Barbie

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Comedy;
Box Office $635.68 million;
DVD $19.99, Blu-ray $24.99, UHD BD $29.99;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for suggestive references and brief language.
Stars Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Kate McKinnon, Will Ferrell, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Alexandra Shipp, Emma Mackey, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa, Scott Evans,Rhea Perlman, Helen Mirren.

The Barbie doll, when introduced by Mattel in 1959, was initially intended as a platform to sell clothes and accessories for girls to dress it up. Other characters followed, and backstories were created as Barbie’s circle of friends and family grew, but the driving force for their popularity remained the ways the girls playing with them could unlock their own imaginations. This is reflected in many of the “Barbie” animated movies that project the characters into various preexisting fairy tales and other adventure stories.

For a live-action film based on Barbie, director Greta Gerwig could have chosen any number of approaches, not the least of which would have been a conventional narrative depicting the lives of the “Barbie” characters as if they were real people working in the fashion industry or something mundane. But Gerwig has made a career of bucking convention, so her vision of Barbie is something much more complex — a movie about the doll’s relationship with the real world.

Interestingly, her screenplay (co-written with her partner, Noah Baumbach) employs a story structure that pays homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey of all things, and not just with a prologue that directly parodies Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic.

As fourth-wall-breaking narrator Helen Mirren explains, the introduction of Barbie shifted the landscape of playing with dolls away from girls practicing for motherhood to fostering ambitions of achieving any goal in life despite background or hardship.

And thus it is that the Barbies seem to exist in their own pocket dimension in which women run society, but all the variants of “Barbie” and “Ken” and other associated characters represent that type of doll in the real world, and some sort of metaphysical psychic link between them can influence what happens in either reality.

Actually, though, any attempt to parse logic from the cause-and-effect of how Gerwig’s Barbie universe works is a futile gesture, as even the characters in the film joke about how warped the story’s reality is. It’s only the genuine emotional connection the characters have with each other that provides structure to the various story arcs and keeps it all from spinning out of control — an impressive achievement of directorial balance on Gerwig’s part.

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In Barbieland, a fantasy realm dominated by plastic and pink, where the backdrops are painted and all the buildings are designed like Barbie playsets, Margot Robbie plays the “stereotypical” Barbie — the Barbie that first comes to mind when one thinks of Barbie. Her life is an idiosyncratic routine of perfect days enjoying visits with the various professional Barbies and hanging out at the beach with Ken (Ryan Gosling). Nights are filled with disco parties.

The various Kens only exist to seek the attention of the Barbies, and seem to have no other purpose. Where they actually live is a question raised but never actually answered, since the Barbies don’t really care.

When Robbie’s Barbie begins to experience anxiety and symptoms of aging imperfectly, she is told she must venture into the real world to confront the girl playing with her in this manner. Gosling’s Ken joins her on this convoluted journey, and while Barbie finds those responsible for her unwanted emotions, Ken discovers a world in which men have purpose and respect.

When Barbie is taken back to Mattel headquarters, because that’s the kind of Meta this movie is, Ken returns to Barbieland with the intention of introducing the patriarchy and improving his and the other Kens’ lot in life.

And thus Barbie and some newfound friends must return home to restore balance to the matriarchy that Barbieland has always known.

In framing Barbie as both an individual living in her own reality and a concept with influence in the real world, Gerwig has crafted a film that tries to meet several conflicting expectations for what a Barbie movie could be.

Gerwig’s Barbie is presented as both iconic and problematic. The behind-the-scenes interviews with Gerwig included with the home video extras show a director who reveres the nostalgia of what Barbie meant to her childhood, while the film’s story seems to lament that the lessons gleaned from Barbie’s worldbuilding didn’t reflect her worldview.

So we get the lavishly designed, fantastic-looking Barbieland sets of life-sized dollhouses that give the film most of its visual flair. We get intricate musical numbers that speak to the stream-of-consciousness fantasy nature of Barbieland’s existence. But we also get a treatise on the relationship between feminism and the patriarchy, using Ken’s journey to satirize a kind of over-the-top interpretation of toxic masculinity. The end result isn’t so much a film about Barbie as it is Metaphor: The Movie.

Regardless of what the filmmakers’ intent was, the exploration of these competing attitudes blended with a storytelling style that borders on expressionism gives the viewer some leeway to imprint whatever message they want to take away from the film, which may account for its massive success despite complains of overt political messaging. Ultimately, the film is as much a comedy poking fun at the Barbie brand’s eccentricities as it is a loving tribute to its legacy.

The aforementioned Barbie home video extras include six bonus featurettes totaling 45 minutes of typical behind-the-scenes material.

The 12-minute “Welcome to Barbie Land” covers the creation of the real-life Barbie Dream Houses, and the seven-and-a-half-minute “Playing Dress-Up” focuses on the costumes. The six-and-a-half-minute “Becoming Barbie” deals with how Robbie and other performers approached playing the legendary doll, while the five-minute “All-Star Barbie Party” marvels at the assembled cast. “Musical Make-Believe” is a nine-minute featurette about the film’s musical sequences. Finally, the five-minute “It’s a Weird World” examines Kate McKinnon’s quirky “Weird Barbie” character.

The extras are offered with both the digital and disc versions of the film. However, the disc versions aren’t offered as multidisc combo packs, with the 4K and regular Blu-ray versions configured separately (though each includes access to a digital copy, while the DVD version does not).

 

‘Barbie’ Due on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 17

The top box office film of the year, Barbie, will arrive for purchase on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD on Oct. 17 from Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment.

From Oscar-nominated writer/director Greta Gerwig (Little Women, Lady Bird), Barbie — which has earned more than $1.43 billion at the global box office and is the highest grossing film in Warner Bros.’ history — stars Oscar-nominees Margot Robbie (Bombshell, I, Tonya) and Ryan Gosling (La La Land, Half Nelson) as Barbie and Ken. The film follows the iconic Mattel doll as she experiences an existential crisis.

The film also stars America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman and Will Ferrell.

Barbie is also available for digital ownership at home.

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The Barbie 4K UHD and Blu-ray contain the following special features:  

  • “Welcome to Barbie Land” featurette
  • “Becoming Barbie” featurette
  • “Playing Dress-Up” featurette
  • “Musical Make-Believe” featurette
  • “All-Star Barbie Party” featurette
  • “It’s A Weird World” featurette

‘Barbie’ More Than Weekend Movie Hype, Generates Warner’s Highest-Ever Monday Box Office

Warner Bros. Pictures’ blockbuster Barbie movie release, starring Margot Robbie in the title role, is more than a weekend phenomenon. The Greta Gerwig-directed fantasy comedy generated more than $26 million in Monday ticket sales — the highest ever for a Warner release, topping director Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman movie The Dark Knight.

Barbie, which has surpassed Universal’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie as the year’s biggest theatrical opener, is nearing $190 million in revenue across North American screens, while generating an unexpected $194+ million in foreign revenue, to up its global haul past $380 million.

Meanwhile, Nolan’s current Universal Pictures release, Oppenheimer, about the architect of the atomic bomb, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, sold another $12.6 million in tickets, fueling the ongoing “Barbenheimer” social media-coined buzzword that has apparently driven moviegoers in droves to titles with completely different storylines and appeal. Oppenheimer is expected to pass $100 million in North American revenue ($190+ million worldwide) through today (July 25).

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Babylon

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/21/23;
Paramount;
Drama;
Box Office $15.35 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $35.99 UHD BD, $44.99 4K Steelbook;
Rated ‘R’ for strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, bloody violence, drug use, and pervasive language.
Stars Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, P.J. Byrne, Lukas Haas, Olivia Hamilton, Max Minghella, Rory Scovel, Katherine Waterston, Tobey Maguire, Flea, Jeff Garlin, Eric Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Samara Weaving, Olivia Wilde, Spike Jonze.

Just in case the trailers hadn’t fully prepared viewers for what they are in for with Babylon, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s lavish tale of Hollywood excess in the silent-movie era, the film’s opening moments will set a tone that is not for the faint of heart.

In the first scene, a day laborer is sprayed with dung by an elephant he’s helping transport to a fancy party. A minute later, a corpulent attendee of said rave is shown being urinated on during a dalliance with a flapper (a clear reference to the Fatty Arbuckle scandal).

And that’s just the first five minutes of a film whose three-hour runtime will test viewers’ patience as much as its fluidic humor will test their gag reflexes. Babylon is a beautiful paradox of a film in which the glitz and glamour of grand villas, magnificent costumes and epic setpieces are counterbalanced by grotesque orgies, mind-numbing narcotics and underground freak shows.

A former jazz drummer, Chazelle seemed to have a found a nice filmmaking niche at the intersection of music and cinema with films such as Whiplash and La La Land. But then he made First Man, turning the inherently patriotic journey of America’s first voyage to the moon into a depressing treatise on grief. So, who can blame him for going for broke with Babylon?

The film is an Altman-esque portrait of a handful of archetypal characters navigating their way through Hollywood in the late 1920s, when the advent of talkies revolutionized the motion-picture industry. Brad Pitt plays Jack Conrad, an aging star rejected by audiences once they hear him recite the insipid dialogue he’s asked to perform. Margot Robbie is the stereotypical “It” girl who seeks nothing but superstardom and a perpetual party. Jovan Adepo plays a black jazz musician whose career is transformed by shorts of him playing the trumpet, and just as easily curtailed by racist attitudes. The list goes on.

The central thread weaving these stories together is Manny Torres (Diego Calva), as close as a stand-in for the audience there could be for this picture. He’s a Mexican migrant who dreams of working for the studios, and gets his chance thanks to being in the right place at the right time. He quickly rises through the ranks until he learns the quintessential lesson of Hollywood: There is no dream that can’t be shattered by bad timing and loving the wrong person.

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The transition from silents to sound was also the focus of 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain, a film that has had a rather obvious influence on Chazelle’s creative perspectives. He made his grand love story musical with La La Land, and now covers the Hollywood history aspects of Singin’ in the Rain with Babylon. Given there are several direct references to Singin’ in the Rain within Babylon, Chazelle isn’t being subtle with the parallels.

Chazelle’s opus is certainly not lacking for ideas, and as muddled as it is at times, Babylon is long enough to indulge most of them (there’s another nine minutes of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray). The production values are impeccable, the boisterous jazz-infused score by Justin Hurwitz is fantastic, and the character journeys themselves are not altogether uncompelling (one of the film’s better running jokes is that Conrad seems to have a different new wife in every scene).

But these characters aren’t singing in rain. They usually end up dancing in poop and piss and vomit, a visual metaphor for how Hollywood will shit on anyone for the sake of meaningless profligacy.

Dramatizing the days before workplace protections and safety regulations, Babylon depicts people literally dying on sets for the sake of art, an uncontrolled chaos that seems less concerning to the filmmakers of the day than getting the perfect shot before the sun goes down. Characters are less interested in their future well being than in maintaining the delusion that the good times will continue forever. Even when confronted with the reality that all things must end, they are offered the comfort of film itself being the source of immortality, its stars the ghosts of a bygone era.

Of course, there’s a question unspoken by the film that lingers above the overindulgence: Was it worth it? Around 90% of the films shot during the silent era are now considered lost — ghosts with no one left to haunt.

Chazelle skirts this issue with a thesis that the silent era and its response to the advent of sound in films served as an important foundation for the industry to come, and its countless technological leaps forward. And in that regard, he becomes yet another filmmaker presenting an ode to the magic of going to the movies — even the ones that symbolically spray feces on the audience.

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In addition to six deleted and extended scenes, the Blu-ray offers three informative behind-the-scenes featurettes. The 31-minute “A Panoramic Canvas Called Babylon” is a comprehensive look at the production as a whole, supplemented by the three minute “The Costumes of Babylon,” which is self-explanatory, and the two-minute “Scoring Babylon,” about Hurwitz’s Oscar-nominated music.

Amazon Freevee Nabs Select ‘Neighbours’ Episodes

Amazon’s free ad-supported streaming platform Freevee announced it would offer a selection of “Neighbours” TV episodes, beginning Feb. 23.

The longtime Australian drama series about the lives, loves and challenges of the residents on Ramsay Street in Erinsborough, a fictional suburb of Melbourne, ran for more than three decades and nearly 9,000 episodes. The show provided career launch pads for Margot Robbie, Russell Crowe, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce, Natalie Imbruglia and Liam Hemsworth, among others.

The debut will include all the episodes from the 2012 season, featuring the show’s memorable first kiss between characters Chris and Aidan, as well as Toadie’s heartwarming proposal to Sonya, and Lucas and Vanessa’s dramatic wedding day. The library content will be available exclusively on Amazon Freevee in the United States and United Kingdom. Prime Video customers in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and South Africa will also have access to the previous seasons and episodes.

A library season of “Neighbours” will launch on the service every month until the show’s new season premiere later this year. Starting Feb. 28, the streaming service will also launch a variety of “Neighbours” linear free ad-supported streaming channels, including “Neighbours — Looking Back” (Channel 1) and “Best of Neighbours” (Channel 2).

The revitalized series will premiere on Freevee in the U.K. and U.S., for free. Last year, Amazon and Fremantle announced they would be bringing back the show with Stefan Dennis, Alan Fletcher, Ryan Moloney and Jackie Woodburne returning to reprise their roles. The series will also stream on Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and South Africa. Production is set to commence early this year with a world premiere slated for the second half of the year. 

Paramount Sets Home Release Dates for Triple Oscar Nominee ‘Babylon’

Paramount Home Entertainment has announced home release dates for Babylon, one week after the film about Hollywood in the Roaring ’20s nabbed three Academy Awards nominations.

The film, which stars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, will be released digitally via premium video-on-demand (PVOD) and for premium purchase on Jan. 31. The suggested retail price is $19.99 for a digital rental and $24.99 for a digital purchase.

Babylon, which earned $15.2 million in North American theaters, will subsequently be issued on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, regular Blu-ray Disc, and DVD on March 21. Also available that day: a limited-edition 4K Ultra HD Steelbook.

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Babylon a week ago was nominated for three Oscars: Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design.

According to Paramount, fans who buy the film digitally at the premium price will gain access to over 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes interviews and deleted scenes.

Bonus features include:

  • “A Panoramic Canvas Called Babylon” — The cast and crew discuss the inspiration and motivation behind the original story and development of the film, 15 years in the making.
  • “The Costumes of Babylon” — This mini-doc explains how costume design was fundamental to character development and the challenges that went into creating over 7,000 costumes for the film.
  • “Scoring Babylon” — An inside look into Justin Hurwitz’s musical process to compose a score to further elevate the film.

 

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Babylon checks in at three hours and 9 minutes. The film features a cast of characters — the Silent Film Superstar (Pitt), the Young Starlet (Robbie), the Production Executive (Diego Calva), the Musical Sensation (Jovan Adepo) and the Alluring Powerhouse Performer (Li Jun Li) — who are striving to stay on top of the raucous, 1920s Hollywood scene and maintain their relevance at a time when the industry is moving on to the next best thing.

Amsterdam

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

20th Century;
Mystery;
Box Office $14.95 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for brief violence and bloody images.
Stars Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Rami Malek, Robert De Niro, Zoe Saldaña, Anya Taylor-Joy, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift.

Director David O. Russell’s Amsterdam may have been slammed by critics and flopped at the box office, but can any movie that features Taylor Swift being run over by a car really be all that bad?

Amsterdam tells the story of three friends from World War I who reconnect in 1933 when they are embroiled in a murder mystery. Christian Bale plays Dr. Burt Berendsen, who spends his time crafting cosmetic prosthetics for war veterans and experimenting with developing more-potent painkillers. He’s contacted by a war buddy named Harold (John David Washington) who now serves as a lawyer, regarding the death of their former commanding officer.

Swift plays the general’s daughter, who suspects foul play and enlists Berendsen to conduct an autopsy despite the authorities ruling he died from natural causes. After being warned to drop the inquiry, she’s pushed into the street by a hitman (Timothy Olyphant), who immediately pins the blame on Harold and Burt when she’s immediately mangled by a passing vehicle.

As the police investigate the pair, they reveal that the general was indeed poisoned, and set forth to clear their names. The clues lead them to their old friend Valerie (Margot Robbie), who they haven’t seen since the war, when she was their nurse helping them recover from war wounds in Amsterdam.

With her help, they learn about a plot to overthrow the U.S. government and install a famous general (Robert De Niro) as dictator.

The story is based on a real conspiracy from the 1930s called the Business Plot, though the names of the real-life particulars have been changed for the purposes of this fictionalized recount.

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The film offers some engaging performances and glitzy visual style, but the meatiness of the fascinating source inspiration for Russell’s screenplay is lost a bit in the breezy way it tells the story, touching on themes of racism and corporate politics for good measure.

What ends up on screen is more of a muddled conflagration of eccentric characters and a hyperkinetic obsession with the trappings of the period, coming across like the underwhelming love child of Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers.

The lone extra on the Blu-ray is the 15-and-a-half-minute “Welcome to Amsterdam” featurette, a typical assemblage of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and filmmakers praising each other for their skill and craftsmanship. It’s not unearned, but there’s too much unrealized potential given the level of talent involved.

Crime Epic ‘Amsterdam’ Gets Early Digital Release on Nov. 11

Disney-owned 20th Century Studios’ and New Regency’s Amsterdam, written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker David O. Russell, is getting an early digital release nearly a month ahead of its disc debut, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution announced Nov. 6.

The epic crime murder-mystery will be available for digital purchase and rent on all major digital platforms on Nov. 11, with a 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Disc and DVD release set for Dec. 6. 

Amsterdam is about three close friends in the 1930s who witness a murder, are framed for it, and then uncover a shocking plot to turn the United States into a fascist country. Equal parts fact and fiction, the film stars Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Rami Malek, Robert Niro, John David Washington, Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant and Zoe Saldana.

The film was a flop at the box office, earning just $14.8 million in North American theaters, according to Box Office Mojo.

Amsterdam will be released with English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The Suicide Squad

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/26/21;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $55.8 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Stars Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Alice Braga, Peter Capaldi, Taika Waititi, Jai Courtney, Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg, Pete Davidson, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Jennifer Holland, Sylvester Stallone, Dee Bradley Baker.

Writer-director James Gunn’s subversive follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad resets the franchise by embracing the absurdity inherent in comic book movies.

Like its predecessor, The Suicide Squad is based on the DC Comics series about a team of supervillains who are blackmailed into conducting black ops for the American government through the threat of an explosive chip in their head. The 2016 edition, while a financial success, was panned by critics and audiences after it was infamously re-edited by a trailer company into essentially a series of vignettes set to popular music, trying to capture some of the magic that made Guardians of the Galaxy work so well.

So, for the sequel, DC just brought in Gunn, writer-director of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. The hire came shortly after Gunn was fired by Marvel over some questionable tweets in his past, only to be re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which he’s working on now.

The Suicide Squad is just another example of why he’s such a good fit for these kinds of movies: a keen understanding of the source material, and a willingness to poke fun at it without undermining the credibility of the story. Here, Gunn assembles a team of some of the silliest comic book concepts ever created, gives their characters emotional depth, and makes it all work.

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This is one of the bloodiest comic book movies ever made, but also one of the funniest, with Gunn expertly finding the balance between the two extremes, beginning with an absolutely insane opening sequence that will leave audiences without a clue of what to expect from this movie.

The story involves the team heading to a tropical island to dispose of a top secret project before the new military dictatorship can expose U.S. involvement in its development. Idris Elba grounds the mission as Bloodsport, a weapons expert. He has a bit of a rivalry with the team’s other weapons expert, Peacemaker (John Cena), as they try to outdo each other running up the movie’s body count. With his earnest penchant for killing anything that stands in his way to achieve “peace,” Peacemaker would seem to be Gunn’s metaphor for American foreign policy (though Gunn found the character appealing enough to write an eight-episode TV spinoff about him, set to debut on HBO Max in 2022).

Other standouts on the team include King Shark, literally a walking, talking man-eating shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone; Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), who uses her deceased father’s technology to control the minds of rats; Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who was experimented on by his mother with an interdimensional virus that gives him the power to expel dots of deadly energy; and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), one of the few holdovers from the first movie, along with team commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the government agent who will detonate their heads if they disobey her.

Like the first movie, the sequel has plenty of songs, but thanks to Gunn, they are well integrated into the structure of the film, rather than seemingly played at random.

The Suicide Squad is fun, vibrant and visually distinctive like a graphic novel come to life, though its hard-‘R’ sensibilities may not appeal to everybody.

The Blu-ray edition of The Suicide Squad comes loaded with hours of insightful bonus material about the making of the film, including a good solo commentary with Gunn.

There are also about 17 minutes of deleted scenes that don’t amount to much, so it’s easy to see why they were cut.

Also included are three fun retro trailers done in the style of 1960s war movies, 1970s horror movies and 1980s buddy cop movies.

The regular Blu-ray Disc of the film contains all the extras. The 4K disc includes just the commentary and one featurette, a seven-minute breakdown of Harley Quinn’s violent escape sequence.

Originally published as a streaming review Aug. 9, 2021.

Scorsese’s ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Coming to 4K Ultra HD Dec. 14

Director Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street arrives on 4K Ultra HD for the first time Dec. 14  from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Scorsese), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jonah Hill) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter), the 2013 film earned more than $390 million worldwide.

DiCaprio plays a young, hungry and corrupt stockbroker in the story of Wall Street excess. In addition to Hill, the supporting cast also includes Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner and Jean Dujardin.

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The 4K Ultra HD release features a new film transfer supervised by Scorsese. The disc includes access to a digital copy of the film and previously released bonus content, including “The Wolf Pack,” “Running Wild” and “The Wolf of Wall Street Round Table.”

The Wolf of Wall Street will also be available on 4K Ultra HD in a limited-edition Steelbook.