Raising Victor Vargas (2002) Poster

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Just a Bad Film
Long-Trader3 September 2006
Raising victor Vargas is just a bad film. No amount of denial or ad-dollar supported publicity with change this sad fact.

Maybe Peter Sollett saw he didn't have the money to do the movie he wanted to make and decided to take the easy way out by making a bad film that cynically apes the tenets of current "edgy film-making". Maybe he just doesn't know any better. It's hard to tell.

What's not hard to tell is the result. Except for a few viewers who will intellectualize the bad film-making into an attempt at pseudo-realism, few will enjoy it.

I know I didn't.

Do yourselves a favor and pass on this film.
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No Reality Here, Just Pretension
Richard_Hollinson15 April 2006
What a bad, bad film!!! I can't believe all the hype that has been lavished on this pretentious, amateurish excuse for a real movie!! I left the theater before the end, stunned by how bad the direction and camera-work of that movie were!! And to read adoring paeans that claim there is truth and reality in this film when all it is in reality is a brazen attempt at pulling the wool over the eyes of reviewers and festivals by being cheap and tawdry.

At least this film showed me once and for all that the Sundance Festival has become a complete joke and that being shown here is more a label of bad film-making than anything else.

Avoid at all costs. You'll want your time back! I know I did.
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Nothing real in that film
renamaries31 March 2006
Raising Victor Vargas fails terribly in what it tries most to be: being real. Unfortunately, there is no reality to this film. The characters and situations feel completely artificial and fake.

The reason? Bad directing. Peter Sollett uses all the wrong tools in his arsenal. It seems Mr. Sollett read somewhere that not lighting his film would give it an authentic feel. Wrong! It just gives it a badly-made feel. Similarly, shaking the camera does not give a documentary style to your film, it just gives the audience a headache and detracts from what's on screen instead of enhance it.

Of course, what's on screen is so painfully fake, as if Mr. Sollett wrote his script with the only goal of trying to look "hip" to his Sundance buddies and show how "edgy" a filmmaker he is.

Overall, the only lasting impression this film leaves you with is what a bad director Mr. Sollett is. Next time, how about taking a few writing and directing classes?
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"No Pause" Needed
longislandlloyd3 May 2005
"Raising Victor Vargas" is one of those light, family movies that you can watch and do the N.Y. Times crossword puzzle at the same time. And if you want to go to the kitchen for a taco and a Corona, you don't have to "Pause" the DVD. Just let it roll, 'cause you won't be missing anything really important. No twists, turns, or tension. It's not really an ethnic movie, it's a movie about a poor, struggling immigrant family that happens to be Latino. They could have been any ethnic group. It made very little difference. I've seen it all a zillion times before. Just plug in a Jewish family, an Italian family, a Black family, or an Irish family. Just the accents and names were different. If the Vargas family was named Bush or Clinton and were Presbyterians, the movie would have been a total snooze.

It's funny that the critics here couldn't get the locale straight. Some said it was Spanish Harlem. Some the Bronx, and another Brooklyn. As a life-long New Yorker, I vote for the Lower East Side. And it seemed that the family never met up with anyone except other Latinos. They lived in an insulated/isolated little enclave. Some interaction with non-Latinos might have created some excitement, interest, or tension. Remember West Side Story?

And now for the oft-criticized cinematography. I don't know if it was my TV or what, but all the indoor shots looked very ORANGE to me. The apt, the furniture, and the faces were all ORANGE. What was that supposed to mean? And the apt. did look pretty cramped to me. Somebody here mentioned that the old apt's/tenements had very big rooms. Well, maybe 50 years ago. What landlords have done is to break up one big apt into 2 or 3 very small ones and squeeze as many immigrants as they can into them.

And another annoying thing ....This is the second family movie I've seen and criticized this week that featured a teenage boy "jerking off". Is this private sex act necessary for us to watch? Please spare me! What's up with these directors?

So "Victor Vargas" is a pleasant little movie. It was nice for a change to see young Latino actors given a break and a chance to show their talents, which they did. But the writers let them down, giving them a flat, unspectacular script to work with. Enjoy the show, but keep your fingers near the "fast forward" button.
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Sorry, but ....
jimbeaux10131 March 2003
.... this movie basks too much in its own innocence. It doesn't tell a story; it's more a big time snooze fest. While the actors are all personable, the story is so trite and goes nowhere. I think Victor Rasuk has great charisma, but deserves a real film from a real storyteller.
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An outstanding capture of teenage emotion
chicken_stamper27 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Incredibly intriguing and captivating, I found it impossible to turn away once I began to watch. I am usually one of the harshest critics but to me this film was just brilliant, strange as this may sound I could almost smell the air and feel the textures of the locations.

From a cinematographic I thought there was great use of light and texture. From the orange glow of the summer light, down to the plastic wrapped couch all had a distinct air of realism to me.

From a character perspective I thought the notion of Victor Vargas as almost the glue that connects the story was quite inspired, each of the other members of the family having a more complete background simply caused greater intrigue in the main character himself.

Beyond that, having known someone just like the grandmother and having been on the receiving end of just such a situation, I can say the situation felt particularly realistic. The awkwardness, the accent, the cooking and even down to the comments made felt so authentic to me.

I think this film worked for me because I began to watch it with no expectations and found it completely immersing and brought back memories of teenage emotion, well worth a watch.
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Great Movie
mattbaxter52411 September 2009
True fans of film will love this authentic movie.

I disagree with the trolls who are rating this movie a one-star and calling it unrealistic. While I don't have the background or come from the environment of the protagonists, I've spent many years working in lower income and working class neighborhoods and feel the acting was very real and representative of how teenagers behave. I don't know what the basis is for others' comments that the film is "unrealistic". The dialog is great.

The low budget production value didn't bother me a bit. I felt that the natural lighting enhanced the character of the film. The focus was entirely on the story line and character development and not glitzy Hollywood propping or melodrama.

I completely bought into the character's motivations and reactions. The acting was believable and impressive for new and non-actors.

If your idea of good film is Transformers or Fast & Furious, then skip it. If you enjoy good character driven dramas, then see it.

(Regarding the negative commenters being "trolls": click on their names and you will see most have no other reviews or only negative reviews.)
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Neither well made nor realistic
carolinemitchell26 October 2003
Someone will have to explain to me why every film that features poor people and adopts a pseudo-gritty look is somehow seen as "realistic" by some people.

I didn't see anything realistic about the characters (although the actors did their best with really bad parts) or the situations. Instead, I saw a forced, self-conscious effort at being "edgy", "gritty" and "down and dirty".

Sadly, it takes a lot more than hand-holding the camera without rhyme or reason and failing to light the film to achieve any of the above qualities in any significant way.

It's a sad commentary on the state of independent film distribution that the only films that see the inside of a movie theater are nowadays all carbon copies, with bad cinematography, non-existent camera direction and a lot of swearing striving to pass themselves as "Art".

It's little wonder that films like "In the Bedroom" or "About Schmidt" get such raves. I found them to be meandering and very average, but compared to the current slew of independent clones like "Raising victor Vargas" they are outright brilliant and inspired.

A few years ago seeing an "independent" film meant that you would likely be treated to some originality and a lot of energy and care, and maybe a few technical glitches caused by the low budgets, nowadays, it means that chances are you'll get yet another by-the-numbers, let's-shake-the-camera-around-for-two-hours attempt at placating the lack of taste of independent distributors. And of course all that to serve characters and situations that are completely unreal and contrived.

Is it any surprise that the independent marketplace has fewer and fewer surviving companies? Not at all when you see films like Raising Victor Vargas that do nothing but copy the worst of the films that preceded them.
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Don't listen to the hype. Avoid at all costs.
mirandapraxis2 February 2005
This "film" is one of the most dreadful things I have ever seen.

Please do yourselves a favor and avoid this incompetent concoction.

Shaking the camera and having your actors adopt scowls does not count as "direction", which this film needed in droves. Not that the writing was all the wonderful, rather we were left with a bunch of completely artificial characters directed in that most artificial way (the pseudo-documentary "style" prized by those who don't know how to direct).

This film gives the impression that it was done cynically to appeal to critics who don't know the first thing about film-making (which is most of them).

Just terrible. It says a lot about Sundance and what it's become that Victor Vargas was showcased there.
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Another fake "slice of life" film
petermcneely20 August 2005
How many more of those fake "slice of life" movies need to be made? Hopefully not too many.

Raising Victor Vargas is a very self-conscious attempt by the director Peter Solett at garnering the attention of Hollywood. Nothing wrong with that in general. What is wrong with this film in particular is that it ignores the audience and piles on every cliché in the book of supposedly "edgy" Hollywood independent production.

It's supposed to be "real" so left shake the camera "documentary style", except no documentarian would shake the camera on purpose...

It's "edgy" so let's not waste any time lighting the film.

It's "hip", so let's have the children use swear words like Al Pacino in Scarface...

And so on, and so forth. All that you are left with is a very self-conscious attempt at impressing Hollywood that won't impress anyone outside of the "rarefied" indie crowd that seems to still heap acclaim on every bad film.
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don't waste your money
MissSmithNYC2 January 2004
This movie sucks. It is about a Latino teenager whose plight is that he is discovered having sex with a fat girl, and spends the movie trying to win the heart of a pretty girl so that he can restore his pride. Raising Victor Vomitus is in the league of Better Luck Tomorrow - another film which attempts to reveal the intricacies of a cultural group - but which really only makes everyone look stupid. My conclusion after seeing these two really egregious films is that if you are curious about Latino or Asian youths - the best way to satisfy that curiousity is to meet some of them, read a book, or wait until a good movie comes out. However, if you want to waste money, be bored, and learn nothing - get a pedicure. At least you will have something to show for it.
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Shows how to make a really bad film
mikailgarner28 May 2005
First of all, write the script on a napkin. Who needs more than that? After all we're not a Hollywood film.

Then get amateur actors. It will be good for the festival hype. After all, who needs people who have spent years honing their craft? Then, hire a cinematographer who doesn't know how to light. You see, if it's well-lit, it won't look "real" and the festival people won't like it. Who needs to have professional level photography anyway? Then hire a ten-year old who has never held a camera to be your operator. It will give your movie that completely amateurish touch that festival screeners will mistake for "reality" and guarantee that even though you will empty the seats from real people, critics and a small sliver of the audience who over-intellectualize will scream "genius" because they won't believe this was just complete amateur-hour.

Once you've done that, buy your ticket to the Festival of Bad Movies aka Sundance.

What a sad waste.
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Vastly overrated
darcycannon6 February 2005
I can't believe this movie managed to get such a relatively high rating of 6! It is barely watchable and unbelievably boring, certainly one of the worst films I have seen in a long, long time.

In a no-budget way, it reminded me of Star Wars Episodes I and II for the sheer impression that you are watching a total creative train wreck.

This film should be avoided at all costs. It's one of those "festival films" that only please the pseudo-intellectuals because they are so badly made those people think it makes it "different", therefore good.

Bad film-making is not "different", it's just bad film-making.
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Everything That's Wrong About Indie Films and Sundance
larryhmiller8 August 2008
That this poor excuse for an amateur hour showcase was heralded at Sundance is a great example of what is wrong with most indie filmmakers these days.

First of all, there is such a thing as the art of cinematography. Just picking up a 16mm camera and pointing it at whomever has a line does not make for a real movie.

I guess we have to consider ourselves lucky the director didn't pick up someone's camcorder...

Second, indie films are supposed to be about real people. There's nothing real in this film. None of the characters come across as being even remotely human.

What they come across as being is figments of the imagination of a writer trying to impress his buddies by showing them how "cool and edgy" he is.

Sorry, but this is not good writing, or good directing.

What is left is a husk of a bad movie that somehow made its way to Sundance. Hard to believe this was one of the best films submitted...

In any case, it made me loose what was left of my respect for the Sundance brand.
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A movie that respects its characters.
truthandlit4 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is an exceptionally good movie. What it does so clearly and well is to display the relationship between teenagers' romantic interests and their social status in the larger teenage society around them. The teenagers in this movie are all trying to establish a respectable place for themselves among their peers and having a girlfriend/boyfriend is a big part of that. The real problem is how to manage these things without becoming an egoistic monster. So Victor pursues Judy to salvage his reputation as a successful ladies' man and preserve the admiration of his friends and his younger brother. Judy, who is unusually inexperienced despite her hot looks, accepts Victor to avoid the crass sexual attentions of the neighborhood boys. But this isn't even half the story. Victor also has real respect for women, although he has to hide this to appear macho. Judy similarly likes boys but has to hide that, even from herself, in order to preserve her self-respect. Victor likes Judy because she treats him with a brutal honesty (despite her lie about already having a man); Judy likes Victor because he defers to her—he pursues her in his clumsy adolescent way, but agrees to be ruled by her, so she doesn't feel so threatened. Victor and Judy establish a good relationship by the end: it obviously makes both of them happy and they both benefit from it in ways that are important to them. You can argue that this is a pretty rudimentary basis for a relationship, but when one is 14 or 15, good rudimentary relationships are an achievement. The two are very sweet, and very immature, and will grow and develop. Similarly the relationship between Melanie (very well played by Melanie Diaz) and Harold. They are not explored in the same depth, but one can see the same process at work. Melanie sorts out her relationship with Judy vs her relationship with boys, and Harold overcomes his appalling awkwardness. They each gain status in the community as well as real personal growth. One doesn't know whether this relationship will last beyond a few days or weeks, but it doesn't matter—both are the better for it. So the movie shows a lot of respect for its characters and gives them real depth and humanity.
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Age of innocence/before technology
redtailss5030 September 2012
Why anyone would rate this unfavorably is beyond me? Loved this movie. All the talk about ethnicity I think was out of place. To me it was more a story of a grandmother trying to raise kids going into puberty yet still holding fast to her values, though she learns eventually to be flexible. And for those too crass or wounded to remember what innocence was like and coming to terms with trying to mature as a teenager, maybe they should watch this film till the'penny drops'and they 'get it!' Superb film, especially from a filmmaker just starting out.

Judy Marte was extraordinary. Her eyes captivate and her face gives off this air of mystery. I found myself wanting to delve more into the character she was portraying by her acting. I hope more good roles come her way to showcase her talent. The entire cast were enjoyable.
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Love the cultural relevance behind everything!
stefanie_27-112 November 2009
I saw this film a while back and it's still at the top of my 'favorite movies' list. It is amazingly put together and what really makes the film are the detailed tid bits (such as the 'Cafe Bustelo' coffee crate being reused as a cup to wash her grandsons hair) that people aren't seeing because YOU WILL NOT UNDERSTAND THIS MOVIE UNLESS YOU ARE HISPANIC. This is just one of those films that is very culturally specific and particular. Please do not bash this film if you have no prior knowledge of what foundation it's being built upon. I completely see what the writer/director was going for, and he hit the target perfectly! This film is highly deserving of a better rating.
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Not So Sexy
baho226 January 2003
If I had known this movie was about teen sex I never would have gone. Fortunately, I didn't, because I would have missed a rather remarkable film at Sundance. Raising Victor Vargas is about a non-traditional Hispanic family in New York's lower east side. Victor Vargas is a hormonally charged teenager with one thing on his mind. (If we believe the film, every young male in Spanish Harlem is preoccupied with similar thoughts.)

Then Victor meets Judy. Unable to make a sexual conquest, the relationship develops into something more meaningful for both of them. It is this process of discovery which is so encouraging and uplifting, as Victor learns, with the help of a firm and loving (if sometimes misguided) grandmother, a deeper set of values-genuine caring, friendship and family. As his façade of cultural expectations wears off, the vulnerable but inherently well-meaning Victor emerges with a more mature outlook, strengthened principles and firmer moral grounding. You might argue that the transition is a bit forced and happens too suddenly. Nevertheless, it is cause for celebration.

This is not to say that the movie is a propaganda piece for pre-marital abstinence. There is enough promiscuity to make parents think twice about letting their teens see the film. But the over-riding theme of the movie builds the case that the sexual preoccupation of youth is selfish and immature.

Director Peter Sollett employed inexperienced actors with an improvisational style, and managed to elicit extraordinarily real and believable performances from Victor Rasuk (Victor) and Judy Marte (Judy). By focussing intently on the individual, and encouraging freedom of expression, Sollett is able to capture truth on film, without too much embellishment. He takes us to a world where we expect to find despair, and leaves us with hope and faith in the spirit of youth.
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Raising Victor Vargas
awmurshedkar11 June 2012

Director: Peter Sollett

Writer: Peter Sollett

With an unknown cast and coming from a debut director, the film turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Raising Victor Vargas is a 'coming of age' film, if one might call it that, but in every sense of the word, extremely mature. With no special effects or dazzling visuals, Raising Victor Vargas is a must watch for sakes of storytelling and scriptwriting.

The film revolves around the story of a youngster Victor Vargas, a Dominican teenager, played exceptionally well by Victor Rasuk. Victor, who is out to regain his image after word of his affair with a 'fat' girl leaks to the neighborhood. To rise to his old glory, he must win over the pretty Judy Marte ('Juicy' Judy Gonzalez). For most parts, the story is just that. While detailing it any further would lead to spoilers, watch out for the most interesting aspects of the film, which in this case are precisely those parts which seem least relevant.

The film manages to charm, delight and appease with the smallest of details, ones that are almost always overlooked in films seeking to be larger than life. It is as though the writer/director has understood the simplest secret of storytelling. He deals with nuances of the youth, the teenagers and their daily lives in a very refined and mature manner. Not succumbing to obvious temptations of problems facing the youth, the director dodges all the clichés, from drugs to violence, from rape to vengeance.

There isn't really much to say about the film. It is shot in a few locations, with limited characters and resources. Yet the performances are fantastic, the script is simple and funny, the acting is outstanding. The film flows from one scene to the next and very soon without actually realizing it, we are living the lives of the characters, laughing and smiling with them, cheering and hooting for them. Sadly, we haven't seen a lot from Sollett since 2002; hope he makes an appearance soon.
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smakawhat14 November 2003
An inner city neighborhood trial and tribulations put to film of a poor Latino family in New York would seem to be nothing more than a setup for hard ship and perhaps gang violence. However, the beauty of a film like Raising Victor Vargas is it can stick with a simple story of a young mans attempt at coming of age while sidestepping the usual affairs that such an environment is not conducive or even believable to a childhood romance.

We first meet Victor in the room of some young girls apartment. It soon becomes apparent that Victor's reasoning for being in this room is to loose his virginity simply for the fact that when he brags to his friends that he's not a virgin he can finally be telling the truth for once. As a 16 year old this important in the macho culture that pre-dominates around his neighborhood.

It soon comes apparent though, that Victor won't have sex with this young girl, and more importantly Victor discovers a poolside young beauty named Judy that he would like to charm. However, it's up to Victor to prove himself capable of being a decent man as Judy has to endure constant harassment and has given up on the idea of men in general.

Some other relationships develop between some of the other younger kids around the neighborhood and they all feel distinctly genuine. But it's Victor's ability to try to learn how to treat people right while respecting his Dominican grandmother that become the center and highlight of the film. Victor (played by Victor Rasuk) embodies a youthful charm in this film that is so natural and can't be faked. The grandmother (played by Altagracia Guzman) is amazing as the old fashioned family protectorate who has to keep everyone in line. Your heart just aches for this old woman who sees in Victor perhaps her own previous husband and fears only the worst.

Peter Sollet has really worked a gem of a film showing these kids as without much but truly blessed with the gift of caring and that's what makes the film so unique. There's even a great scene where the grandma takes Victor to social services simply to say ‘I have had enough of him, he's trouble, he's a bad influence' and that she just can't take it anymore with his antics. In the end the social worker just tells her to go home and stop complaining. Any other film would instead make it an overdramatic tug of war.

Without spoiling anything, the courting of Judy ends in a way that for the most part works in the context that Victor and the other characters inhabit. It's a wonderful tale of youthful love in a setting that probably happens more often than you think.

Rating 8 out of 10
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This is not a movie
Boyo-226 August 2004
This is real life for a segment of the population that do not have much of anything, don't have two dishes that match and are not exactly well-represented in the world of cinema. Its all so real that if I was told this was a documentary and these guys with video cameras just filmed the lives of the people in the movie, I wouldn't second-guess it for a minute.

It started out a bit uneasy for me. I thought it was just going to be a prolonged quest for these two guys to get some action at the local pool. But when the entire family is introduced, and the quest for action became a reluctant friendship, I started to recognize and appreciate what I was seeing. People exactly like this could easily live ten blocks away from me in Brooklyn (its never specified, but I think they're in the Bronx or upper Manhattan, but it could be anywhere urban).

I bet the budget for this was about the same as that cyborg Tom Cruise makes in one day for his latest blockbuster. Movies like this make me hate people like him even more because he's so far removed from the human condition that it isn't even funny. And in terms of money, forget it. This movie has more value than his last twelve movies.

Thanks to all the artists involved in the making of this movie. I'll never forget it. 10/10.
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This is great cinema!
mastrait17 April 2018
Wow, I almost missed this gem of a movie! Don't you make the mistake of passing on it.

Fresh, sweet, funny and very real! Everything about this film is just fantastic. The acting, the writing, the camera work, I loved it all! Definitely a slice of life I never experienced, but at the same time, I knew this family, these people and related to them so well.

This is a remarkable thing that rarely happens, but the reason I love good cinema.
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i like it a lot.i like it more because i am latin...
antoniojr198116 April 2004
i like it a lot.i like it more because i am latin and its not many latin show out there. But the real reason why i like it because it was a great movie and it was well written. Also because it show how most people live in ny and what happens in family, how older people try to raise young kids, how young kids co-with trying to have a relationship and the part how the brother is teaching his sister and his brother about what happens while you growing up to your body and about sex. You dont see that in any movie or tv show.But what i would like if the writer will turn that into a tv show like the soprano or sex in the city something like that i know i watch everytime and i know a lot of people will watch it, it be a hit on tv. It would be a hit because the cast,that cast was great and they're latin. So if you can do the latin people a favor and make it a tv show and with those same people and that kinda writing. thanx
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