edition) [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Nicole Kidman
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £3.53

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Will Never Leave This House, 7 Mar. 2003
To a certain extent, one's enjoyment of THE OTHERS will depend on how quickly you recognize the major plot device on which the entire film turns. Once recognition sets in, how much you are able to further enjoy the film will then depend on how much you have become engaged by the characters--and it is here, really, that the film stumbles a bit, not so much through the way it is done but rather through the way the characters must be played in order for their behavior to make sense at the film's conclusion.
The premise, which seems deeply influenced by both Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW and the 1960s film version known as THE INNOCENTS, concerns a woman who resides with her two children in an isloated mansion following World War II. Her situation is dire: her husband is missing in action and presumed dead; her children suffer from a rare genetic disease that makes sunlight dangerous to them; her servants have departed in the night without a word of warning. The latter problem seems remedied by the arrival of new servants--but no sooner are they installed than odd happenings begin to occur. Is the woman going mad? Are the servants involved? Have intruders secretly entered the house? Or could it be--something unearthly?
The cast is exceptionally good here, with Fionnula Flanagan as the newly arrived servant Mrs. Mills and children Alakina Mann and James Bentley giving remarkable performances. But the focus is on Nicole Kiddman as Grace, a role that Kiddman plays with a white-knuckled grip and considerable ferocity--so much so that it becomes extremely difficult to like, much less sympathize, with the character. In some respects, however, this is ultimately necessary for this extremely plot-driven film to have any significant impact, and in hindsight it is hard to imagine that the role could be played in any other way; still, hindsight does not allow you to engage fully with the character when you are in the midst of the film. It is a flaw, but it is an unavoidable one--and the film is so remarkably stylish that it largely overcomes both the anticipated plot-twist and Kiddman's necessarily ferocious performance.
The production values are first rate all the way down the line. Everything looks right, sounds right, feels right. But two items deserve special mention: the exceptional soundtrack, which was composed by director Alejandro Amenabar himself, and the stunning cinematography, which has tremendous visual texture and which neatly blends a fluidity of movement with a remarkably claustrophobic feel. If your tastes run to special effects and blood-spatter horror films, you are likely to disappointed, for there are none in THE OTHERS; Amenabar craftily creates tension more via what is suggested rather than shown, and doors left ajar and half-heard sounds are his devices of choice; it is all very subtle and yet remarkably chilling.
The DVD package is a double-disk set, with the film on one disk and bonuses on the other. Although the bonuses are often quite interesting--particularly a documentary on individuals who actually suffer from hyper-sensitively to sunlight--they actually contribute little to the film itself, and it is a bit surprising that such a small bonus package would require a second disk. The sound for the feature is also problematic re home viewing, and I recommend that viewers play it at top volume, for there is no middle ground--everything is very quiet or very loud, and the contrast adds tremendously to the film's effect.
It is extremely difficult to know how to rate this film, for as I've noted the very nature of the story has two embedded flaws: the almost inevitable recognition of the major plot device and the necessity of Kiddman's over-the-top performance. But even though I recognized the nature of the plot device very early in the film, and even though I found "Grace" an unlikeable woman, this did not actually prevent me from feeling the icy breath with which director Amenabar endows THE OTHERS. Torn between giving the film four stars and five, I err on the side of generosity; it is a classic-style ghost story, and I think most viewers will enjoy it. Reccommended.


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