The Sympathizer: What to Know About the Vietnam War and the Fall of Saigon

April 22, 2024

HBO and Max’s latest original series, The Sympathizer, has been a critical success since premiering this April, blending dark comedy with historical drama and life-or-death stakes. Like its 2015 source material, by author Viet Thanh Nguyen, the main story begins in 1975, framed against the backdrop of the fall of Saigon, the historical capital of […]

The post The Sympathizer: What to Know About the Vietnam War and the Fall of Saigon appeared first on Den of Geek.

The best things come in threes, especially stories. In Western nations, we like a three-act structure in which we set a status quo, watch our heroes fall, and then see them return to greatness. Some of these stories cannot be held within a single movie. For those epics, those monumental narratives, the movie trilogy was born. Trilogies represent some of the best that cinema has to offer, movies that changed the culture and the art form. The trilogy might vary in quality from film to film, but together these three films tell a story that cannot be ignored.

Before we get too far, let’s lay out our criteria. The trilogies chosen here are those intended to be a trilogy, either from the outset or by the end of the third film. Thus we’re including things such as the Toy Story and Indiana Jones trilogies, even though those continued on with further entries. That said, we disallow trilogies that occur in the middle of franchises, such as the Tommy Jarvis story in Friday the 13th: Part IV through Part VI or the arc in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan through Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. That said, here are our picks for the three movie tales that continue to define cinematic storytelling.

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15. The Naked Gun Trilogy

The Naked Gun trilogy follows a trajectory that reoccurs throughout this list. 1988’s The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! operates like a proof of concept with Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker (along with co-writer Pat Proft) trying to repeat the success of 1980’s Airplane! by bringing back their 1982 flop TV series, Police Squad! The 1991 sequel The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear perfects the model, creating a film that rivals Airplane! for pure funny jokes per second. And then 1994’s The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult renders the idea tired and offensive.

When looking at the three movies combined, that third entry does stand out, not least of all for an extended transphobia gag that somehow outdoes Ace Ventura: The Pet Detective from the same year. However, the first two films more than make up for the unfunny third. No one has ever done straight-laced humor better than Leslie Nielsen, the only man who could deliver a line like “I’m sure that we can handle this situation maturely, just like the responsible adults that we are. Isn’t that right, Mr… Poopy Pants?” The sheer number of hilarious jokes across the three films outpaces those of any other comedy series, more than making up for the weak final film.

14. The Matrix Trilogy

And then there’s The Matrix, a trilogy with one amazing movie and two miscalculations. A lot of trilogies fit that description, including the original runs of the Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo franchises. However, The Matrix secures its spot just because that first film revolutionized the genre. Directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski took all of their favorite things, from anime to video games to Continental philosophy, into a movie that felt completely new. For better or worse, The Matrix changed the face of cinema.

By the time everyone caught up with The Matrix on VHS and the nascent DVD format, audiences clamored for more about the conflict between the machines and the human resistance. And then in 2003 The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions happened. Over the years, fans have put together thoughtful and well-observed arguments in defense of the two The Matrix sequels. As smart as these takes may be, they can’t get around the fact that Reloaded and Revolutions are deadly dull.

13. The Dollars Trilogy

The Dollars Trilogy, sometimes also called The Man With No Name Trilogy, is a loose combination of films. All directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone, all starring Clint Eastwood, and all scored by Ennio Morricone, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) perfected the Spaghetti Western. No characters or plot lines carry over between the three movies; Eastwood’s protagonist gets called different names in the movies, going by “Joe,” “Manco,” and “Blondie.”

And yet, the three films feel very much of a piece. All three revise the myth of American exceptionalism offered by classic Westerns. In its place, Leone presents the American West as at once beautiful and savage, a gorgeous (Spanish) landscape in which desperate men scratch out a precarious living. They replace the simple dichotomy between handsome white hats and scruffy black hats with barbarians in ten-gallon hats, perfecting the revisionist Westerns of its era.

12. The Jason Bourne Trilogy

Like The Matrix before it, the three original Bourne movies must bear the sins of the movies that ripped it off. When Paul Greengrass took over from The Bourne Identity (2002) director Doug Liman, he brought a kinetic, shaky cam style to The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). For years afterward, lesser directors confounded illegible chaos for immediacy. But when rewatching those later two films, the pretenders only underscore the power of Greengrass’ approach, which stripped away the slick veneer of most spy thrillers and replaced it with an unmistakable brutality.

More than a stylistic exercise, Greengrass’ visual approach continues the unique take on espionage that Liman began when he and writers Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron adapted the Robert Ludlum novel, The Bourne Identity. A veteran of ’90s indies and Hollywood dramas, Matt Damon made for an unlikely superspy, but his “aw shucks” demeanor and a sharp conspiracy script reinvented the genre for the post-9/11 world. When Greengrass took over and dialed up the action, Bourne became something that audiences had never seen before and couldn’t wait to see again, even if it came in the countless knock-off films of the 2000s.

11. Evil Dead Trilogy

Some might call foul here, not because the three Evil Dead movies directed by Sam Raimi are bad. No one who loves cinema can complain about Raimi’s wildly inventive approach to low-budget horror. Rather they may insist that the three main movies aren’t really a trilogy because Evil Dead II kind of remakes Evil Dead. True, Raimi and his co-writer Scott Spiegel devote the first third of 1987’s Evil Dead II repeating the basic plot of previous film, taking full advantage of the budget that they didn’t have back in 1981.

But anyone going to Evil Dead for the plot has made a huge mistake. The appeal of the Raimi Evil Dead films comes not from how Bruce Campbell‘s Ash Williams releases and then battles the demonic Deadites. Instead it’s the slapstick gags that Raimi invents to torture his childhood friend and star. Furthermore, the three Evil Dead movies have distinct tones with the original going for intense horror, the second adding Three Stooges-style comedy, and the final entry Army of Darkness (1992) bringing slapstick to a Ray Harryhausen-inspired medieval adventure.

10. Mad Max Trilogy

The worst thing about the first three Mad Max movies? Besides their hateful star, the one drawback to the originals is director George Miller perfected his formula in the 2015 semi-reboot, Mad Max: Fury Road, which took advantage of the budget and effects unavailable when he made the original trilogy in the 1970s and ’80s. However, those impressive visuals shouldn’t distract from the achievement of the first films.

Inspired by the automobile injuries he saw while working as a physician, Miller debuted Max Max in 1979, one of many low-budget grindhouse movies produced in Australia at the time. Set just before the collapse of society, Mad Max starred an electric Mel Gibson as policeman Max Rockatansky, who goes on a mission of vengeance against a hateful motorcycle gang. The 1981 sequel Mad Max 2 (or The Road Warrior in the States) amps up the material with a post-apocalyptic story that pits Max against the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla, Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). The gauzy third entry, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), may have courted mainstream success with a family-friendly kid plot, but Miller’s skill as a director remained.

9. The Dark Knight Trilogy

In these days of waning superhero supremacy, it might be easy to forget the power of Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy. But back when Batman Begins released in 2005, a grounded and serious superhero blockbuster felt revolutionary, especially when Nolan drew from Michael Mann’s classic Heat to make The Dark Knight in 2008. Not even the misjudged The Dark Knight Rises, with its increasingly moldy pro-cop take, can diminish the power of those first films.

Part of the enduring quality of the Dark Knight trilogy stems from its performances. Even after so many imitators, Heath Ledger’s Joker remains a force of nature that commands the screen, Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy’s takes on Catwoman and Bane get better each passing year, and Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman have become the definitive versions of Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, and Lucius Fox. And now that we’re all done giggling about his growl, we can see again the humanity underpinning Christian Bale‘s Batman, a man who adopts the Dark Knight identity as a necessity and who longs to become Bruce Wayne once more.

8. The Back to the Future Triology

Not to get all “when I was your age,” but kids today don’t understand what it was like to watch the first Back to the Future (1985) on home video, finish a rollicking adventure, and then seeing the words “To be continued…” Part of the excitement stemmed from the structural perfection that preceded it. Director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale crafted an airtight script that hits every beat with precision but never feels stultified. Anchored by Michael J. Fox’s would-be cool kid Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd’s manic Doc Brown, Back to the Future toes the line between celebration of Boomer nostalgia and savage critique of the good old days.

At the time, audiences rejected Back to the Future Part II (1989) for slipping too far into the latter with its mean-spirited dystopia created by bully Biff Tannen (Thomas Wilson). However, the past few decades have only proven Zemeckis and Gale correct, with BTTF II transforming into a somehow prescient critique of the Trump administration. Furthermore, where most sequels copy the plot and beats of the original film, BTTF revisits the first film as part of its plot. A clever inversion of most sequels’ shameless regurgitations. And to top it all off is a solid, no-frills Western, something that everyone—boomers, ’80s kids, or otherwise—can enjoy.

7. The Three Colours Trilogy

Before and Apu fans are in shambles when they realize that Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski has claimed the one artsy-fartsy slot on this list. While both of those esteemed trilogies have their merits, Three Colours wins out not just because of its top-level filmmaking, but because of their position in film history. The indie movie boom of the 1990s invited audiences to pay attention to foreign cinema, making new fans of Kieślowski, who had been working since the ’60s. Its combination of European allure and thematic coherence made the Three Colours trilogy a prime candidate for crossover appeal.

However, lest we treat the films’ success as a result of good timing and maneuvering by the bad men at Miramax, the trilogy’s American distributor, its important to remember that all three films are moving masterpieces. Working with co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Kieślowski crafts a trio of movie named after one of the colors in the French flag. Each entry has its own tone with the ineffable sorrow of Three Colours: Blue (1993), the hapless comedy of Three Colours: White (1994), and the passion of Three Colours: Red (1994). Together the movies explore the depth of human existence in all its pain and beauty.

6. The Indiana Jones Trilogy

Forget the depressing final movies The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Dial of Destiny. The first three Indiana Jones movies were ’80s blockbuster perfection. Driven by a love shared by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas of adventure serials from the 1930s through ’50s, and by Eon Productions’s refusal to let Spielberg make a James Bond movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade transcend nostalgia. With the most handsome man of all time, Harrison Ford, in the lead, the Indiana Jones trilogy (has it was intended to be for nearly 20 years) brought classic Golden Age Hollywood storytelling into the age of modern special effects.

That mixture of the old and new makes the trio feel timeless, which helps smooth over the embarrassing edges of Temple of Doom. It always feels good to watch Indy punch Nazis, and the three movies contain some of Spielberg’s best camera work. Less a copy of the low-budget, lowbrow films that inspired them, the first three Indiana Jones movies elevate the material into pure entertainment cinema.

5. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy

Yep, Sam Raimi has made two of the best trilogies of all time. And yes, I realize that Spider-Man 3 exists. With the exception of maybe James Gunn, no filmmaker has been better suited to making superhero movies, as the genre serves Raimi’s Midwestern sincerity and his smash-bang visual sensibilities. Where too many fans think about fidelity to the source material in terms of casting and plot points, Raimi knows that it’s really about tone. His movies embrace the soap opera and action of the Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr. comics that he loved best, making Spider-Man (2002) and especially Spider-Man 2 (2004) living comics.

For that reason, it’s impossible to see anyone but Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as the leads of Raimi’s movies. His Spidey is not the angsty quipster that many readers prefer, nor is his MJ the assured supermodel of ’90s comics. Instead they are regular people who indulge in their melodramatic emotions. It’s that personal approach that allows Raimi to make blockbuster superhero movies that feel deeply personal, resulting in sequences that redeem even clunky films, such as the Sandman transformation scene in Spider-Man 3.

4. The Toy Story Trilogy

The Toy Story trilogy has no bad entries. Sure, there’s a certain choppiness to the first film and the third movie doesn’t always know what to do with Buzz Lightyear. But all three feature impeccable animation, inspired gags, and emotionally rich stories. Where so many of its competitors have aged into ugly artifacts of the early CGI era, Toy Story (1995) and its sequels have a humanity that is not defined by its technical achievements or limitations.

Much of the movies’ success owes to their central conceit in which a boy’s toys gain sentience and have react to his maturity. With every year, the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and even the spaceman Buzz (Tim Allen) feel less like something a kid would play with. And yet, the performers and animators make them feel timeless, believable stand-ins for the passage of time. This approach lends the films an emotional punch, resulting standout sequences such as “When She Loved Me” in Toy Story 2 (1999) or the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3 (2010).

3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The Lord of the Rings trilogy deserves all the praise heaped upon it if only for the way that Peter Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens transformed J. R.R. Tolkien’s influential but dusty books into gripping adventure stories with mass appeal. Before the 2000s, concepts like Middle-earth and the One Ring were the domain of nerds, Led Zeppelin fans, and people who have read Plato’s Republic. But after Fellowship of the Ring hit theaters in 2001, everyone and their grandmother had opinions about the omission of Tom Bombadil.

It’s easy to see why the trio won over the masses. Jackson and his cinematographer Andrew Lesnie transform New Zealand into a truly fantastic world with sweeping cameras and conversations in candle-lit taverns. Moreover, the cast matched the utter lack of snark of the filmmakers, playing their parts with an earnestness that never asked the audience to smirk at the pretensions of the story. That combination of skill and sincerity make the Lord of the Rings trilogy an epic for everybody.

2. The Original Star Wars Trilogy

No, Star Wars wasn’t intended to be a trilogy, resulting in clunky bits about Obi-Wan explaining what he really meant about Darth Vader killing Anakin Skywalker and an awkward sister-kisser moment. No, Return of the Jedi doesn’t know what to do Han Solo. Yes, the ending of The Empire Strikes Back sets a standard the third film couldn’t match.

All legitimate complaints to which I offer two rejoinders: 1) who cares? 2) shut up.

Star Wars is the reason that genre filmmakers think in trilogies. The first film introduces a universe at once new and familiar, Empire Strikes Back (1980) defines the dark middle chapter now taken as a generic given, and Return of the Jedi (1983) completes the story of the son’s ascendancy and the father’s redemption. The many, many bad Star Wars movies that followed do not diminish the quality of these films, nor do they accentuate any missteps. Rather they only raise the bar, reminding generations that it’s really hard to do what the original Star Wars trilogy accomplished.

1. The Godfather Trilogy

Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, The Godfather, Part III (1990) is bad. It has the seed of a good idea with Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone finally facing the weight of his failure to make his family business legitimate. But as soon as Robert Duvall passed on reprising his role of Tom Hagen, leaving Michael without any of his brothers, Francis Ford Coppola should have admitted that the film would never work. And yet, Godfather Part III still has stuff to recommend, including strong performances from Pacino and Andy Garcia. Also that Elvis Costello song rocks.

Still, whatever the shortcomings of Part III, The Godfather trilogy features two five-star perfect movies. Every single performance in The Godfather (1972) works, the cinematography of Gordon Willis honors the film’s noir roots while giving it a baroque feel, and Coppola transforms a pulpy gangster flick into a referendum on capitalism. And then, two years later, they do it all again with The Godfather, Part II (1974), drilling deeper into the character development to make the story of Michael Corleone the great American tragedy. Part III could have been three hours of Diane Keaton yelling about abortions and this would still be one of the greatest trilogies of all time.

The post The Best Movie Trilogies Ranked appeared first on Den of Geek.

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