Top Movies On Shhhh! Digital's Must See List...

1) Black Widow and Shang-Chi And The Legent Of The Ten Rings

Yes, I put them together because I'd rather not have two movies I've been looking forward to for some time in competition with one another. They are each simultaneously of their own story and part of a mucher bigger picture for the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They also tend to represent demographics in society that don't often get the hero treatment as leads in film. 

Don't get me wrong, we've really progressed in the last two decades in that department, almost to the point that it is quickly becoming a better reflection of the diversity within modern society and having achieved that, audiences will focus more on character, plot, story and the performances of the thespians delivering such a medium. More importantly, I can't imagine having grown up without icons and role models that were bigger than life that represented my particular demographic within society, as many others grew up in absence thereof.

Perhaps in the generations to come, the mere fact that there is such a diversity will have an impact on the confidence and ambition of younger people, such as women and minorities pursuing their own future and success in cooperation with others who've benefited from that kind of inspiration for generations. This is the motivation and well spring from which my own creations of A Lady's Prerogative and The Butterfly Dragon were drawn and to which I've been ceaselessly dedicated for almost two decades.

Like many of us, I grew up with comics during their renaissance and subsequent golden age. Seeing them come to life on the big screen, first with Superman The Movie (Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Christopher Reeve) and Batman (Kim Basinger, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson) before the digital convergence and Marvel's X-Men (Famke Janssen, Anna PaquinHalle Berry, Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) and Spiderman (Kirsten Dunst, Toby Macquire, James Franco, Willem Dafoe, J.K. Simmons) after the digital convergence was a moving experience to say the least.

When we add in mediums like YouTube and Video Games, there's a lot of sources for the inspiration of tomorrow's youth. For instance, on YouTube you might catch a stream about something you overlook every day, such as trade work (carpentry, electrical, tool and die) or even something like travel, where reality becomes inspiring and heroic in itself. 

In a video game you might actually learn a skill simply by playing, such as micro and macro management (as is the case in many strategy gems). How the drive a transport truck. How to fly the latest jet hardware. However, if you don't see some kind of representation that mirrors you in some way, especially when you're young, it might never come to mind that you can do that thing, whatever it may be. Its possible and it can be you.

This is the importance of movies like Black Widow and Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. Where Women and Asians and other members of society in all diversity too can be heroes (and villains) of tremendous proportion.

Black Widow is a step into the recent past of the character before the events of The Avengers: End Game and it finds the character Natasha Romanova (played with her usual brilliance by Scarlet Johannsen) mixed up in a conspiracy where she is forced to confront her past as an Agent. Pursued relentlessly by key players, both heroic and villainous in the Marvel Universe, she must overcome her greatest foe yet, all without the assistance of her allies in the Avengers. A great cast, not to mention that its great to see Rachael Weisz join the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings follows the theme of Black Widow, when Shang-Chi, the movie's protagonist must confront his past and the legacy of his family and their ties to the mysterious organization The Ten Rings. Follows elements of the storyline set in motion from the Marvel comic book series The Hands Of Shang-Chi: Master Of Kung Fu, integrating the mythos into the Marvel Cinematic Universe starting from Iron Man (when Tony Stark was actually kidnapped where he designed and built the Mark I Iron Man suit, he was taken by one circle of the Ten Rings). He is prepared  for the events to come in which Shang-Chi will be one of the key players.

Not to mention this movie stars many great performers of Chinese theatre including Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung (Wong Kar Wai and Zhang Yimou's own frequent collaborator), Awkwafina and Simu Liu, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Ronny Chieng and Fala Chen.

2) Matrix 4: Resurrections

I was a fan of the first Matrix film, but ironically, I hadn't seen it until almost four or five years after it was released. By that point in time, it had come and gone, becoming an underground spectacle with a cult following, especially with regard to its philosophical connections to many belief systems (especially Eastern Philosophy).

When I did finally see it, by that point I had already been familiar with the topic for a very long time, so the mind altering epiphany that reality is a simulation that was offered by the film's plot was very familiar ground to me. Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream for instance really draws upon this idea in a most paranoid and dreadful way (which by the way was given a nod by the film makers in the scene where the Agents "remove" Mr. Anderson's mouth). American-Canadian Author William Gibson also has been writing books centered around the concept of the Matrix and Cyberspace (a term he coined by the way) for decades since he first wrote Neuromancer back in the nineteen eighties. One could also look to the work of Jean Baudrillard for his publications on the same topic.

Despite that, what the Wachowskis did in making the Matrix was nothing short of brilliant. Managing to package all of these daunting concepts to the uninitiated into a widestream audience digest, palatable in the form of film. All without condescending the audience. In fact, its one of the first films from the nineties generation of movie makers that gives the audience the credit they deserve by delivering these concepts without dumbing them down. One could say that its delivery of these concepts is very Zen.

The seemingly anti-establishment undertone of the film may have resulted in it being regarded as an anti-societal film in a sense, especially by those who took the violence in the film a little too literally. Really, all of that aspect of the film has nothing to do with bringing down society, but rather bringing down the illusion in order to see the real structure of things behind the illusion. Just like in the Wizard Of Oz, it represents lifting the curtain of the Great And Powerful Oz to see that it is simply an Old Man in control of some knobs, levers, smoke and mirrors. The more one understands this illusion, the less power it wields over them, and yet, that illusion is part of what ignites the fire within us to become more than the sum of our individual parts. This is where Neo arrives by the end of the film, where that part of him bound to illusion must pass on, and he reawakens completely free of it and with complete power over it. So much so that to others still caught up within it, he appears as a God when he is simply a man wielding the power of illusion for the purpose of liberation rather than oppression. Yet the concept of liberty creates the concept of oppression and vice versa, for there is no extreme that isn't countered by its nearly exact opposite. To be aware of one, is to perpetuate the other.

The great power of any illusory medium is to trick us into contemplating our own.

With the story of the Matrix neatly sealed since Matrix 3: Revolutions, where true balance between the Matrix and those liberated from it has been achieved, it will be interesting to see where they go from there.

One thing remains for sure and that is that existence is not an egg. Its an onion. As in:

"Your theory that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and the earth is a ball which rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it's wrong. I've got a better theory," said the little old lady.

"And what is that, madam?" inquired James politely.

"That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle."

Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at his command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position.

"If your theory is correct, madam," he asked, "what does this turtle stand on?"

"You're a very clever man, Mr. James, and that's a very good question," replied the little old lady, "but I have an answer to it. And it's this: The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him."

"But what does this second turtle stand on?" persisted James patiently.

To this, the little old lady crowed triumphantly,

"It's no use, Mr. James—it's turtles all the way down."

— J. R. Ross, Constraints on Variables in Syntax, 1967 (courtesy of Wikipedia as an anecdote of recursion)

3) Top Gun: Maverick

In 1986, the film Top Gun would reignite the public's interest in the Air Force (of their respective countries) and the stories of the pilots of these incredible flying machines, many of which cruise at a speed of Mach 1.5 (one and a half times the speed of sound) when not flying over populated areas.

Unlike other films that focus on the individual stories of pilots (An Officer And A Gentleman for instance), this film included significant aspects of their day to day operations in the United States Navy's Top Gun pilot training program. The program was developed during the Vietnam War, when Navy Commanders observed the low effectiveness of American pilots versus Vietnamese pilots who were flying Sikorsky designed aircraft (produced by the Soviet Union). The Soviet hardware of the time are still considered formidable technical achievements, designed in the most practical way and for mass production. The American design standard, one that exists to this day is to build expensive technically advanced aircraft, with a focus on air superiority. Where the tactically speaking, they would be able to quickly and concisely gain complete command over the skies against enemy craft, where they could apply their strategic air based munitions en masse.

The flight envelopes of the American jets (mostly F4 and F4E-Phantoms) were far superior to their Soviet designed Mig-17 and Mig-23 counterparts in terms of operating ceiling and thrust to weight ratio. The Migs were far more maneuverable at lower altitudes but were also far slower, and had a lower ceiling of optimal operation (the altitude at which a particular kind of jet performs the best). Also, American designed ordnance such as the Sparrow and the Sidewinder Missile, offered fire and forget capabilities (designated as Fox 2 when firing such ordnance), giving them a distinct advantage in air combat.

The American Navy created the Top Gun air school to train their pilots in air tactics in order to correct this discrepancy between the fact that with their technically superior (yet far more expensive) aircraft, their air combat performance did not reflect this. After pilots were trained at Top Gun, the Navy saw a performance increase of 13:1 (from 2.5:1). That is, American jets were able to shoot down thirteen jets to every one of their own jets being shot down. Between pilots, regardless of nationality, there is a hidden chivalry where the target is considered to be the aircraft, not the pilot. So this kill ratio reflects aircraft losses, not pilot loss and because of this hidden chivalry amongst pilots, the death rate of pilots in downed aircraft is always signifantly lower than the kill ratio. One could almost say that good sportsmanship is a big part of being an air combat pilot no matter the team you play for.

The movie Top Gun really illuminated this aspect of the training program while superimposing the story of a pilot hot shot (played by Tom Cruise) that is somewhat of a prodigy, flying by the seat of his pants for thrills and perhaps to stroke his own ego. He becomes involved with a beautiful flight strategy trainer (who is also an older woman, played by Kelly McGillis). After a challenging character arc, he overcomes his own worst enemy (himself) and becomes part of the larger team in which he is a key player.

Top Gun: Maverick picks up on the story of this lone wolf pilot, who is still somewhat of a renegade and very much of the old school variety, in a Navy and Airforce run by the new school generation. Interestingly, Maverick is mostly shown flying the F-18 (in Canada the CF-18) as by this point in the film, the F-14 Tomcats he flew in the previous film have long since been retired. 

Even the F-18, perhaps one of the jets with the highest reliability record of all time, is a metaphor for Maverick himself. The F-18 approaching the time when it too will be retired from the Navy, much like the aging Maverick must face with the passing of time. Of course, the new school is represented by modern jets like the F-35 Lightning and the F-22 Raptor, all piloted by new school pilots, with which Maverick may or may not be at odds.

Can sheer old school pilot experience and a natural ability for strategy and flight overcome competition in the form of the new school of advanced technology, such as the F-35 Lightning's realtime tactical awareness program and the F-22 Raptor's stealth and multiple target tracking munitions?

Like the movie the Right Stuff, Maverick will likely take on the idea that flight and air combat innovators have something within them, a kind of spark that with or without technology, allows them to improvise to overcome just about any obstacle.

Any obstacle that is except for time and their own mortality within.

4) The Batman

This new venture into the mythos of the Dark Knight of Gotham has many distiguishing features that sets it apart from the previous narratives that have attempted to tell the story of Gotham's dark protector from many different angles and is headed up by Twilight veteran Robert Pattinson.

For one, it focuses on his early crime fighting career as the Dark Knight, long before he's accumulated any experience in handling himself for such a challenge. It also deals with aspects of the rage he feels about the loss of his parents at the hands of the vile and wretched underworld that populates Gotham city, with each violent encounter being a vehicle for the venting of his pent up frustration and anger, perhaps inadvertently setting the stage for terror he eventually comes to instill in the underworld of Gotham.

The movie also takes up the mantle of the dynamic relationship between the Batman and the notorious Cat Burglar, Catwoman (played by Zoe Kravitz) and evolves it towards a tension the two share, possibly for similar reasons, such as an addiction and sexual tension to their dual lives. Aspects of this relationship have been a significant part of the Batman mythos from the comics, to the 1970s television series (which starred my personal favourite Catwoman), through to Michell Pfeifer's role with the Michael Keaton Batman and finally Anne Hathaway's depiction in the Dark Knight Rises.

The film as seen in the trailers seems to embody a gritty, real life noir of terror and violence by the onset of unknown criminal operators masterminding and manipulating the city. In the midst of this, the Batman emerges, nearly as monstrous as the underworld he's taking on. With a cast like John Turturro, Jeffrey Wright, Peter Saarsgard, Colin Farrell and Andy Serkis (as Alfred).

From what I've seen, I'm really betting that this one is going to be awesome and that Zoe Kravitz and Rob Pattinson will set a new bar to which many future performances of the characters will be compared. Not to mention, the direction, art direction, crew and cast will really give the word noir a new level of darkness for Gotham's Knight.

6) Spiderman: No Way Home

Having this film last in this list doesn't necessarily mean that its last in my list of priorities to see. Not at all. I just felt that having two Marvel titles at the top of this list that I should finish the list with another of my contenders for must see flicks. Like a sandwich, where the Marvel must see films are the bread, and everything else is the filling. 

After all, I was completely floored by Toby Macquire's Spiderman when I saw it, especially having been a big fan of the movie Pleasantville, which to this day alongside Contact, The Last Samurai, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Big Trouble In Little China, is one of my favourite films of all time insofar as the cinematic experience goes. 

Well actually when I saw Spiderman 2 (with Doctor Octopus, though I didn't see the movie with the actual Doctor Octopus, but rather I saw the movie with Doctor Octopus in it as a character) that actually surpassed Spiderman as my favourite comic book movie of all time, though that's a difficult distinction to make in the golden age of the comic book and graphic novel based movie adaption. It certainly is fitting that Alfred Molina is reprising his role as Otto Octavius aka Doctor Octopus. Spiderman 2 is regarded as one of the best comic book adapted movies of all time, alongside movies like X-Men 2: X-Men United, Iron Man, Captain America 3: Civil War and The Dark Knight.

I mean we have some serious classics upcoming in terms of graphic novel adaptions such as Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Wait until they open the archive of Heavy Metal magazine and start producing movies based upon Pepe Moreno's Rebel or Jean Giraud's Arzach. Or someday when they come knocking on my door to produce A Lady's Prerogative (not to be confused with Annabelle Anders' book of the same name) or The Butterfly Dragon (not to be confused with Nalin DaSilva's Agnes And The Butterfly Dragon which is not the same book or characters). Hopefully that clarified things and did away with some confusion.

So Strange, that this movie would involve three different and distinct versions of Spiderman but that's not quite what makes it so strange. Stephen Strange does though as Doctor Strange will be a big part of this film and the opening of the live action Spiderverse. Consider that each of these versions of Spiderman represent different versions of their comic book counterparts, though there is probably not an official comment from Marvel to declare this idea as canon.

So please, as a fan of Marvel, allow me to explain. Toby Macquire's Spiderman is a direct representation of the John Romita Sr. drawn Spiderman from the nineteen seventies and eighties. He has the same structure and style as his pen and paper counterpart. Even the third Act of Spiderman (the movie) is drawn directly from the Amazing Spiderman #122 in which Gwen Stacy dies, though they substituted Mary Jane Watson and had Spiderman succeed in saving both his girlfriend and the people in the tram.

Then we move on to the Todd Macfarlane Spiderman played by Andrew Garfield. This Spiderman is a thin wirey character whose motions and movements seem very inhuman by comparison to other incarnations of Spiderman. Even his webbing has that wirey look to it. Despite the fact that the black suit Spiderman actually originated in a comic book series drawn by John Romita (the original Secret Wars I #8), it was Todd Macfarlane who took the whole symbiote idea to its fullest fruition in the Spidernam comic series. 

The black suit origin was rewritten several times, for each different medium upon which the film Spiderman was produced. Eventually when Sam Raimi produced Spiderman 3, instead of drawing from the true origins of the black suit (produced by a machine on the battle planet created by the Beyonder in the original Secret Wars I), he borrowed the origin from the animated series in which Astronaut Flash Thompson brings back the symbiote by accident from a failed space mission and becomes infected with it himself.

The third and most recent live action cinematic Spiderman also draws upon the work of the most recent artists, in the era of the Ultimate Six. Six of Spiderman's most prevalent enemies form a coalition headed up by Doctor Octopus to defeat Spiderman together. This would most closely represent the Tom Holland Spiderman and is drawn by Trevor Hairsine. At this point, Spiderman is significantly younger (returning to his roots as a young teenager) and setting the stage for his mentorship by the Avengers and specifically Tony Stark, who takes a liking to the kid's rebellious but misguided nature. The Avengers actually arrive just in time to save him from the Ultimate Six and even force them into seclusion.

Some of the funniest moments in Avenger history play out, when they're tasked with taking down Kraven the Hunter, who by this time has been deemed a fraud and who has started his own reality show. Even Hawkeye is wary about wasting ammunition to take down the reality show fraud Kraven, as by this point the Avengers actually operate as an arm of the Superpowers Control Act, where those with Superpowers are catalogued, monitored and moderated by the Government. So the Avenger's budget comes from the Government rather than Tony Stark. This story line eventually leads to the events of Civil War in the comic books, and is somewhat similar to the events of Children Of The Atom, where Mutants face off against the Mutant Control Act. The Superhero version of George Orwell's 1984. Whew. That was a fair bit of Marvel history.

So in this Spidey, we'll see the Spiderverse from a whole new angle, where the three cinematic universe Spidermen, face off against their worst enemies, combined, and possibly with the intervention of Doctor Strange. Personally I'm looking forward to seeing Toby and Andrew's return as their iconic versions of Spiderman, not to mention the return of Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx's Electro. Anyone missing? Possibly a pumpkin bomb toting flying surfer...

What's missing and why?

Dune, District 10, Avatar 2...and likely some others I forgot to mention.

Why? Because producing a post like this takes time and I've dealt with the movies I wanted to highlight in this post. In a future post, I'll be sure to address Dune, District 10 and Avatar 2. For now, be sure to chew your food before you swallow it and to those who create such amazing and inspiring works of art, thank you. 

Odds are that at some point in the future, I won't be around anymore and before that happens, I certainly want to make sure that the people who affected my time here in an inspiring and motivating manner know that. We live in a time with a lot of bitterness and toxicity that often is masqueraded as polarity reversed love, but that's simply not true. That's like putting perfume on your garbage and saying that its good for the environment because it looks like crap but smells good. Something might smell good but be entirely damaging to the environment or vice versa, something might smell absolutely putrid and be entirely good for the environment (as is often the case with fertilizer).

Toxic treatment by other people is simply not healthy, and so I choose to let the people that have affected me in an inspiring manner know, rather than abuse them and claiming that my abuse is love for them somehow. I'd prefer to lead a healthy life attitude and architecture than to follow a fool's abuse masquerading as architecture. Thank you to my family and friends for their inspiration as nothing I do would have been possible without them.

Thank you to my readers, and please look forward to much from Shhhh! Digital Media and myself, Brian Joseph Johns.