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Guante blanco (2008)
A good series cut short
Wow, this could have been a great series, but unfortunately the network botched the rollout, the ratings crashed, and the series was cut short.
The conflict pits a hard-working police inspector against a very sharp band of thieves. The thieves steal valuables on commission and always seem to be one step ahead of the police. The thieves pull off sophisticated heists, like stealing a Van Gogh or a Faberge egg. They rely solely on their smarts, no guns or violence. Their schemes are clever, to the point that you almost find yourself rooting for them to pull it off.
"Guante blanco" could have been great. Unfortunately, because of low ratings, the network produced only 8 episodes instead of the originally planned 13. As you might imagine, the truncated season results in a very abrupt ending that wraps things up but leaves no one satisfied. At least the first 7 episodes are well done and definitely worth watching.
Not great but has its qualities
Herederos is the story of a somewhat dysfunctional, very wealthy Spanish family. The matriarch Carmen Orozco is married to Rafael, one of Spain's greatest bullfighters, with whom she has two (adult) children. Carmen's sister Julia is having an affair with Rafael and is pregnant with his child.
With such a premise, of course all sorts of drama and plot twists are inevitable. The characters are interesting, as are many of the plot lines. But I found a lot of the episodes dragged a bit. The pacing is often much too slow, and no moments of levity break up all the melodrama.
Although it was at times a challenge to get through all 37 episodes, the ending made it worth my while, one of the best series finales I've ever seen.
Despido procedente (2017)
Maybe I just wasn't picking up the jokes. More likely, the movie just isn't funny. Too bad because the movie features a great cast, but the script is just so weak.
Que baje Dios y lo vea (2017)
I wanted to like this movie
It sounded like it could be really cute & funny. When the characters are first introduced, you want to like them. Unfortunately, the characters are never really developed. Likewise, a situation, monks preparing for a big soccer tournament, that should be comedy gold never finds its comic touch. A likeable cast, a good premise, but failed execution.
An uneven comedy but an endearing protagonist
This romantic comedy has trouble figuring out the comedy part. Some bits are funny, even hilarious, while too many attempts at humor just fall flat. What redeemed the whole movie, even during the low points when you're thinking about shutting it off, is the charming likeable lead. You love her even when you hate the movie.
La llamada (2017)
Two friends at summer camp have very atypical summer camp adventures. The plot doesn't make much sense, if any, and the humor never finds its way. The 1h40m run time starts to feel like torture less than a third of the way through the movie. Trust me, skip this one.
A comedy that never takes off
A couple of friends are driving to Barcelona when they get into an accident. Fifteen miles from the nearest town, they seek help in an abandoned or maybe even haunted house. There they run into a bunch of crazy characters who are hiding a secret. Zaniness & hilarity ensue, or at least supposed to, but the joke just falls flatter than a pancake.
An interesting character study
A career hit man decides to spare the life of a women he was contracted to kill. Because a hit man risks getting killed himself should he fail to complete the job, he must kill the person who hired him, even though all his contracts are blind, arranged via an intermediary.
We follow the sicarivs (Latin for "hit man") over the course of the night as he races to find who hired him & why. Because a hit man cannot risk leaving a witness who could later testify against him, our hit man leaves a lot of dead bodies in his wake as he questions one person after another in order to get to the hirer. The sicarivs does make an exception, but the reason he spares one witness's life has nothing to do with compassion.
Throughout this long & very bloody night, we also learn how the hit man honed his skills. Any idiot can kill a person, but it takes a very specific type of person to do this messy work as a career. The character development is fascinating, and the actor who plays the professional killer is terrific in the role.
By daybreak we know this cold-blooded assassin quite well. Most important, we learn why the hit man decided to spare his intended victim, even though he knew just how difficult it was going to be to walk away from a job left undone. "Sicarivs" is an intriguing and entertaining character study. Who would have guessed that a career hit man, who has killed dozens in cold blood, would have such a soft side?
Águila Roja (2009)
Great hero, lousy series
One of the best film criticisms I ever heard was "if the characters weren't so stupid, we wouldn't have a movie." That pretty much describes this series. Most, almost all, the problems the characters face result from their own unbelievable stupidity. I can't even count how many times I groaned & yelled at the TV, "Come on! Nobody is THAT stupid!!" The two main culprits are Satur, the faithful squire of our hero, and Alonso, his son. Satur's numbskull mistakes I could bear because the character is so lovable & endearing, but the son ... yeesh. He starts out as an obnoxious brat & over the course of nine seasons grows up to be a selfish, insufferable brat. His character became so deeply unlikable that I started rooting for him NOT to be saved from his various predicaments.
So how/why did I make it through all 116 eighty-minute episodes? You gotta love the 17th century superhero. Not only is he kind, selfless, and just, but he can take down a whole batallion of bad guys with his crossbow, ninja stars, and trusty sword. The fight scenes are rather unrealistic until you remember that he's not just a hero, but a superhero, with all the appropriate speed, reflexes, and strength befitting a superhero, centuries before Marvel Comics.
In summary, the series is a very mixed bag: groan-worthy plotlines but a truly great protagonist. Despite the ups & downs, I binged through all nine seasons in about two months. By the end, I was honestly hoping that they would revive the series, bring us Son of Aguila Roja, just with better-written characters the next go-'round.
El jugador de ajedrez (2017)
A simple story, beautifully told
If you're looking for wild action/adventure or crazy plot twists, this movie won't be for you. It's a simple story, told through beautiful images and very good acting. I loved it, enough so that I'm looking forward to watching it again.
A girl celebrating her 18th birthday manipulates her parents into letting her stay out later than usual, as long as she is back home on the dot, no excuses. Understandably, the parents are quite alarmed when the curfew passes & their daughter is nowhere to be seen. They sense that something has gone terribly wrong, although it takes a while for the police to classify it as a missing person case.
One of the episodes takes place 5 years later, in a police academy classroom, where the cadets study the now famous case. The case perplexes the students because major details contradict each other. The teacher, who was the lead investigator, leaves the cadets hanging until the next class, only reminding his students that appearances deceive.
When lies pile up on deceptions on top of hidden truths, investigators have a near impossible job. This whodunit twists and turns, although it all makes sense at the end (not that I could figure it out to save my life).
My favorite thing about the series is that it had a defined and closed end. Almost every Spanish series leaves a door or two open just in case of renewal, which drives me crazy because Spanish series never have closure and thus their supposed "finale" leaves fans awfully disappointed. No such teases in "Desaparecida." Fans who make it through the first 12 60- to 85-minute episodes enjoy a proper ending.
The cast of the series is outstanding. The characters drove me crazy sometimes with their emotional swings, illogical behavior, and hysteria, until I realized that that's probably how the family members of a missing person probably behave. Spanish whodunits often struggle because it's hard to maintain intrigue & suspense over the course of 13 ~70-minute episodes. But the "Desaparecida" scriptwriters avoid that fate because the plotting is tight and easy to follow.
"Desaparecida" is an enjoyable & satisfying whodunit. It's available on the RTVE website for anyone interested in a solid Spanish mystery.
Family is everything
Hermanos tells the story of two brothers, Juan & Alberto, as well as Virginia, their neighbor and lifelong friend, like an honorary sibling. The miniseries starts with younger brother Alberto as a student in a posh private university, Virginia studying journalism, and Juan trying to make a go if it as a professional boxer while helping the family's struggling dry cleaning business.
Over the course of six ~70 minute episodes, we see just how much their lives change. When Alberto graduates university, with the help of some very powerful connections, he quickly starts climbing the ladder of wealth & power. As the result of a tragic accident, Juan becomes an outcast, leaves his family behind, and finds work in a shipping yard. A natural leader, Juan ends up leading a union movement. Virginia pursues a career in journalism & rises quickly, ending up with her own news show.
Life changes dramatically for these three, and despite the conflicts and quarrels, all three find themselves reconnected years later under the most trying of circumstances. No spoilers here, suffice to say that the three siblings realize that despite all the bad times, the years of estrangement, and ugly conflicts, they are family and that family is everything.
What I liked most about Hermanos is that it has a defined ending. Almost every Spanish series leaves a few dangling threads and unanswered questions just in case of renewal. Since Hermanos was always intended to be a miniseries with no further episodes or additional seasons, it wraps up all significant storylines, although not all with the happiest endings.
Hermanos takes the viewer on quite a journey. The three "siblings" go through hell & back. The greatest strength of the miniseries is that the three principal actors all do an outstanding job in their roles. The supporting cast, with one notable exception, is excellent as well. Hermanos is definitely worth your time.
One final note to non-native Spanish speakers, I had a tough time understanding some of the dialogue (no subtitles available). My listening comprehension is very good, and I've watched thousands of episodes of Spanish TV shows without a problem. But I did struggle a bit with Hermanos.
Derecho a soñar (2019)
A good daily drama
First & foremost, keep in mind that standards for a 5x/week drama differ from those for a once a week series or a one-off movie. The quality of the scripts, acting, and production for a daily series will suffer a lot more lapses, ups & downs than other TV shows. Having said that, I give Derecho a soñar a high rating because as daily dramas go (what used to be called "soap operas"), it's one of the best I've seen.
The central character is Julia, who starts out as a stocker in a supermarket, until she quits because her boss sexually harassed her. We later find out that Julia is actually a lawyer, or at least got her law degree in university. Desperate for work, Julia applies for a position at a law office, but by a twist of fate, ends up getting hired as a secretary for one of the partners.
The other protagonist is her boss, Jorge. After spending the last few years in Chicago, he is new to the firm, taking over as a partner due to his father's unexpected death. Jorge thought he would spend a week or two at most to sort out his father's affairs, but the circumstances of his father's death are far more complicated than he or anyone else expected. Jorge ends up staying in Spain, leaving behind a fiancee in the US and embarking on a new life in Madrid.
Derecho a soñar reminds me of a madrileña version of LA Law. While we see some courtroom action, much of the drama takes place behind the scenes, in the office and in the personal lives of the characters. Considering the tremendous undertaking of 5 hour-long episodes a week, Derecho a soñar does a commendable job of maintaining the quality of its scripts & storylines.
Final note, for viewers whose speak Spanish as a 2nd language, Derecho a soñar is a great show to watch. While the dialogue is typical of the way madrileños speak nowadays, it's not packed with slang or ridiculously fast. Better still, subtitles (in Spanish) are available in case something flies by you.
Estoy vivo (2017)
The most entertaining Spanish series I've ever seen
This is more a review of the first season than the second. First, a bit of background: a cop Andrés Vargas is killed by a sadistic serial killer and we see him go to the Passage, the transition to the afterlife. While processing Vargas, oops, it seems a little mistake was made. He actually shouldn't have died. When he demands to return to his life on Earth, to his wife, two daughters, and his elderly father, the Passage informs him that is impossible because time on Earth moves much more quickly. Five years have already passed since his (non-)death, and Andrés Vargas is long dead & buried. The best they can do is to return him to Earth in another body, Manuel Márquez
As it so turns out, his new body looks nothing like his old self, but Vargas does get to return to his old job in his old precinct. The catch is that his new assigned partner is his daughter, who has grown up & become a cop during his absence. The other catch is that if he tells anyone his true identity, he really will die, for good this time. He figures that being near his family, even if he must hide his true identity, is better than nothing at all.
With his daughter as his partner and a rather odd companion from the Passage named Iago, Márquez chases down the serial killer responsible for his death and the murders of a number of young women. Estoy vivo is hardly your typical cop show, however. It's also a supernatural thriller, with elements of family drama, romance, and goofball humor all thrown into the mix.
Honestly, I watched every episode of the first season at least three times. I must have watched the Season 1 finale a half-dozen times. From one minute to the next, I am doubled over laughing, then terrified, then on the brink of tears. Believe it or not, the show manages to navigate through the comedy, drama, suspense, and police action as if such nuttiness were totally normal.
The second season wasn't nearly as good. While still a great series, a single viewing of every episode sufficed. That said, I am literally counting the days until the Season 3 premiere.
14 de abril. La República (2011)
A decent drama about the Spanish Civil War
14 de abril, La República is a sequel to La señora, although you don't need to see the first series to understand the sequel. The setting is 1936 Madrid, in the weeks before the outbreak of the civil war. The conflict between the nationalists and the republicans is played out in the conflict between two families, the wealthy de la Torre and the humble Prado, related by blood and connected by some contested land.
The rumblings of war set families against families, friend against friend, and members of the same household against each other. As is so often the case, it's can be hard to tell which side some is on and who you can trust.
The series isn't great, but I thought it was worth watching. I liked the characters. While I didn't necessarily like every plot turn, overall the series captures quite well the difficulty of war, especially a civil war.
Final note, if you're not a native speaker of Spanish, the dialogue is pretty easy to understand. The Castilian is pretty standard without much slang. If you need a bit of help, Spanish subtitles are available.
Tierra de lobos (2010)
A great Wild West soap opera
While Tierra de Lobos has its flaws, and plenty of them, the series is so insanely addictive! I stayed up way past my bedtime too many nights because I had to watch just one more episode.
The central conflict is the outlaw Bravo brothers vs. the very wealthy Antonio Lobo. Fleeing from a bank robbery gone bad in Portugal, Cesar & Roman Bravo settle down in the house left to them by their father. It turns out that the Bravo house & land are the only property that Antonio Lobo does not own in their small town. To complicate matters, the father Fernando Bravo & Antonio Lobo used to be very close friends, and they apparently share a mysterious secret. If all that weren't enough, Cesar & Almudena Lobo, Antonio's oldest of four daughters, fall in love.
As I said, the series has flaws aplenty: the bad guys are often cartoonishly bad, a lot of the crises result from characters doing something so stupid you just have to groan, and too many developing storylines take twists that make little sense. But I forgave the Tierra de Lobos for all of it because I got so crazy hooked into the show. If you're looking for a guilty pleasure to binge-watch, I highly recommend it.
Punta Escarlata (2011)
The best show nobody saw
Although shot in 2009, the network didn't air it until 2011. Even then, they put it in a lousy time slot (11:30pm on a weeknight) from mid-July to early September, when all of Spain is on vacation. It's too bad because it's a pretty good police thriller. A couple of Madrid cops go to a small beach town to investigate two murders. The murders were committed eight years prior, but the bodies are discovered just recently thanks to the visions of a woman who spent summers in the town as a young girl. In a small town where everybody seems to be hiding something, figuring out a case that's been cold for eight years is no easy task.
While the two cops expected to do just a bit of digging and be back in Madrid in a few days, things take an unexpected turn when more young women are murdered, with the same M.O. as the murders from eight years ago. Obviously, the Madrid duo end up staying a lot longer, and end up getting far more wrapped up in this small town in order to dig into the investigation.
The two leads are great, as is the supporting cast, and the plot twists are both engaging and believable. It's a good thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end. Almost nobody got a chance to see this hidden gem. If you ever get the chance (Hulu? Netflix?), invest a bit of time.
Don't ask me how I made it through all eight episodes of this show. It's the story of a group of people who somehow got contaminated with something that makes them turn into monsters. The contaminant lies dormant & the infected person is totally normal until the contagion gets activated. Once the contagion takes over, there's no cure, no stopping them, just gotta lock them up or shoot them.
So a group of infected gather at an abandoned farm to hide out from the police. Of course, they can't stay there forever because the police will eventually find them. Cue the tension, conflicts, and drama.
First the superficial stuff: too many implausible details. For example, they never worry about running out of food. In fact, they never seem to eat or cook (why bother if you don't eat, I guess). They are constantly firing guns yet never seen to run out of ammo, and their car never runs out of gas, until of course it's necessary for a plot twist. Plus really annoying details like one of the group stealthily lifts the cell from a cop they captured - while everyone is staring at the unconscious cop & you can see her taking the phone plain as day. Or when a cop somehow snatches a computer access card from a lab tech, even though the tech is wearing it on a lanyard around his neck. It gets worse, like the cheap makeup for the infected who have gone rabid. Many more details that make no sense; these are but a few.
I plowed through eight episodes because I wanted to see how it ended. Wow, was that a waste of time. The series lacks a clear & definitive end. They clearly left the door open for another season. As bad as the show is, the producers were way too optimistic.
El padre de Caín (2016)
One Helluva TV Movie
I started watching "El padre Cain" because I was sitting around with nothing to do one night, but I quickly got hooked. Eloy is a police officer, "guardia civil" in Spain, not sure if there's an equivalent here in the U.S., who goes to the Basque Country to deal with the ETA (Basque) terrorists in 1980, one of the worst years for Basque terrorist attacks.
He leaves behind in Madrid a wife who is pretty far along in her first pregnancy, and is confined to bed rest because of complications. San Sebastian is a beautiful little city where a lot of wealthy Spaniards spend their summers, but here it's portrayed as dark, gray, and always raining. The weather reflects the mood; this isn't a feel-good movie. ETA is out of control, killing about a hundred people a year. Eloy's experience in the Basque Country is intense, although he finishes his stint there with great success.
"El padre Cain" is interesting in that about 20 minutes before the end, you can figure out exactly what's going to happen, or at least I could. Usually you would describe such an ending as predictable, in the worst sense of the word. But I would describe the ending as more inevitable. You know this is how things have to turn out.
Quim Gutierrez, who won the Goya (the Spanish version of the US's Oscar) for best newcomer, really shows off his acting chops. Aura Garrido, who most know from her work in the cult hit "El Ministerio del Tiempo," is just as good. Everything about this production was first-rate. I gave it 10 out of 10 because as TV movies go, it's as good as it gets. Is it on par with works like "Citizen Kane" or "Casablanca"? No. But it was by far the best TV movie I've ever seen, or probably will ever see.
In Half (2012)
Bad acting, even worse script
The short starts at the funeral of a young man. Amongst those in attendance are the deceased's twin brother and ex-boyfriend. The ex-boyfriend is a narcissistic, selfish little prick, whose idea of "being liberated" is throwing trash wherever he feels like it and destroying other people's property just for fun. Oh, how empowering. And believe it or not, this selfish little prick is the "good guy" in this feature. The short is based on a simply awful premise, fleshed out in a very poorly written script, and brought to life by a couple of rank amateur actors. This short is as bad as bad gets. You'll want to sue the director for the 14 minutes of your life you'll never get back. Do NOT waste your time!
The Best Detective Show I've Ever Seen
I've broken the addiction, more or less, but there was a time when I watched almost every single cop show on TV. I don't even want to count how many police & detective shows I've watched, but out of all of them, "Homicidios" might be the best one I've ever seen.
First, any review of "Homicidios" has to start with the superbly talented Eduardo Noriega, who plays Tomas Soller, a psychologist consulting the homicide unit investigating the multiple murder committed at the university where Soller is a professor. Initially, Soller is brought on as a consultant because one of the intended victims was also one of his students, but as the investigation advances, Soller's connection to the case deepens, to the point where the case becomes personal and Soller grows obsessed with finding and capturing the killer. As it turns out, the serial killer is a mastermind who manipulates troubled people into murder (no, that's not a spoiler, just the framework of the investigation revealed almost at the beginning). After the manipulated submissive is pushed over the brink to commit murder, the mastermind kills his pawn, then finds another vulnerable object of manipulation.
As it so happens, the head of the homicide unit is also Soller's ex. If that weren't complicated enough, Soller's never gotten over her and takes advantage of their close working relationship to rekindle their romance. Two male detectives and a rookie female round out the rest of the homicide unit, and the four actors play their roles to perfection. Actually, there isn't a weak link anywhere on this show - the lead actors, the supporting cast, the scripts, the production values, the direction - everything is absolutely first rate.
Unfortunately, the dimwits in charge put "Homicidios" in a horrible time slot (starting at midnight), which resulted in (oh, shock!) dismal ratings. So the show ran only one season, 13 episodes jam-packed with mystery, intrigue, suspense, and thrills. It drives me nuts that a show of this quality was canceled, but at least we have this one brilliant season to enjoy.
Física o química (2008)
A Great Show
I can't say I'm as enthusiastic about the show as the other two reviewers. Yes, I loved the show, at least for the first four or five seasons. As with all shows that run as long as FoQ (7 seasons), characters come and go, and I just liked the characters and plot lines of the first four or five seasons a lot more than the last few. That said, I still love show. What strikes me most about it is just how similar American and Spanish teenagers are: all the same dramas, conflicts, emotional issues, romances, flirtations, and jealousies. Yes, the characters in Fisica o Quimica speak a different language, and you do note some cultural differences (Spaniards seem to be a lot more direct or blunt than Americans, for one), but the highs & lows & in betweens are amazingly similar.
I do agree with the other reviewers about the quality of the acting. The cast is really first-rate. With so many young actors, you'd think there would be a lot of really lousy actors on the show, but hardly a dud in the bunch. Both the older generation (teachers) and younger (students) are played by a top-notch cast. A lot of the writing is simply superb, so much so that I find myself re-watching certain scenes over and over again. But I found some of the writing a bit forced, as if they were constantly injecting drama into every possible situation, so much so that a number of the conflicts feel contrived. I would have liked to see a bit more humor and a bit less roller-coaster drama.
In the end, this show is definitely worth your time. I give the first four (maybe five) seasons a 10 out of 10, but the last two-three seasons just a 6. One of these days, I'll probably go back and re-watch FoQ again, or at least the first four seasons.