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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (aka Stuey)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Elliott, Mar 6, 2005.

  1. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

    Jul 11, 2003
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    Real Name:
    Michael Elliott

    High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story
    aka Stuey


    Studio: New Line
    Year: 2003
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 110 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Surround, Stereo Surround
    Subtitles: English, Spanish
    Retail Price: $19.95

    Millions of people have gone to Vegas over the past few decades yet most walk away losing their houses yet every once in a while a legend will come out winning only to eventually lose everything. In between, they make legends of themselves and that was the case with Stu “The Kid” Ungar (Michael Imperioli) who was the youngest to win the Worst Series of Poker and only the second player to win it two years in a row. After that, Ungar’s life took a downward spiral as he got involved with cocaine but he eventually rebounded to win the tournament for a third time. This film shows up Ungar’s life from teenage years until his tragic end at the age of 45.

    High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story made a few rounds at smaller film festivals under the title Stuey but New Line decided to dump this in the straight to DVD market and the title change is probably due to the studio trying to make a better sell for the film. With the World Series of Poker being such a high ratings game the opportunity for this film is probably pretty high but those expecting an actual good film are going to be letdown because director A.W. Vidmer goes for way too many cliché scenes that makes this film seem better fit as a Movie of the Week. While the movie isn’t horribly bad, this is still a Scorsese wannabe that doesn’t make the final table.

    The director tries to bring a classy, high visual style to the film but it really never takes off and the visual influence of Goodfellas and Casino can easily be seen. Scorsese has always been a director that other director’s try to copy but if you haven’t got that talent, and not many do, you really shouldn’t try to copy anything because less could have been more here. The director also borrows a lot of the set up from Goodfellas as we see Ungar growing up with a rough father, getting mixed up with gangsters and eventually working himself through New York and on to Vegas. This could be interesting on its own terms but once again the director tries to be too Scorseseish and instead of telling a story, the film appears to be mocking Goodfellas at each turn. As in the Scorsese film, this one here features narration from Ungar and you can’t help but here the similarities in the dialogue especially one scene when Ungar’s father takes him to a club and the camera whirls around the various guys and we learn their names.

    Another major problem is the actual character Stu Ungar. When you cut the deck and get right down to it, this movie is your typical rise and fall of a legend. We’ve seen countless films about small guys who make it big yet crumple at the price of fame and this film is cliché in that respect. The biggest problem is that there isn’t a single moment where we actually like this guy. Last year at some time ESPN did a report on the life of Ungar and that ten minute piece make the guy very sympathetic but the director never does that here. There are several scenes dealing with redemption but not once did I ever care. When the tragic ending finally happens, again, I didn’t care because the director, showing the rise and fall, forgot to explain why we should care for anything this guy does.

    The film eventually picks up once we head to Vegas and see Ungar make his run at winner the World Series of Poker two years in a row and win a third time sixteen years later. This aspect of the film turns into another wannabe Casino and might bore the most casual of viewers but if you’re into playing poker then you should get a kick out of all the card play, if you aren’t already worn out on the subject. We’re also introduced to some nice supporting characters including Pat Morita playing a top card shark and another professional gambler, DJ (Joe La Due) who eventually comes to try and rescue Ungar. Both men really steal the show in their supporting performances but Michael Imperioli (Spider from…you guessed it Goodfellas) does a fine job as Ungar, although he really doesn’t have the range to pull off some of the breakdown scenes.

    In the end, if you’re interested in poker and know who Stu Ungar is, you might find yourself wanting to see this movie and for the most part, you won’t be too disappointed if you keep your expectation low. I think director A.W. Vidmer could make a very interesting movie but he really needs to do something on his own and not try to copy a director who is clearly more talented. There really isn’t a single original aspect to this story and the amount of cliché scenes just doesn’t really pay off in the end. High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story is a decent film but even a poor episode of SportsCentury would have had more originality.

    VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. This is a fairly low budget film and it certainly looks that way but New Line does what they can with the material. The biggest issue is some small amounts of dirt in a few of the nighttime scenes and there are a few too many speckles on the print for a film two years old. Some minor edge enhancement can also be seen but all of this is being a bit too nitpicky and I’m sure most won’t notice this stuff unless you’re actually looking for it. The rest of the transfer is pretty good with vivid colors that really come into play once we hit Vegas. The detailed colors really bring out the best in the look of the city and this includes the wonderful looking neon lights and even the actual color of the cards. The black levels are consistent and strong throughout and flesh tones look accurate.

    AUDIO---As with most releases from New Line these days, we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 track as well as a DTS Surround and DD 2.0 Stereo Surround track. I know we’ve got many supporters of DTS but I personally feel many of the recent DTS tracks are only included so that shoppers will have a reason to buy a certain title. Once again I compared the DTS to the 5.1 track and there is little to no difference. The film is dialogue driven and both tracks deliver clear, smooth dialogue without any problems. The Surrounds are basically used to show off the soundtrack, which includes all types of music and this too sounds very nice. Every once in a while the Surrounds will try to show off some slot machine noise but this is distant in the background. There really isn’t too many “action” shots so the dialogue is the most important thing and both tracks due justice to it. In comparison, I heard absolutely no sign that these tracks were different.

    EXTRAS---Up first is a music video called “Yesterdays” by Marc Eric, which really didn’t get me too excited. The only other extras is an audio commentary track with star Imperioli, actress Renee Faia, director Vidmar and poker expert Vince Van Patten. The track starts off with the director and Faia but Imperioli doesn’t join for quite some nice. The track is decent but I really wouldn’t go out of my way to tell anyone they should listen to it. The director goes through various details about the making of the film and where it was shot. He also speaks about some deleted scenes, which are not included on the DVD. Faia really doesn’t say much and Imperioli doesn’t either, although he gives a few details about his research into Ungar. The most interesting aspect is when the poker experts jumps in towards the end of the film and talks mainly about Ungar and his various projects in Vegas.

    OVERALL---Fans of poker or Stu Ungar will probably be very interested in this film but I’d recommend a rental over a purchase since the film really doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before. This is a small film that New Line picked up but they still give us a nice transfer and a few minor extras. The 5.1 and DTS tracks really aren’t any different so pick as you will.

    Release Date: March 15th, 2005
  2. Ira Siegel

    Ira Siegel Stunt Coordinator

    Nov 28, 2004
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    Thanks for the insightful review, Mike.

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