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High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story

On the commentary track for Rounders (1998), famed poker player Chris "Jesus" Ferguson jokes "What's the difference between a large cheese pizza and a professional poker player? A large cheese pizza can feed a family of four." Though professional poker players ride highs and lows that can happen at a moments notice, they're more often than not guys with a mind for math and a face for bluffing — that is to say, they aren't that cinematic. But of this writing, pop culture's newfound interest in poker, and specifically Texas Hold 'Em (often referred to as the Cadillac of poker — which must make blackjack the Fiat of poker, and seven-card stud the Mercury Montego of poker), makes films like 2003's High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story inevitable. It stars Michael (The Sopranos) Imperioli as Ungar, as his character is having a conversation with a Mafioso type in his hotel room. And it's this awkward framing device that allows Ungar to tell his life story. Stu was always good with cards and impressed Mafia people with it, but he could never master the tracks, so he was always losing even when he was winning. A heavy hustler, his life in New York went well until he amassed too great a debt and then was sent to Vegas, where his card-smarts could be put to better use. When his mentor Vincent (Michale Nouri) passes, he returns home and hooks up with his old fling Angela (Renee Faia) and convinces her to move to Vegas with him. They have a kid, but his gambling ways lead to affairs, drug abuse, and a divorce. High Roller (also called Stuey) is a standardized biopic that will offer little of interest for anyone who isn't a fan of Stu Ungar. For a film about a poker master (he did win three world championships), there isn't all that much card playing on screen that's fun to watch (in comparison to Rounders), just a simple recounting of the life of a guy who may have been a great gambler but wasn't much of a human being or a very interesting person. For those with an interest in a good gambling movie, there is one masterpiece — that being Robert Altman's 1973 California Split, which captures the spirit of gambling better than High Roller tries to. New Line presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio. Extras include an audio commentary by director A.W. Vidmer, Imperioli, Faia, and poker expert Vince Van Patten, a music video by composer Marc Eric, and bonus trailers. Keep-case.
—DSH



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