Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/1/23;
Paramount;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $140 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $37.99 UHD BD, $44.99 UHD/BD Steelbook;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language.
Stars Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback. Voices of Peter Cullen, Ron Perlman, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Yeoh, Pete Davidson, John DiMaggio, Liza Koshy, David Sobolov, Colman Domingo.

Despite being released in theaters backed by a massive promotional campaign, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts has the feel of one of those direct-to-video sequels studios like to pump out in an effort to extend the life of a well-worn franchise.

That’s not to say the film isn’t competently made or entertaining for what it is, for it’s certainly a serviceable diversion if someone has a couple hours to kill. But Rise of the Beasts definitely feels formulaic in the way it pares down the essence of the Michael Bay “Transformers” films — both in setting up action sequences and introducing new toys Hasbro can sell.

This is the seventh live-action movie based on Hasbro’s “Transformers” toys, and by now it’s pretty clear that the deeper mythology that sustains the various cartoons and comics based on the property is more of a lark for the film versions. In lieu of sustained storylines, the films pick and choose a handful of characters to introduce alongside stalwarts such as Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, who end up teaming up with some unassuming humans to fight a handful of bad guys for some object that usually turns out to be crucial to the survival of the Transformers race.

For Rise of the Beasts, the filmmakers turned to inspiration from the 1990s “Beast Wars” line, which featured robots transforming into wild animals rather than cars and trucks and planes. The Maximals, which are basically a race of animal Autobots (ie the good guys) are being hunted by the minions of the planet-chomping Unicron, who needs something called a “transwarp key” to have access to the entire universe so he can eat anything he wants. In the battle that starts the film, set thousands of years ago, the Maximals escape with the key and hide it on Earth, trapping Unicron in a secluded section of the galaxy. Naturally, Unicron’s hunters find the key on Earth, leaving the Autobots to team with the Maximals to stop them from summoning the planet-killer.

The main action of Rise of the Beasts takes place in 1994, making it a sequel to the 1980s-set Bumblebee, and a prequel to Bay’s five films that seemed to become more bloated and mind-numbing as they went on. In terms of continuity between the films, however, the “Transformers” movies are about as consistent as the “X-Men” films, so trying to connect all the dots is mostly going to be a wasted effort.

The 1990s setting serves mostly as an excuse for director Steven Caple Jr. to indulge in the music and fashion of the period setting. Otherwise, the setting is rather superfluous to the storyline.

The primary humans helping the Autobots are Noah (Anthony Ramos), an unemployed former soldier, and Elena (Dominique Fishback), a museum intern who studies ancient artifacts. After being recruited to the Autobot cause through happenstance, they learn the missing key and the Maximals are in Peru, setting the stage for the final battle to prevent Unicron from destroying Earth. Lessons of teamwork abound, while Prime (voiced once again by Peter Cullen) learns he can trust humans.

Since most of the “Transformers” movies have involved Bumblebee’s friendship with the primary human characters, he gets sidelined this time around while Noah is paired with Mirage, a wisecracking Porsche voiced by Pete Davidson. The basic character dynamics are the same, though.

Fans of the franchise should get a tickle from various easter eggs and sly references, but shouldn’t expect more than surface-level nostalgia from seeing a handful robots that bear the names of characters they grew up with. From a technical standpoint, the visual effects are pretty good, and the film looks great in 4K, particularly when the setting shifts to the luscious green mountains and forest of South America.

Home video extras include more than 73 minutes of behind-the-scenes material spread across nine featurettes. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but it’s interesting to see how some of the visual effects were done.  

Also included are seven deleted and extended scenes running nearly 14 minutes in total, including alternate opening and ending scenes, and extended action sequences with unfinished visual effects.

On disc, both the 4K and Blu-ray discs contain the extras. However, the 4K and Blu-ray versions are offered as standalones with digital copies, not combo packs, except for the limited-edition Steelbook that has both 4K and Blu-ray discs in it.

Hamilton

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Musical;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for language and some suggestive material.
Stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Christopher Jackson, Jonathan Groff, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones.

Disney’s decision to release a recording of Hamilton through its streaming service has undoubtedly clued in millions of viewers about why the popular stage musical has become such a massive hit with the audiences who had a chance to see it live. Writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda has crafted a mesmerizing ode to one of America’s most notable founding fathers.

Famously described as “America then, as told by America now,” Miranda treats the production like a re-imagining of the founding of the United States, with minority actors playing the key roles of the American icons. The casting also fits Miranda’s musical sensibilities, with performers well-suited for the infectious, hip-hop infused soundtrack that relates the story of Hamilton’s rise and fall in American politics.

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The story is structured as a series of intertwining rivalries, centered on the dual narrative of the lives of Hamilton (Miranda) and Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), who eventually kills him in a duel.

The fresh-faced idealist Hamilton arrives in colonial America with hopes of joining the budding revolution, while Burr is painted as a power-hungry opportunist who advises the young upstart not to make his beliefs too well known lest they get him into trouble. Hamilton eventually becomes a confidante of George Washington, establishing a centralized U.S. treasury and clashing with Thomas Jefferson, who prefers to give more deference to the individual states.

A second aspect to the play focuses on the love story between Hamilton and his wife, Eliza (Phillipa Soo), and her futile efforts to convince Alexander to make his family the priority of his life rather than his role in forming a new nation.

Pieced together from several 2016 performances at the end of the run of the original cast, the filmed version of the production is impeccably shot, showcasing complexly choreographed musical numbers and the ingeniously designed stage with spinning floors and detachable staircases that can be reconfigured as needed. Particularly interesting is the way the ensemble uses dance and music to simulate modern filmmaking techniques such as slow motion and replay.

Ironically, Miranda’s soft-spoken portrayal of the title character is often overshadowed by some of the play’s more colorful characters, particularly Daveed Diggs, pulling double duty as both Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Miranda’s depiction of Hamilton as a scrappy upstart is a compelling one, despite his dubious and repeated proclamation of Hamilton as an immigrant, given that he was a British subject relocating from one British territory (the Caribbean island of Nevis) to another (New York), making him as much of an immigrant as someone moving from Nebraska to Hollywood. Still, Hamilton’s Caribbean roots resonated with Miranda’s consideration of his own Puerto Rican heritage, providing the genesis to explore how this man could rise from such obscurity to get his face on the $10 bill.

The songs have been meticulously constructed to resonate throughout the story, with Hamilton’s early anthem of “not throwing away my shot” taking on the double meaning of figuratively seizing the opportunities before him, as well as the literal action in a duel of missing on purpose. The concept of the duel is also central to the play’s layout, as three are featured, allowing the audience to fully understand what is taking place in the climax.

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Hopefully the play will inspire viewers to look into the real story of Hamilton and the origins of the United States, rather than accept the historical assertions in the play at face value. (Among other conflations, the play offers a very messy summary of the election of 1800, presenting Jefferson and Burr as rivals for the presidency when they were, in fact, running mates, and also omits key details as to what motivated Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel to begin with). Then again, this is a piece of artistic performance, not a college course, lest anyone believe George Washington’s cabinet meetings were actually conducted via a series of highly entertaining rap battles.

Fortunately, the play does a nice job shining a light on some of Hamilton’s lesser-known contemporaries, such as John Laurens and the spy Hercules Mulligan.

The Disney+ presentation also includes access to a 33-minute featurette of interviews with the cast conducted by The Undefeated, an ESPN-owned website that deals with the intersection of race, sports and popular culture.