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High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story Review

Discussion in 'Poker Gear Reviews' started by w16227, Oct 17, 2005.

  1. w16227

    w16227 Well-Known Member

    Jul 21, 2005
    Likes Received:
    Chicago Burbs
    Manufacturer: Warner Brothers/New line
    Retailer(s): amazon.com
    Average Price: $17 + Shipping (Amazon)
    Member Review by: w16227

    Stu Ungar was many things. He was a degenerate gambler, a loving father, a master gin player (probably the best ever), and a phenomenal poker player. He was also a degenerate gambler, a drug addict, an emotional child and a wiseguy wanna-be.

    Did I mention that he was a degenerate gambler? Stuey's life centered around his addiction for action, and his addiction for modern chemicals. He would gamble on anything and everything. When that was not enough to fill the voids in his life, he turned to drugs. His life was a wild ride of excess - from blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars at the track, to week-long cocaine binges and partying with the underbelly of society. He also found the time to win the WSOP main event 3 times. Trying to pack his lifestyle into a 1:30 movie is a daunting task - one that A.W. Vidmer tackles well with High Roller - the Stu Ungar Story. ​
    Michael Imperioli.............Stu 'Stuey' Ungar
    Renee Faia......................Angela
    Michael Nouri...................Vincent
    Joe La Due.......................DJ
    Steve Schirripa.................Anthony
    Todd Susman...................Max
    Peggy Walton-Walker........Flo
    Pat Morita.........................Mr. Leo
    Jonathan Press..................Young Stu
    Michael Pasternak.............The Stranger ​
    Synopsis from Warner Brothers
    Based on a true story, Michael Imperioli stars as poker legend Stu Ungar. A gambler by the age of 10, Ungar won millions playing card games. He was one of two people ever to win the World Series of Poker three times - twice before age 26. But, in spite of his success, a life of excess and addiction left him in tremendous debt and could only end in tragedy. ​
    Special Features
    Audio Commentary - Feature-length commentary with Michael
    Imperioli, director A.W. Vidmer and poker expert Vince Van Patten
    Music Video - Music video "Yesterday" by Marc Eric ​
    Reviewer Comments
    After being shelved for a time, "High Roller – The Stu Ungar Story" was finally released on home video. Not exactly a direct to video movie, as it had a handful of theater showings. Even with the over-saturation of poker television shows, this movie did not draw enough interest from the studios to become a nationwide release.

    Knowing this, I had reasonable expectations for this movie. I already knew that I would like the subject matter, and the movie had a couple of name actors. If it was better than, say – Shade, I would be happy. I like Shade despite its faults. But, you can see why it went straight to video.

    While not a blockbuster for sure the movie definitely had enough going for it to hold my interest and is definitely on my "will watch again" list. Michael Imperioli does a fantastic job of portraying Stu Ungar from a young cocky gin player to his rise as a poker playing legend and then his tragic death. His only failings lie in things that are not his fault (and most casual or non poker playing viewers might not even notice). First it is difficult for him to recreate exactly how young Stu looked. It really had to feel like you were facing a high-schooler sitting down with him when he was in his twenties. Second Stu was also a lot more diminutive. The movie just does not give you a good look at how much he deserved the nickname "The Kid".

    Pat Morita has a small part and does a great job as well. He is the "Billy Baxter" (one of Stu's backers) of the story.

    The plot is pretty basic; it is an autobiographical story of the life of Stu Ungar from childhood to death. I will not go into many details but the stories were good although some of the story telling methods were somewhat plain. The flashback method of storytelling was very well done, but the underlying theme of how these stories are told just left me feeling a bit bland.

    They seemed to fit just about the right number of stories into the movie. I have read his biography as well and man, take what you get from the movie and multiply by 10 (or in Stu's case 10:1 and he would still give you action). The guy was simply out of control. But to fit the movie into a reasonable time frame, they had to leave a lot out. Some stories are altered as well (names and places) but, make no mistake, they are rooted in fact. There is one "rainman" moment at the gin table where Stuey calls out his opponent’s hand exactly after only 4 discards. This may seem like artistic license but, he really could do that. After a while in Vegas he was actually told not to enter several gin tournaments, as many of the players would not show up if he was playing. He was simply too good to beat.

    One of the most amazing aspects of the move was the fact that they had little or no budget when compared to the typical productions nowadays. Yet the overall look and feel of the move was great. As an example; they had several scenes set in Stuey's youth. Setting up a sound-stage with a period section of a city complete with vintage automobiles was simply out of the question. Instead they picked a quaint location where the visuals would not be out of place in a 1960 timeframe and placed an ad in the local car collectors’ publication. All of the automobiles that packed the streets were "donated" to the shoots for free. The cameras employed were also of the inexpensive variety. The shots were laid out very well and used older track and dolly camera technology (the camera was attached to a dolly that was moved along a track fixed to the ground). This is ancient technology when compared to the steady-cam equipment of today (the camera can be handheld and moved anywhere yet still maintain a smooth sequence). Even with these finantial limitations, they pulled the scenes off very well.

    For those of you who were waiting for the next Rounders and hate anything that is not at least as good, then this is not for you. For those of you who like poker and poker related shows you will enjoy the movie. I would rate this 3 out of 5 overall as a movie but, probably 4 out of 5 as a poker movie.

    The extras are nothing special, but this was straight to video. I doubt that they were given much (if any) budget to add anytihng fancy. One item that they should have included was fottage from Stuey's third title.

    Cover art from the DVD

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    On the left is Michael Imperioli playing Stuey at his 3rd WSOP win - on the right is the man himself himself at the same event. Look closely at his facial features- and you can get a feel for how low he had dropped. His nose is almost collapsed at this point on the right side. You can also get a decent look at actually how diminutive he really was.​
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2006
    1 person likes this.
  2. grandgnu

    grandgnu Well-Known Member

    Nov 28, 2011
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    Just caught this on HBO Go (available until April 15th).

    Not a bad flick, my only qualm was near the end when his relationship with his daughter was kinda slapped on with no leadup, felt like that was out there without anything to support it.

    I was pleasantly surprised that I only saw crappy dice chips once I think. Other than that, some decent and varied chips displayed in the flick.

    Worth a watch for fans of the gambol :happy:
  3. guinness

    guinness Degen Gatekeeper
    Lifetime Supporter

    Dec 7, 2005
    Likes Received:
    New Boston, NH
    It was slapped on at the end because that was the case in real life. He had zero relationship (leadup) with her. The movie was mediocre, worse if you read the book (as expected). The book provides details that I found entertaining that really underlined his degeneracy, such as being taken in by a gambling friend while Stu was in his 30's. My memory is bad but the story went along the lines of the friend offering spaghetti for dinner and asked Stu to go boil water. When the friend walked in the kitchen, he saw Stu holding two pans with complete confusion on his face. Stu never made himself food and wasn't sure how to boil water for spaghetti.
  4. Mojo1312

    Mojo1312 Well-Known Member

    Mar 12, 2012
    Likes Received:
    At the beach
    My favorite Stu Ungar story is when he miraculously counted down a six deck shoe and correctly called the suit and value of the last card to win $100,00 off of casino owner Bob Stupak in 1977.

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