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A Light-Hearted Little Romance
There's not much substance to this short, but I certainly enjoyed watching beautiful people in a prettier-than-a-postcard setting. Victor likes the new American friend Rachel that his gang of friends has brought into the fold during their summer vacation. The problem is that Rachel knows no Spanish and Victor knows almost no English. To make matters worse, one of the guys in the gang is good-looking and speaks very good English. So how does our charming if tongue-tied protagonist connect with the pretty American?
Nothing profound nor anything complicated in this short. The reason to watch it, in my opinion, is the deft comic touch and boyish charm of Quim Gutierrez, who plays the somewhat bumbling romantic lead. "Vale" is fluff, but we all need a bit of pleasant fluff every once in a while.
Final note: the short was sponsored by a brand of beer, and the product placements are constant throughout the 10-minute short. It never gets annoying, but if you know to expect it, it's probably easier to ignore.
La ira (2009)
I would have given this 2-part TV movie just one star but for the really good performances by two of the leads, Tamar Novas who plays Julián and Patricia Vico who plays the police interrogator. The rest, oh boy, where to begin. First of many flaws, "La ira" runs almost 2h20m yet could have easily been edited down to 90 minutes or even less. A lot of scenes run way too long, bogged down in repetition, and some are altogether unnecessary. "La ira" starts with a young woman who is captured and interrogated by the police for her role in a horrible crime. The next 2+ hours delve into why and how it happened. I stuck with it despite the plodding pace because I was curious. When all was revealed, I couldn't care less. Don't waste your time on this.
Niños robados (2013)
A Good TV Movie
I gave "Niños robados" an 8 out of 10 relative to other TV movies. Don't think of "Citizen Kane" as a 10 and this is an 8 in comparison. It's a good, engaging TV movie, but don't expect transcendent art.
"Niños robados chronicles two fictional cases of newborns stolen from their young unwed mothers and sold to wealthy families. Apparently the practice was all too common in Spain up until about 1980. The two- part movie focuses on the deceit and corruption of the theft of infants while the second half focuses on one adoptee's search for the truth. The dishonesty of the Catholic Church, or at least some members of the holy orders who deluded themselves that they were doing God's work, and the medical community is startling, but it also explains how the black market for stolen babies ran so rampant in Spain.
I watched all three hours in one sitting, and "Niños robados" held my attention throughout. The acting, script, and production are all quite good, If the subject matter interests you, "Niños robados" is definitely worth watching.
Perdóname, Señor (2017)
Predictable Storyline But A Strong Lead
I gave "Perdóname Señor" a probably too generous 6 out of 10 based on the strong performances of a number of cast members, in particular Paz Vega, who plays the lead. Otherwise, the story drags a bit and comes to a far too predictable end.
The mini-series begins with Sor Lucía on the beach of her hometown, having just returned after many years in Rome, getting a bit of seaside relaxation in before starting a teaching assignment in the local high school. She is dismayed to see not just a big delivery of hashish arriving by boat but that her nephew is one of the hired hands participating in the shipment. While Sor Lucía is trying to wrest a bundle of hash from her nephew, the police arrive & arrest her. Yeah, a nun arrested for narco-trafficking, a bit awkward. She learns that her nephew is aspiring to the big time in the drug world because he sees it as his way out of this dead end small town. And the kingpin who the nephew is trying to topple is none other than her old high school flame. Plot lines are not this mini-series' forté.
Yet the strength of the cast makes "Perdóname Señor" watchable, well, almost. I found myself watching one episode after another just to find out what happens, only to roll my eyes at an ending you could figure out from a mile away. Oh well, did I mention the actors were pretty good?
La sonata del silencio (2016)
A quality, but not a feel-good, drama
"La sonata del silencio" is the story of two intertwined families in post-WWII Spain. Both families live in the same building, but as we eventually find out, they are much more than mere neighbors. The wealthy Figueroas live on the prime first floor whereas the once well-to-do but now struggling Montejanos live on the top floor (because the building has no elevator, the lower the floor, the more desirable the dwelling).
Antonio Montejano used to be a doctor, but for reasons that are revealed later, now works in a position that appears to be what we would nowadays call a paralegal. His very well-educated wife Marta takes a job as an assistant to make ends meet. Because Antonio suffers from tuberculosis and consequently misses a lot of work, the family's finances are crumbling. To give their daughter Elena a better life, Antonio marries her off to their very wealthy bachelor neighbor Mauricio, even though Elena has no feelings for him and of course is in love with someone else, a young (and broke) musician.
Antonio starts taking morphine for pain and quickly becomes addicted, and the cost of his morphine addiction exacerbates the family's already dire financial situation. To make matters even worse, the addiction makes him an unbearable person to live with. Both Marta and Elena are desperate to escape their marriages, something that can still be quite difficult today, all the more so in 1940s Spain.
The feel of the series is dark and often depressing. The two women's struggle with feeling trapped in impossible situations at times overwhelms. As I warned in the summary line, this is no feel-good drama. But it is very well-done. The acting and script are both first rate, and the series captures the post-WWII era with great skill.
Eventually, the reasons the lives of these two families are so tightly woven together are revealed. While the series gets so depressing at times that it starts to feel heavy and slow, the pace picks up considerably toward the end when plot twists and surprises come one after another. Given all the problems that the characters suffer through, you know it's impossible for all of them to find a happy ending, but take heart in knowing that at least some of them do.
If you're looking for something to make you feel good, "La sonata del silencio" isn't the ticket. But it is a quality drama that I think is definitely worth watching.
Sé quién eres (2017)
An intriguing premise that takes far too long to play out
The premise of "I Know Who You Are" is fascinating. A man is found wandering a few kilometers from the site of a car accident. He apparently suffers from amnesia, unable to say who he is or to recognize any of his family or friends. The wrinkle is that a passenger, his sister-in-law's stepdaughter, was apparently in the car as well, according to blood stains found on the seat, yet is nowhere to be found. What happened? Is this man really suffering from amnesia? And where is the missing young woman?
The series would have been perfect for 10-12 70-minute episodes but unfortunately drags on for 16. Just as the intrigue hits its peak, the storyline gets bogged down in too many plot twists and turns that take far too long to unravel. Although the final episode neatly wraps up the mystery, you have to plow through a number of episodes where the plot winds and wanders before you get to the conclusion.
Another aspect of the series that makes it tough to swallow is that there isn't a single likable character in the bunch. While the actors who play the leads are quite good at their craft, the characters they play are far from sympathetic.
Overall, I liked "I Know Who You Are" despite its flaws. The first eight or so episodes as well as the final episode are brilliantly done, and the cast is first-rate. While the series gets a bit too clever with all its plot twists, at least the ending is satisfying enough to merit a mildly positive (6 out of 10 stars) rating.
Los misterios de Laura (2009)
Sometimes flimsy yet always entertaining
Detective Laura Lebrel bumbles her way through one case after another, one embarrassing accident or social faux pas after another, yet always figures out the mystery in the end. While the solution to the mysteries often stretches credibility, the likability of Laura and the rest of the cast that makes every episode enjoyable and entertaining.
"Los misterios de Laura" reminds me a lot of "Murder She Wrote," a lot of plots/resolutions a bit too flimsy, but you like Angela Lansbury and the character of Jessica Fletcher enough to forgive those shortcomings. Laura Lebrel has an everywoman charm that is easy to relate to. She is hopelessly clumsy, both physically and socially. She doesn't rely on CSI-style forensic evidence to solve mysteries. Nor is she a Sherlock Holmes-level genius. Instead, everywoman Laura just uses intuition and common-sense observation to figure out the key to mysteries nobody else seems able to solve.
Laura is helped by her trusty partner, incorrigible lady's man Martin. When she occasionally steps out of bounds to investigate a case, her boss, who also happens to be her ex-husband, always has her back. And on the home front, Laura's meddling busybody mother and two mischief-making identical twin sons make sure that Laura always has her hands full off-duty.
Laura is a normal if somewhat kooky person with a normal if somewhat kooky life who happens to have a tremendous gift for crime-solving. Sometimes the mysteries and their resolutions are great, sometimes they're a bit far-fetched or too pat, but the show is always fun, regardless.
El final del camino (2017)
Santiago de Compostela
While the city of Santiago de Compostela is not that well known in the U.S., it is the second-most visited pilgrimage site in Catholicism, second only to the Vatican. "El final del camino" is a limited series (only eight 75-minute episodes) that tells the story of the construction of the city's cathedral as seen through the lives of three brothers.
The brothers are orphaned when the Almoravides (Moors) raid their village and kill their parents. The oldest Gonzalo grows up to be the head of the guard (kind of a combination of the city's police and military). The middle brother Pedro is kidnapped in the raid and grows up amongst the Almoravides. The youngest Esteban starts out as a stoneworker for the cathedral but later becomes the visionary architect. The stories of the three brothers take place in the context of two power struggles: one for Spanish crown and another for power within the Catholic Church.
"El final del camino" is both well-done and entertaining. The cast is strong, both the principal and supporting characters. The story lines and dialogue are well-written. And the production does a great job of transporting the viewer back to 11th century Spain. The production seems to take particular care with the battle and fight scenes, which are gory and brutal, as one would imagine medieval warfare was. The construction of a cathedral in the Middle Ages was an awesome undertaking. The series does a great job of portraying the enormity of the struggle. "El final del camino" is definitely worth watching.
Chiringuito de Pepe (2014)
Humor, Warmth, and Family
"Chiringuito de Pepe" is the story of Sergi Roca, a superstar of Spanish gastronomy, who leaves the big city and all the Michelin stars behind to take over a small beachfront restaurant in the seaside town of Peniscola. Why does he make such a drastic change? In the first episode, the man who raised Sergi tells him that his biological father Pepe is in dire need of help with his failing chiringuito. Sergi buys the restaurant and takes over, but without telling Pepe, Pepe's son Vicente, and nephew Dani who he really is.
The series tells the story of the ups and downs of transforming the disastrous chiringuito into a successful restaurant as well as Sergi's discovery of and connection to the family he never knew. Often the series is funny, sometimes corny, sometimes a little too silly. But while the humor is uneven at times, the theme of family always keeps the show watchable. It's one of those shows where you get to really like the characters, enough to forgive the show during some of those groaner moments when the attempts at humor miss the mark.
Sergi also gets to know his own son Manu a whole lot better because his ex-wife leaves Manu in his care. We get to see Sergi figure out how to be a father, how to turn around a failing restaurant, how to connect with the family he never knew he had, and through it all, Sergi learns to be a better person. The series is sweet, funny, and definitely worth watching.
Felipe y Letizia (2010)
Corny, really corny
I watched "Felipe y Letizia" because I like the two actors who play the leads. While Fernando Gil and Amaia Salamanca did the best they could, the mini-series is pretty awful. First, the script, especially the dialogue, is so painfully contrived. Since a Spanish production cannot possibly risk offending the royal family, the script comes off as a really bad Hallmark movie, full of clichés and generalities. Besides a lousy script, the two leads are also handicapped by a weak supporting cast, in particular the actor who plays Juan Carlos, Felipe's father. About the best thing about this production was the car Felipe drives, a gorgeous Aston-Martin. Yuppers, sadly enough, that's about the highest praise I can give this mini-series.
A cambio de nada (2015)
Portrait of a Troubled Young Man
At the risk of over-generalizing, I wonder if this film would appeal more to European sensibilities than American ones. I notice that a lot of European films are more "slice of life" portrayals as opposed to traditional plot constructions (intro->buildup->conflict- >resolution). Yes, "A cambio de nada" has a plot and a conflict, but it feels secondary to the theme of the film - a portrayal of a young man's troubled life.
It's probably just my American sensibilities, but I was a bit bored by "A cambio de nada." Not that much happens during the movie, it's more just a description of a the troubled life of a Madrid teenager. But if you like "slice of life" type films, then you'll like this one. The acting is first rate. Of course, you would expect no less from Luis Tosar, 3-time Goya winner, who plays the troubled teen's father. But the novices really stand out here. The director's grandmother plays a lonely old woman who befriends Dario, the troubled youth. Even with zero acting experience, the lady is a star. Most of all, Miguel Herran, who plays Dario, is terrific. I can see why he won the Goya for best male newcomer ("mejor actor revelacion").
I'm glad I watched it. The quality of the dialogue and acting made the film more than worth my while. Even though I did find it a bit slow, I give it seven stars because the overall quality of the film is excellent, even if the film itself wasn't my particular taste.
Los nuestros (2015)
A Brilliant Story of War
"Los Nuestros" is a miniseries from Spain, available to watch in the U.S. (no subtitles, however) via the mitele.es website (the viewing website for TeleCinco). You never know what to expect of a TV miniseries, usually not much, but Los Nuestros blew me away. It is a riveting tale of two Spanish children who are kidnapped by jihadists, and the incredible lengths Spanish Special Ops must go through to rescue them. Everything in Los Nuestros is first-rate: the acting, the script, the production values, everything!! It is shown in three installments, about four hours in total, and keeps you at the edge of your seat pretty much from beginning to end. You can imagine that there are a lot of plot twists and almost-but-not-quite cliffhangers over the course of the four hours. The action and drama get extreme at times, but never go overboard. If you watch it via the mitele site, you have to put up with a few commercials, but Los Nuestros is well worth it.
El ministerio del tiempo (2015)
Super-Entertaining to Watch & Fantastic If You're Learning Spanish
First, about the show itself ... an unusual team is put together to go to the past and ensure that certain things happen the way they should or that certain historical figures survive to live out their destiny. They travel through doors that are time portals, which sounds totally nutty, but the matter-of-fact way the characters travel through time makes it believable. Most important, however, the show is just a ton of fun! Guau ("wow" in Spanish), I almost died laughing during Episode 2, where the team has to save Lope de Vega. The actor's portrayal of Lope as a shameless womanizer was one of the funniest acting jobs I've ever seen. The episodes are intriguing, suspenseful, funny, and so much fun, all at the same time!
My knowledge of Spanish history isn't good enough to verify the accuracy of the show, but I've read it's quite a bit more faithful to history than "Isabel," although that might not be saying much because "Isabel" gained some notoriety for its dramatic license. What I am sure of is the show accurately reflects the significance and impact of its figures, works, and events from Spanish history. The foreign (that is, non-Spanish) viewer gets a good sense of what Lope de Vega, Lazarillo de Tormes, and El Guernica mean to today's Spaniards.
Finally, I can't recommend this show enough if you're a non-native speaker trying to learn (Castilian) Spanish. First, with Julian (the nurse from 2015), you hear how Spanish is actually spoken today. It's not the Spanish you hear in the classroom, but it is how real, honest-to-goodness, normal Spaniards speak. Then with Amelia (the brilliant university student from the 1880s), you hear perfect formal Spanish - the kind still taught in the classroom. Perhaps the least practical but the most entertaining is the Spanish spoken by Alonso, the 16th Century soldier. Alonso's Spanish is more Siglo de Oro than 21st Century, but it's fun to listen to.
Watch the show because it's massively entertaining. And if you're trying to sharpen your "castellano," you've found a gem in "El Ministerio Del Tiempo." The videos of all eight Season 1 episodes are available on the RTVE website, with captions (but only in Spanish) if you need them.
Style and Substance
If you like this era (late 50s/early 60s), you'll love Velvet. I love the look and feel of this show: the clothes, the cars, the music, the cocktails. I even love the sunglasses the lead character sports in a few episodes. But nostalgia aside, it's a terrific show. The crux of the series is a great once-in-a-lifetime love, a love that should be the destiny of the boy & girl. But of course, everything is against them: their parents, their class difference, and financial issues. The two actors who play the leads couldn't be better. Both are gorgeous to look at AND terrific actors - what more could you ask for? Besides the main story, a number of secondary plots, both comic and tragic, will engage you. I just finished watching the first season in less than 2 weeks. And I'm about to watch all 15 episodes again because I love this show so much. Whether Spanish or American, this is one of the best shows I've ever seen.