Film Review: The ‘Harry Potter’ Film Series, Part II (2007-2011)

Release Date: June 28th, 2007 (Order of the Phoenix), July 7th, 2009 (Half-Blood Prince), November 11th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), July 7th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Michael Goldenberg (Order of the Phoenix), Steve Kloves (Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Based on: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Music by: Nicholas Hopper (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince), Alexandre Desplat (Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Tom Felton, David Bradley, Jason Issacs, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, John Hurt, Imelda Staunton 

Heyday Films, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes (Order of the Phoenix), 153 Minutes (Half-Blood Prince), 146 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), 130 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 2) 

Review:

As I said in my review of the first four Harry Potter films, the series improves as it moves on. So I was much more enthused going into the back half of the saga and especially, after the third act of The Goblet of Fire, which sets up a much darker world with the resurrection of Voldemort and the death of a teenager at his hands.

These films are really f’n good and honestly, I was never really into Harry Potter because of how wholesome and whimsical it starts out but as the kids age, that stuff sort of fades away. Sure, there are still some of those moments but it isn’t overdone to an eye-rolling level like the first two pictures, especially.

Additionally, all the kids are much better in this stretch. They feel like real friends because after years of working together, they were. Their bond feels much more real and genuine and the love they have for each other transcends the films, which is exceptionally rare for actors this young and with this little of experience, only really having the previous films in this series under their belts.

It may have been hard to see it in the first few movies but when you look at the total package from start-to-finish, these movies in regards to its young stars, were perfectly cast. It’s also kind of amazing that they were able to pull this off over eight films in a decade, keeping everyone on board. And I say that as someone that grew up loving the Narnia books and just always wanted a film series that made it to the end. None have.

What’s even more amazing is that the other kid actors who aren’t the main three, all grow and improve over time, as well. It’s actually cool seeing these characters and the actors grow up before you, onscreen. I don’t think that it’s something that could ever be pulled off again, as well and as perfectly as it was done here.

Plus, the adult actors were superb in every way. In this stretch of films, they really take a bit of a step back, as the kids emerge as the new leaders of this universe. However, the adults know how to support them in their quest to vanquish evil and reign in a new day.

I had seen all of these films previously but never did get to see the finale. Now that I have, my overall opinion on this series has changed. The finale is one of the best film series finales I have ever seen and it makes everything before it, worth it. Even the early, overly whimsical movies are justified and actually make the strength and growth of Harry, by the end, more meaningful. I mean, damn, dude was just this innocent, happy kid, despite his terrible home life, and he rose to the occasion, became a true hero and didn’t make excuses for or succumb to the hardships he faced along the way. He had doubt, he had fear but he always stepped up to do what’s right.

In the end, I love the total package of this franchise and I really should’ve seen them in the theater over the years. The Deathly Hollows – Part 2 is especially exceptional and honestly, a masterpiece for this sort of film. In the end, it’s one of the greatest finales of the epic adventure genre and a perfect conclusion.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Rating: 8.75/10

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Rating: 9/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 1 – Rating: 9.25/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2 – Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The ‘Harry Potter’ Film Series, Part I (2001-2005)

Release Date: November 4th, 2001 (Sorcerer’s Stone), November 3rd, 2002 (Chamber of Secrets), May 23rd, 2004 (Prisoner of Azkaban), November 6th, 2005 (Goblet of Fire)
Directed by: Chris Columbus (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets), Alfonso Cuaron (Prisoner of Azkaban), Mike Newell (Goblet of Fire)
Written by: Steve Kloves
Based on: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Music by: John Williams (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban), Patrick Doyle (Goblet of Fire)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Tom Felton, Harry Melling, David Bradley, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Issacs, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Robert Pattinson, Brendan Gleeson, David Tennant

1492 Pictures, Heyday Films, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes (Sorcerer’s Stone), 161 Minutes (Chamber of Secrets), 142 Minutes (Prisoner of Azkaban), 157 Minutes (Goblet of Fire) 

Review:

It’s the twentieth anniversary of this film franchise, so I figured I should show it the respect it deserves for being the cultural phenomenon that it was.

Full disclosure, I’m not a big fan of this franchise like everyone else seems to be. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what it’s done since the first J.K. Rowling book was published. The fact that it inspired a generation of kids to enthusiastically read is a tremendous feat. Fast-forward just a quarter of a century later and people don’t have the reading comprehension to understand something the size of a tweet but I digress.

My initial issue with this film series is that I thought it was waaay too kiddie. I saw the first one when it came out on DVD and a friend rented it. However, with this film series coming out at the same time as Peter Jackson’s original The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it didn’t do this movie any favors, at least with filmgoers who were too old to have grown up with the Harry Potter novels.

Even though I’ve seen all of these movies except for the last one, and I know that they mature in tone, as the children in the story do, I still have a hard time getting through both The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. In fact, I really had to force myself to get through them and stick with this in an effort to review this series, which is probably the last major franchise that I haven’t reviewed yet, other than the Fast & Furious movies.

A lot of people seem to love the hell out of The Prisoner of Azkaban. While the series does shift into darker themes and a more mature story, it still doesn’t quite do it for me. Granted, I loved Gary Oldman in it and it helped move things forward in a more serious way.

For me, it was The Goblet of Fire where the series really started to make me care about it on a deeper level. However, it doesn’t really kick in until the tournament starts and a still very young Harry finds himself in a competition where he could actually die.

The fact that the stakes were very high and his own mortality was on the line lets you know that everything moving forward now was going to be more serious. Where everything before this was mostly full of over-the-top wholesomeness and irritating whimsy, you now knew that these kids were going to be forced to grow up before they should have to.

Additionally, at the end of The Goblet of Fire, Voldemort, in his true form, finally appears. With that, a teen a few years older than Harry and now a friend of his, is killed by the franchise’s big villain. Harry barely escapes with the body of his friend and when he does, the entire school of young wizards are punched in the gut over what just happened and what kind of danger this poses to the world. It’s a terribly sad and gut-wrenching end to this picture.

Sadly, it takes the final act of the fourth film to actually make me want to watch the rest of them. While I love fantasy stories and magic, this just isn’t something that was made for me or my generation. However, I think that they’re all pretty good movies for the audience they were intended for. Had I been born a decade later, it’s possible that Harry Potter could be my favorite franchise like it is for so many people.

I am going into the second half of this film series with a lot of enthusiasm, though. I definitely think it’ll resonate with me more and I like that I don’t remember much about them, as I never saw the conclusion and haven’t seen the other three for probably a decade.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Rating: 6.5/10

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Rating: 6.75/10

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Rating: 7.5/10

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: American Samurai (1992)

Release Date: December 22nd, 1992 (Germany)
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: John Corcoran
Music by: Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Robbie Patton
Cast: David Bradley, Mark Dacascos

Cannon Films, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Why couldn’t we just be brothers?” – Drew Collins

The poster for American Samurai has the tagline “…Bloodsport with blades”. That is an incredibly accurate description. Although, this pales in comparison to the awesome Bloodsport.

However, many fans of Cannon’s various ninja films see Sam Firstenberg as the premier 80s ninja genre director. Also, Firstenberg left the American Ninja series after part 2 and fans never got to see him work with the second star of that series, David Bradley. This film, however, teams these two guys up and gives you a taste of what American Ninja 3 could have been if Firstenberg stayed on to direct the debuting Bradley.

That being said, this is nowhere near as good as the two Firstenberg American Ninja movies or his two films before that, when he was working with Japanese ninja actor Sho Kosugi. This is better than American Ninja 3 and 4, however. But I would put American Ninja 5, slightly ahead of this.

This film brings back John Fujioka, who was Joe Armstrong’s ninja master in the first American Ninja. Also, it is the first major film role for martial arts bad ass Mark Dacascos. The film actually pits Bradley against Dacascos, who plays his jealous foster brother but legitimate son to his father’s samurai legacy. Dacascos wants to prove to his father that he is superior to his adopted son. He leaves his father and foster brother behind, becomes yakuza and forces his brother to eventually fight to the death in the climax of the movie.

American Samurai actually plays like a live-action version of an arcade fighting game from the early 90s. It predates the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat movies but definitely takes its inspiration from those franchises and the Jean-Claude Van Damme movies BloodsportLionheart and Kickboxer.

Filmed in Turkey, you don’t get to see too much of the geography, as most of this takes place indoors and on confined sets. The arena is pretty drab but then so are the fighters that populate it. You didn’t have a cast of cool and unique fighters like you saw in Bloodsport or Lionheart.

American Samurai is entertaining enough if you are into 80s and 90s martial arts pictures. It certainly isn’t exceptional in any way but David Bradley gets to work with a better director and it opened some doors for Mark Dacascos.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: American Ninja 5 (1993)

Release Date: March 29th, 1993 (Greece)
Directed by: Bobby Jean Leonard
Written by: John Bryant Hedberg, Greg Latter, George Saunders
Music by: Daniel May
Cast: David Bradley, Lee Reyes, Pat Morita, James Lew, Norman Burton

Cannon Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa!” – Hiro

I am a massive fan of the American Ninja franchise. So it sort of pains me to admit that I actually didn’t even know about this film until it was out for about a decade. There are reasons for this though, so let me explain.

First off, the film does not fit in with the first four movies in the American Ninja series. It is its own separate story and David Bradley plays a completely different character than his more famous Sean Davidson from the two pictures before this one.

Reason being, this was originally developed as a film called American Dragons. Ultimately, instead of piggy backing off of the American Ninja vibe, as Cannon did with American Samurai (also with David Bradley), they just threw up their hands and called this American Ninja 5. Sadly, this could have evolved into its own series had Cannon kept the original title and then didn’t go belly up almost immediately after.

Secondly, this film did not get a theatrical release in the United States, at least that I know of. It came out on video in international markets in 1993 but didn’t actually hit U.S. video store shelves until 1995. And even though I worked in video stores in that era, I never came across it. This may be because of Cannon Films ceasing to exist and their later films lacking real distribution.

This chapter in the series gets an incredibly bad rap. It has a 2.8 on IMDb (that’s out of 10) and no real critics featured on Rotten Tomatoes have even reviewed it or rated it. As a film, all on its own, I think it is better than the two previous American Ninja outings. While the fourth one featured David Bradley and the returning Michael Dudikoff, it completely missed the mark. The third film (and Bradley’s first) was really kind of a dud with really bad fight choreography and lacking a formidable evil ninja.

I think that people dislike this film solely for the reason that it isn’t a part of the universe from the first four movies. I get that. However, as a standalone picture, it is the best ninja movie that Cannon did since American Ninja 2: The Confrontation.

The film features Bradley, who I always think is pretty solid, and adds in Pat Morita (a.k.a. Mr. Miyagi), James Lew and Lee Reyes (the younger brother of Ernie Reyes Jr. and son of Ernie Reyes Sr.). Morita is barely in this movie but it opens up the idea that he could have been bigger going forward, had this turned into its own little series.

The film also looks better than the previous two. It gets out and gets more exotic than just trying to have South Africa and Lesotho stand in geographically for whatever random country the previous three films took place in. This chapter was filmed in Los Angeles, Venezuela and Italy. It was the best looking film since American Ninja 2 and it did a good job utilizing its surroundings.

The action was also better than the other Bradley films and this thing just feels like it is better directed, better acted and better produced.

It still isn’t a good film but it certainly isn’t a horrible one. While the villainous Viper came off as cheesy and hokey, more often than not, his Wolverine-like claw made up for it. I also liked that they got more colorful with the ninjas in this film. We’ve had colorful ninjas throughout the American Ninja series but in this film, they seemed to be utilized more. The film sort of plays like a late 80s/early 90s action video game. It really got me nostalgic and I had to fire up Bad Dudes on my original Nintendo.

I like American Ninja 5. At least, I like it more than 3 and 4. It is hard to top 1 and 2 but this was David Bradley’s best effort. However, like part 4, I was really missing the presence of Steve James. And it would have been cool to have seen Dudikoff thrown back in, even if this wasn’t a real sequel to part 4.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991)

Release Date: March 8th, 1991
Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom
Written by: David Geeves
Music by: Nic. tenBroek
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, David Bradley, James Booth, Swayne Alexandre

Cannon Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“This isn’t a game, Gavin, those were ninja!” – Sean Davidson

The American Ninja franchise lost Michael Dudikoff in part three. However, he returns in this one, even if he doesn’t show up until the middle of the film. What makes this chapter in the series interesting, is that it is the only one to feature both of the “American Ninjas”. Unfortunately, they don’t have a lot of screen time together and this is a pretty shitty movie. Also, this is the first picture in the series to not feature the bad ass and awesome Steve James.

The plot sees some angry white dude team up with Muslim terrorists that happen to have a ninja army because every baddie in this series, regardless of cultural ties, has ownership of a ninja horde. I don’t even remember what the baddies’ plot was and I just watched this and have seen it a bunch of times.

Anyway, Sean (Bradley) really wants to get help from Joe (Dudikoff) but he’s off being a pacifist with the Peace Corps. Eventually, Sean gets captured and at the exact moment where he is about to be burned alive, Joe walks onto the set and tears up ninja ass. Suddenly, you’ve got two “American Ninjas” kicking the bejesus out of anything that breathes.

The action is actually a step up from the atrocity that was the fight choreography in the third film but it still pretty much sucks here and it made me feel bad for Dudikoff, who got to do some really cool shit in the first two movies in the franchise.

This picture is also a weird hybrid of a ninja movie and a bad Mad Max ripoff. The good guy gang that storms the fortress to battle the ninjas looks like a 1980s post-apocalyptic Halloween parade. But if you ever wanted to see a post-apocalyptic desert gang battle a ninja horde, this is your movie. I can’t recall this happening anywhere else, ever.

As much as I love this franchise, this movie sucks tremendously. It also doesn’t help that the music is absolutely friggin’ awful. I’ve heard better sounds come out of a speaker covered in dog shit emitting white noise.

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation gets its title from what it does to our spirits. It annihilates the souls of those who loved these movies before this one. It then swallows them up, waits a few hours and then pisses them back into our faces.

I really hate doing this, based off of the quality of the first two pictures in this series, but American Ninja 4 must be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer. That being said, the results read that this is a “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

Release Date: February 24th, 1989
Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom
Written by: Gary Conway
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: David Bradley, Steve James, Michele Chan, Calvin Jung, Marjoe Gortner

Cannon Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“But I am glad that I can tell you that there will be no more inefficient hijackings, no more bungled kidnappings or mistimed bombings, because you see now terrorism can be scientifically focused to be totally effective!” – The Cobra

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt is where this series went into a steep decline. While one and two are far from masterpieces, they are really enjoyable 80s action flicks featuring a gazillion ninjas and the utter coolness that is Michael Dudikoff. Plus they were directed by the greatest ninja movie director of the 1980s, Sam Firstenberg.

Well, Dudikoff and Firstenberg didn’t return for the third chapter in the series. Many people do not know why Dudikoff bowed out and I didn’t for years until researching it recently. Apparently, after the second film was released, Dudikoff got a mountain of shit from the do-gooders in Hollywood because the movie was made in South Africa during Apartheid. Dudikoff only agreed to return briefly in part four, after convincing the producers to film it in Lesotho, that small independent country surrounded by South Africa. I’m not sure if this is why Firstenberg also left but the filmmakers did not even mention shooting location in the credits of American Ninja 3, which was still filmed in South Africa.

In this chapter, we meet Sean Davidson (David Bradley). As a kid, his father was murdered during a robbery at a karate tournament because why wouldn’t a movie like this start out that way? He is then raised by a ninja, because why wouldn’t he be? When Sean gets older, he’s a bad ass ninja and fights in karate tournaments like his dead daddy. At the 1989 Island Games Karate Tournament, Sean meets Curtis Jackson (Steve James) from the first two American Ninja films but unfortunately, this was his last.

Also at the tournament, Sean and Curtis with their annoying friend Dex, discover that something strange is afoot. There is a criminal madman, as there always is at karate tournaments, that is developing some sort of killer virus. While meddling in the bad guy’s affairs, Sean is captured and given the virus. A bunch of ninja fights happen, Sean meditates the virus out of him and the good guys win.

I didn’t spoil the whole movie but there isn’t a whole lot of plot. Just lots of bad fight choreography and other random stunt stuff. And yes, the fight choreography is almost excruciatingly bad. All the scenes where Michele Chan throws down are horribly executed. She looked like a fish out of water and completely awkward.

When Sean and Curtis were fighting, it was mostly okay but there was nothing to really make you pump your fist like when you see Dudikoff in the first film take on the evil Black Star Ninja. Speaking of which, after two good big boss ninjas in the two previous films, this chapter in the series lacked that. The final fight was Sean against the criminal madman, who really wasn’t a fighter. Well, Sean also had to bat away a couple mid-grade ninja henchmen but they aren’t even worthy of being level one bosses in a 80s Data East game.

I don’t hate American Ninja 3 but it does make me weep at the possibility of what could have happened, had Dudikoff and Firstenberg stayed in the series. Don’t get me wrong, David Bradley was not a bad replacement but it was hard to see him achieve his best in a poorly directed, written and choreographed mess like this.

Rating: 4/10