Tag: Important


SmackDown Is Moving To Fox, And Tonight’s Superstar Shake-Up Is WWE’s Most Important Ever


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Vince McMahon will announce SmackDown Live’s biggest talent acquisition in history.

Credit: WWE.com

WWE completed Raw’s Superstar Shake-up Monday night, but many of the moderately big moves could be undone as announcers made sure to note that even those who jumped to Raw are eligible to be drafted to SmackDown Live.

Whether this was a foreshadowing of things to come or a pre-emptive measure in preparation of the inevitable re-write and mind-changing, WWE is keeping all its options open. Come October, SmackDown Live will debut in prime time, and in a tricky Friday night timeslot, on the Fox broadcasting network. As a result, Tuesday night’s Superstar Shake-up should theoretically be the most important shake-up yet.

I say “theoretically” because there’s always the off chance WWE underwhelms with this particular shake-up only to re-shuffle the deck as it gets closer to SmackDown’s October debut. But with Vince McMahon announcing the blue brand would make its “biggest talent acquisition in SmackDown history,” WWE appears more than ready to begin the unprecedented transition of SmackDown Live as its new flagship.

With The Shield going on yet another last ride this Sunday in the Shield’s Final Chapter on the WWE Network, Roman Reigns has been pegged as an early favorite to appear on SmackDown Live. The honeymoon period of his inspirational comeback has flatlined to a degree, and with ally Seth Rollins entrenched as a babyface Universal champion, Reigns could use a change of scenery. Promoted as WWE’s biggest full-time star, Roman Reigns’ presence on SmackDown Live is almost a no-brainer.

With Vince McMahon, who was nowhere to be seen on Raw, opting to save his ratings-drawing presence for SmackDown Live, the sea change has begun. WWE could be fighting an uphill battle with higher demands for viewership on what is traditionally a weak night of primetime programming. After Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier referred to SmackDown Live’s timeslot on Fox as “temporary,” whispers have already begun as to just how long WWE will be able to remain on “big” Fox. And as viewership for Raw and SmackDown continue to crater from the levels they were at during last year’s negotiations, these whispers have only grown louder.

In order for this five-year, $1 billion-dollar relationship to go smoothly, SmackDown Live will have to put its best foot forward.

WWE realizes that, and as a result, tonight should mark the beginning of a historic sea change.

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The Most Important MCU Films To Watch Before You See ‘Endgame’


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‘Avengers Endgame’ Chinese poster

Walt Disney

We are ten days out from the domestic premiere of Avengers: Endgame. Of the 22 current films that will exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are ten that I would consider essential for the core story that has unfolded from Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame. Counting Endgame as the tenth, you’ve got nine days to watch nine MCU flicks to be ready for the big finish on April 25. It is possible that you won’t really need to watch any of the previous films aside from the last Avengers to “understand” Endgame. Infinity War did a hell of a job getting newbies up to speed, complete with character introductions (“Hi, I’m Doctor Strange, here’s Bruce Banner, we need to speak with Tony Stark!”) and past-tense exposition (Bruce Banner essentially offered a Phase Three recap for those who missed Captain America: Civil War). The screenplay made sure that folks who only watched Avengers movies weren’t lost.

The Avengers films have been quite good about existing as standalone entertainments just as the various related franchises have mostly told their own stories. If anything, it’s the Avengers movies that have mucked up the stand-alone stories (Age of Ultron does a number on Tony’s Iron Man 3 arc while Infinity War mucks up Ragnarok’s hopeful ending), but that’s arguably par for the course in comic book storytelling. Anyway, if you only have time to watch the essential MCU movies before the grand finale, here are the ten must-watch flicks. This is not a list of the best MCU movies (Black Panther isn’t on here) or worst MCU movies (The Incredible Hulk isn’t on here either). These ten Marvel movies are merely the ones that arguably offer the critical bits of long-form MCU storytelling. You may disagree, but that’s what Twitter and Facebook are for. Without further ado… here we go!

Iron Man (2008):

The “super-rich asshole dude-bro slightly redeemed” thing is even less pleasant than it was in 2008 (the movie remains a textbook male escapist fantasy), and Robert Downey Jr.’s four-star leading performance elevates an otherwise 2.5-star movie. That said, it is a rougher, rawer and more violent picture than most of the MCU films that would follow. The second-act finale, which features terrorists rounding up families and machine-gunning them to death just off screen, is as horrifying a sequence as you’ll find in a PG-13 comic book flick.  At least some of DC Films’ initial hurdles come from what was considered okay in early MCU (grim real-world tones, superheroes straight-up killing bad guys, etc.) not being okay in early DCEU. There isn’t much from a character foundation that won’t be discussed in The Avengers, but it seems odd to skip the first movie. So, yes, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man is essential to the Infinity Saga.

Thor (2011):

Kenneth Branagh’s first Thor has not aged well, and (ironically like The Incredible Hulk) all the best character development beats ended up on the cutting room floor. Nonetheless, the film (barely) works due to the strength of its cast and the chemistry of its four characters. Still, credit to Branagh, it’s a very well-directed film even if the theatrical cut shortchanges its own arcs for the sake of expediency. That being said, The Avengers is essentially a straight-up sequel to Thor, and you really “need to know” who Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are to get the most out of the film. Oh, and if you watch Iron Man and Thor, you’ll know enough about Phil Coulson (Clarke Gregg) to properly mourn his violent demise in The Avengers. So, while I now consider it the least of the Thor movies, it’s still an essential piece of the MCU puzzle.

The Avengers (2012):

Captain America: The First Avenger is my favorite MCU movie, but Chris Evans’ character arc as Steve Rogers is as mostly about what happens after he gets out of the ice. Watch it for pleasure, sure, but it’s arguably not an essential piece of the puzzle. As for The Avengers, it picks up where Thor left off and also essentially concludes Tony Stark’s arc where he goes from selfish jerk to selfish hero to selfless superhero who is finally willing to make the sacrifice play. The movie also sees Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki coming into their own. Oh, and Bruce Banner is played by a different actor (Mark Ruffalo instead of Edward Norton) and the only explicit reference to The Incredible Hulk is about a deleted scene. The Avengers is very newbie friendly but also essential to the grand story, especially if Endgame (as rumored) goes all Back to the Future Part II with this installment.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014):

This is arguably the first “mythology episode” (to use an X-Files term) that takes place in an otherwise stand-alone franchise. And since the Russo Bros.’ went on to direct the last three super-duper crossover movies (Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame), it stands to reason that The Winter Soldier, which saw S.H.I.E.L.D. exposed as corrupt from within and then sent down in flames, will be an important piece of the MCU story (along with Steve Rogers’ arc). Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow have never been better than they were here. Ironically, the reintroduction of Bucky Barnes as the title baddie is both the biggest flaw (Bucky was barely a character in The First Avenger which is a problem here and a much bigger problem in Civil War) and why it’s a must-watch for the big MCU binge. Whether or not it’s your favorite MCU movie, it’s essential MCU viewing.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015):

Joss Whedon’s second MCU cross-over is both one of the best and one of the worst MCU movies of all. It’s deeply literate, entirely character-specific and quite personal. But the action doesn’t kick, the third act goes on forever and the whole “Tony almost kills the world but it’s okay” thing is a deal breaker. Tony’s actions here, which reverberate over the next Phase, are so heinous in their consequences that they don’t just invalidate the character growth of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 (a 99.9% stand-alone trilogy capper) but virtually paint him as the villain of the MCU’s grand story. That they are just brushed aside (and, even in Civil War, almost everyone else pays for his sins) is a problem of this long-form storytelling. I don’t love the story of Age of Ultron, but it’s mostly told very well. Even as the most stand-alone of the Avengers movies, it’s essential (if only via introducing Wanda and Vision) to what comes after.

‘Captain America: Civil War’

image courtesy of Marvel and Disney

Captain America: Civil War (2016):

Whether or not you count this as Avengers 2.5 or the third Captain America movie, this second Russo Bros. MCU movie is absolutely a quintessential mythology episode and one that will absolutely be referenced in Avengers: Endgame. Whether or not Tony and Steve will kiss-and-make-up (or Tony will forgive Bucky for killing his parents while a brainwashed Winter Soldier), this one also introduces us to Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Black Panther within the MCU, thus making their two stand-alone movies inessential to the grand story. Upon a rewatch, ironically it’s the borderline campy Avengers versus Avengers action sequence that feels out of place with the otherwise somber (and relatively small-scale) action drama, but sometimes you have to give the fans what they want. And yeah, this cross-over does somewhat negate the Hawkeye and Ant-Man’s “doing it for my family” arcs, although Ant-Man and the Wasp fixed that well enough.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017):

You can skip the still-excellent first Guardians of the Galaxy movie as it’s an origin story and thus ends with the gang all together. While Guardians 2 is arguably a stand-alone sequel about abused/neglected outcasts learning how to give and receive love, the character beats concerning Josh Brolin’s (unseen here) Thanos, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and Karen Gillan’s Nebula are almost sure to pay off in Endgame. Avengers: Infinity War does an excellent job explaining who the Guardians are, and it’s possible that Gamora, Chris Pratt’s Peter and David Bautista’s Drax will be “dead” for most of Endgame, but consider this a just-in-case chapter should Nebula be a key player. While I have issues with the galaxy-threatening third act and the needless “I have your mother cancer!” plot beat (giving fantastical explanations for real-world tragedy always makes a movie feel less real), James Gunn’s second Guardians is a visual powerhouse that doubles as a bottle episode loaded with past-tense exposition.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017):

Like the first Thor, this is a pretty stand-alone “just about Thor” adventure that nonetheless contains quite a bit of material that will prove vital to the next big cross-over adventure. At the very least, it shows us where Bruce Banner has been since Age of Ultron and introduces at least one major character (Teresa Thompson’s Valkyrie) who will show up in Endgame. Taika Waititi’s gonzo-bananas self-satire, a kind of “MCU does The Emperor’s New Groove” treat, also provides valuable context for what Thor’s world is like when Infinity War opens. I mean, yes, Infinity War somewhat explains the new status quo which sees Thor and the rest of Asgard on a ship heading towards Earth, but this is an essential chapter of the full story that exists in an otherwise Thor-centric adventure. It also gives us the best possible Doctor Strange introduction so you can skip his (arguably) underwhelming origin story flick.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018):

When the project was first announced in October of 2014, Avengers: Endgame was introduced as Avengers: Infinity War Part II. Despite changes to the title (and a marketing campaign which sold Infinity War as a stand-alone “It all ends here!” blow-out) after Divergent: Allegiant crashed and burned, last year’s third Avengers movie was essentially the part one to a two-part saga. So, unless you feel like trying to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II without having seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, you might want to make sure you’ve seen Infinity War. Heck, even the marketing for Endgame presumes that audiences have seen the last Avengers movie, which is in itself unusual for a franchise that usually sells its movies as newbie-friendly. Still, considering the previous Avengers movie earned $2.048 billion worldwide, it’s safe to say that most interested parties have seen it over the last year.

Avengers: Endgame (2018):

Obviously, I have not seen the 22nd MCU movie, and if I did I sure as hell wouldn’t tell you anything about it. That said, I am going to presume that the fourth Avengers movie (fifth if you count Captain America: Civil War) will be relatively critical to the overall MCU narrative, including how Infinity War’s cliffhanger gets resolved and what the MCU as a whole looks like in its aftermath. So, yeah, let’s presume that the final chapter in the “Infinity Saga” is a key installment of the “Infinity Saga.”

Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE..Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)..Photo Credit: Film Frame ..©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney

Yes, but what about…?

The 12 movies that didn’t make the cut are mostly stand-alone affairs, and if any supporting characters from the otherwise stand-alone flicks show up, I’m sure we’ll get a proper introduction. You can make the case that The First Avenger is of value by virtue of being the first movie in the saga in terms of chronological order. While Ant-Man and the Wasp is 99.9% stand-alone, it features a mid-credit cookie which sees Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) get trapped in the Quantum Realm while his friends (including Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Pym and Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym) get Thanos-snapped. When you watch Thor: Ragnarok, it helps to know that Loki faked his own death, kidnapped Odin and took over the throne, a fact revealed at the very end of the otherwise inessential Thor: The Dark World. That said, since this information is new to Thor in Ragnarok, it can be new to viewers as well.

Speaking of “new to you,” since Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are meeting Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel for the first time (in scenes that were shot before her solo flick), Captain Marvel is inessential MCU viewing.  Ditto the mostly stand-alone origin stories like The Incredible Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Black Panther. There is little that happens in those movies (or Spider-Man: Homecoming, Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3) that absolutely play into the broader plotting. In terms of knowing who these folks are, we meet Ant-Man, Spider-Man and Black Panther in Civil War while we meet (or re-meet) Doctor Strange in Thor: Ragnarok. Finally, while I’m going out on a limb here, I’m pretty sure you don’t need to watch (checks notes) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Punisher: War Zone, Fantastic Four, Venom or X-Men Origins: Wolverine to appreciate the cradle-to-grave MCU narrative. Prove me wrong, Kevin Feige!

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The Most Important Marvel Movies To See Before ‘Avengers: Endgame’


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‘Avengers Endgame’ Chinese poster

Walt Disney

We are ten days out from the domestic premiere of Avengers: Endgame. Of the 22 current films that will exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are ten that I would consider essential for the core story that has unfolded from Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame. Counting Endgame as the tenth, you’ve got nine days to watch nine MCU flicks to be ready for the big finish on April 25. It is possible that you won’t really need to watch any of the previous films aside from the last Avengers to “understand” Endgame. Infinity War did a hell of a job getting newbies up to speed, complete with character introductions (“Hi, I’m Doctor Strange, here’s Bruce Banner, we need to speak with Tony Stark!”) and past-tense exposition (Bruce Banner essentially offered a Phase Three recap for those who missed Captain America: Civil War). The screenplay made sure that folks who only watched Avengers movies weren’t lost.

The Avengers films have been quite good about existing as standalone entertainments just as the various related franchises have mostly told their own stories. If anything, it’s the Avengers movies that have mucked up the stand-alone stories (Age of Ultron does a number on Tony’s Iron Man 3 arc while Infinity War mucks up Ragnarok’s hopeful ending), but that’s arguably par for the course in comic book storytelling. Anyway, if you only have time to watch the essential MCU movies before the grand finale, here are the ten must-watch flicks. This is not a list of the best MCU movies (Black Panther isn’t on here) or worst MCU movies (The Incredible Hulk isn’t on here either). These ten Marvel movies are merely the ones that arguably offer the critical bits of long-form MCU storytelling. You may disagree, but that’s what Twitter and Facebook are for. Without further ado… here we go!

Iron Man (2008):

The “super-rich asshole dude-bro slightly redeemed” thing is even less pleasant than it was in 2008 (the movie remains a textbook male escapist fantasy), and Robert Downey Jr.’s four-star leading performance elevates an otherwise 2.5-star movie. That said, it is a rougher, rawer and more violent picture than most of the MCU films that would follow. The second-act finale, which features terrorists rounding up families and machine-gunning them to death just off screen, is as horrifying a sequence as you’ll find in a PG-13 comic book flick.  At least some of DC Films’ initial hurdles come from what was considered okay in early MCU (grim real-world tones, superheroes straight-up killing bad guys, etc.) not being okay in early DCEU. There isn’t much from a character foundation that won’t be discussed in The Avengers, but it seems odd to skip the first movie. So, yes, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man is essential to the Infinity Saga.

Thor (2011):

Kenneth Branagh’s first Thor has not aged well, and (ironically like The Incredible Hulk) all the best character development beats ended up on the cutting room floor. Nonetheless, the film (barely) works due to the strength of its cast and the chemistry of its four characters. Still, credit to Branagh, it’s a very well-directed film even if the theatrical cut shortchanges its own arcs for the sake of expediency. That being said, The Avengers is essentially a straight-up sequel to Thor, and you really “need to know” who Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are to get the most out of the film. Oh, and if you watch Iron Man and Thor, you’ll know enough about Phil Coulson (Clarke Gregg) to properly mourn his violent demise in The Avengers. So, while I now consider it the least of the Thor movies, it’s still an essential piece of the MCU puzzle.

The Avengers (2012):

Captain America: The First Avenger is my favorite MCU movie, but Chris Evans’ character arc as Steve Rogers is as mostly about what happens after he gets out of the ice. Watch it for pleasure, sure, but it’s arguably not an essential piece of the puzzle. As for The Avengers, it picks up where Thor left off and also essentially concludes Tony Stark’s arc where he goes from selfish jerk to selfish hero to selfless superhero who is finally willing to make the sacrifice play. The movie also sees Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki coming into their own. Oh, and Bruce Banner is played by a different actor (Mark Ruffalo instead of Edward Norton) and the only explicit reference to The Incredible Hulk is about a deleted scene. The Avengers is very newbie friendly but also essential to the grand story, especially if Endgame (as rumored) goes all Back to the Future Part II with this installment.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014):

This is arguably the first “mythology episode” (to use an X-Files term) that takes place in an otherwise stand-alone franchise. And since the Russo Bros.’ went on to direct the last three super-duper crossover movies (Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame), it stands to reason that The Winter Soldier, which saw S.H.I.E.L.D. exposed as corrupt from within and then sent down in flames, will be an important piece of the MCU story (along with Steve Rogers’ arc). Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow have never been better than they were here. Ironically, the reintroduction of Bucky Barnes as the title baddie is both the biggest flaw (Bucky was barely a character in The First Avenger which is a problem here and a much bigger problem in Civil War) and why it’s a must-watch for the big MCU binge. Whether or not it’s your favorite MCU movie, it’s essential MCU viewing.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015):

Joss Whedon’s second MCU cross-over is both one of the best and one of the worst MCU movies of all. It’s deeply literate, entirely character-specific and quite personal. But the action doesn’t kick, the third act goes on forever and the whole “Tony almost kills the world but it’s okay” thing is a deal breaker. Tony’s actions here, which reverberate over the next Phase, are so heinous in their consequences that they don’t just invalidate the character growth of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 (a 99.9% stand-alone trilogy capper) but virtually paint him as the villain of the MCU’s grand story. That they are just brushed aside (and, even in Civil War, almost everyone else pays for his sins) is a problem of this long-form storytelling. I don’t love the story of Age of Ultron, but it’s mostly told very well. Even as the most stand-alone of the Avengers movies, it’s essential (if only via introducing Wanda and Vision) to what comes after.

‘Captain America: Civil War’

image courtesy of Marvel and Disney

Captain America: Civil War (2016):

Whether or not you count this as Avengers 2.5 or the third Captain America movie, this second Russo Bros. MCU movie is absolutely a quintessential mythology episode and one that will absolutely be referenced in Avengers: Endgame. Whether or not Tony and Steve will kiss-and-make-up (or Tony will forgive Bucky for killing his parents while a brainwashed Winter Soldier), this one also introduces us to Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Black Panther within the MCU, thus making their two stand-alone movies inessential to the grand story. Upon a rewatch, ironically it’s the borderline campy Avengers versus Avengers action sequence that feels out of place with the otherwise somber (and relatively small-scale) action drama, but sometimes you have to give the fans what they want. And yeah, this cross-over does somewhat negate the Hawkeye and Ant-Man’s “doing it for my family” arcs, although Ant-Man and the Wasp fixed that well enough.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017):

You can skip the still-excellent first Guardians of the Galaxy movie as it’s an origin story and thus ends with the gang all together. While Guardians 2 is arguably a stand-alone sequel about abused/neglected outcasts learning how to give and receive love, the character beats concerning Josh Brolin’s (unseen here) Thanos, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and Karen Gillan’s Nebula are almost sure to pay off in Endgame. Avengers: Infinity War does an excellent job explaining who the Guardians are, and it’s possible that Gamora, Chris Pratt’s Peter and David Bautista’s Drax will be “dead” for most of Endgame, but consider this a just-in-case chapter should Nebula be a key player. While I have issues with the galaxy-threatening third act and the needless “I have your mother cancer!” plot beat (giving fantastical explanations for real-world tragedy always makes a movie feel less real), James Gunn’s second Guardians is a visual powerhouse that doubles as a bottle episode loaded with past-tense exposition.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017):

Like the first Thor, this is a pretty stand-alone “just about Thor” adventure that nonetheless contains quite a bit of material that will prove vital to the next big cross-over adventure. At the very least, it shows us where Bruce Banner has been since Age of Ultron and introduces at least one major character (Teresa Thompson’s Valkyrie) who will show up in Endgame. Taika Waititi’s gonzo-bananas self-satire, a kind of “MCU does The Emperor’s New Groove” treat, also provides valuable context for what Thor’s world is like when Infinity War opens. I mean, yes, Infinity War somewhat explains the new status quo which sees Thor and the rest of Asgard on a ship heading towards Earth, but this is an essential chapter of the full story that exists in an otherwise Thor-centric adventure. It also gives us the best possible Doctor Strange introduction so you can skip his (arguably) underwhelming origin story flick.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018):

When the project was first announced in October of 2014, Avengers: Endgame was introduced as Avengers: Infinity War Part II. Despite changes to the title (and a marketing campaign which sold Infinity War as a stand-alone “It all ends here!” blow-out) after Divergent: Allegiant crashed and burned, last year’s third Avengers movie was essentially the part one to a two-part saga. So, unless you feel like trying to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II without having seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, you might want to make sure you’ve seen Infinity War. Heck, even the marketing for Endgame presumes that audiences have seen the last Avengers movie, which is in itself unusual for a franchise that usually sells its movies as newbie-friendly. Still, considering the previous Avengers movie earned $2.048 billion worldwide, it’s safe to say that most interested parties have seen it over the last year.

Avengers: Endgame (2018):

Obviously, I have not seen the 22nd MCU movie, and if I did I sure as hell wouldn’t tell you anything about it. That said, I am going to presume that the fourth Avengers movie (fifth if you count Captain America: Civil War) will be relatively critical to the overall MCU narrative, including how Infinity War’s cliffhanger gets resolved and what the MCU as a whole looks like in its aftermath. So, yeah, let’s presume that the final chapter in the “Infinity Saga” is a key installment of the “Infinity Saga.”

Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE..Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)..Photo Credit: Film Frame ..©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney

Yes, but what about…?

The 12 movies that didn’t make the cut are mostly stand-alone affairs, and if any supporting characters from the otherwise stand-alone flicks show up, I’m sure we’ll get a proper introduction. You can make the case that The First Avenger is of value by virtue of being the first movie in the saga in terms of chronological order. While Ant-Man and the Wasp is 99.9% stand-alone, it features a mid-credit cookie which sees Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) get trapped in the Quantum Realm while his friends (including Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Pym and Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym) get Thanos-snapped. When you watch Thor: Ragnarok, it helps to know that Loki faked his own death, kidnapped Odin and took over the throne, a fact revealed at the very end of the otherwise inessential Thor: The Dark World. That said, since this information is new to Thor in Ragnarok, it can be new to viewers as well.

Speaking of “new to you,” since Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are meeting Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel for the first time (in scenes that were shot before her solo flick), Captain Marvel is inessential MCU viewing.  Ditto the mostly stand-alone origin stories like The Incredible Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Black Panther. There is little that happens in those movies (or Spider-Man: Homecoming, Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3) that absolutely play into the broader plotting. In terms of knowing who these folks are, we meet Ant-Man, Spider-Man and Black Panther in Civil War while we meet (or re-meet) Doctor Strange in Thor: Ragnarok. Finally, while I’m going out on a limb here, I’m pretty sure you don’t need to watch (checks notes) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Punisher: War Zone, Fantastic Four, Venom or X-Men Origins: Wolverine to appreciate the cradle-to-grave MCU narrative. Prove me wrong, Kevin Feige!

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Here’s Why You May Miss Important Buy And Sell Signals


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(photo credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Most in the media are touting that the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite will soon be setting new all-time closing highs. This measure is meaningless as technicians draw trends through all-time intraday highs. It is so misleading in hindsight if an average sets a new closing high then fails to set a new intraday high.

I am not saying that closes are not important. They are used to track moving averages and weekly, monthly, quarterly, semiannual and annual closes are the inputs to my proprietary analytics.

Here’s an important reason for tracking both closing highs and lows and intraday highs and lows. Most think all five major averages set their lows on Christmas Eve. Not so, the Dow and S&P set their intraday lows on December 26. This is true for so many stocks! For almost all tickers that set their intraday lows on December 26 that day was a “key reversal,” which was a signal that a tradeable rally would begin. If you tracked only closing lows, you missed this important buy signal.

All five major equity averages are in bull market territory from their December 14 or Decenber 26 Christmas lows. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 21.6% from its December 26 intraday low of 21,712.53 and is just 2% below its all-time intraday high of 26,951.81 set on October 3. The S&P 500 is up 23.9% from its December 26 intraday low of 2,346.58 and is just 1.1% below its all-time intraday high of 2,940.91 set on September 21. The Nasdaq Composite is up 29% from its December 24 intraday low of 6,190.17 and is just 1.8% below its all-time intraday high of 8,133.30 set on August. 30.

To complete the analysis, the Dow Jones Transportation Average is up 26.3% above its December 24 intraday low of 8,636.79 but is 6.1% below its all-time intraday high of 11,623.58 set on September 14. The Russell 2000 is 25.1% above its December 24 intraday low of 1,266.92 but is 9.0% below its all-time intraday high of 1,742.09 set on August 31.

Here’s Last Week’s Scorecard

Equity Average Scorecard

Global Market Consultants

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average (26,412.30 on April 12) is above its annual pivot at 25.819 and above its 200-day simple moving average of 25,267.37. My monthly and semiannual value levels are 25,513 and 24,340, respectively, with its annual pivot at 25,819 and weekly pivot at 26,125. The all-time intraday high of 26,951.81 was set on October 3 and its second quarter risky level is 27,891. Its weekly chart is positive but overbought.
  • The S&P 500 (2,907.41 on April 12) is above its 200-day simple moving average of 2,762.55 and above its annual pivot at 2,867.1. My monthly and semiannual value levels are 2,728.5 and 2,668.8, respectively, with the annual pivot at 2,867.1 and weekly pivot at 2,892.1. The all-time intraday high of 2,940.91 was set on September 21 with its second quarterly risky level at 2,985.1. Its weekly chart is positive but overbought and has become an “inflating parabolic bubble.”
  • The Nasdaq Composite (7,984.16 on April 12) remains above its 200-day simple moving average of 7,501.17. My monthly, annual and semiannual value levels are 7,373, 7,370 and 7,274, respectively, with a weekly pivot at 7,972. The all-time intraday high of 8,133.30 was set on August 30 with the quarterly risky level at 8,367. Its weekly chart is positive but overbought and has become an “inflating parabolic bubble.”
  • The Dow Transportation Average (10,912.19 on April 12) remains above its 200-day simple moving average of 10,499.16. My monthly and semiannual value levels are 9,858 and 8,858, respectively, with a weekly pivot at 10,433 and annual and quarterly risky levels at 10,976 and 11,372, respectively, with its all-time intraday high of 11,623.58 set on September 14. Its weekly chart is positive but overbought.
  • The Russell 2000 (1,584.80 on April 12) is just above its 200-day simple moving average at 1,571.79 and a weekly pivot at 1,553.66. My semiannual and monthly value levels are 1,504.17 and 1,436.97, respectively, with annual and quarterly risky levels at 1,612.54 and 1,667.15, respectively, with its all-time intraday high of 1,742.09 set on August 31. Its weekly chart is positive, but its weekly stochastic reading is just below the overbought threshold of 80.00.

How to use my value levels and risky levels:

Value levels and risky levels are based upon the last nine weekly, monthly, quarterly, semiannual and annual closes. The first set of levels was based upon the closes on December 31. The original semiannual and annual levels remain in play. The weekly level changes each week; the monthly level was changed at the end of January, February and March. The quarterly level was changed at the end of March. My theory is that nine years of volatility between closes are enough to assume that all possible bullish or bearish events for the stock are factored in.

To capture share price volatility investors should buy on weakness to a value level and reduce holdings on strength to a risky level. A pivot is a value level or risky level that was violated within its time horizon. Pivots act as magnets that have a high probability of being tested again before its time horizon expires.

How to use 12x3x3 Weekly Slow Stochastic Readings:

My choice of using 12x3x3 weekly slow stochastic readings was based upon back-testing many methods of reading share-price momentum with the objective of finding the combination that resulted in the fewest false signals. I did this following the stock market crash of 1987, so I have been happy with the results for more than 30 years. The stochastic reading covers the last 12 weeks of highs, lows and closes for the stock. There is a raw calculation of the differences between the highest high and lowest low versus the closes. These levels are modified to a fast reading and a slow reading and I found that the slow reading worked the best.

The stochastic reading scales between 00.00 and 100.00 with readings above 80.00 considered overbought and readings below 20.00 considered oversold. Recently I noted that stocks tend to peak and decline 10% to 20% and more shortly after a reading rises above 90.00, so I call that an “inflating parabolic bubble” as a bubble always pops. I also call a reading below 10.00 as being “too cheap to ignore.”

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For Venezuela, Producing Onions More Important Than Producing Oil


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A farmer waters a small patch of onions growing in a field. Venezuela’s president took to Twitter last week to praise his country agribusiness production, all the while its all-important oil industry is collapsing and many in the country are starving. photo credit: Getty

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On April 10, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro took to Twitter to do what he does best: praise the Bolivar Revolution’s struggle and blame the Western world for all of his country’s problems. Indeed, Maduro’s entire Twitter feed is this type of commentary. But on that particular day, the president took to praising his country’s productive capacity. It was all focused on Venezuela’s agribusiness, with one tweet praising Venezuela’s onion harvest.

Yes, onions. Some 3,000 acres of it, planted by peace-loving small family farmers, not those big commercial operations selling to Cargill. That would be bad. They are doing it for the revolution.

Of all things: onions; a non-commodity mostly used to add taste to rice and salads and maybe a steak, an animal protein that most Venezuelans can no longer afford. Irrelevant. For Maduro, the country’s rural production is growing like gangbusters.

While most developing countries are busy investing in things like roads, bridges, airports, capital goods, artificial intelligence, the blockchain, generic pharmaceuticals, e-commerce platforms, and telecommunications systems, Venezuela is stuck in its romantic pre-Colombia times, where living off the land is sacrosanct. Everything else is akin to “working for the man.”

Meanwhile, the one commodity that Venezuela depends on to keep its lights on, fund its public school system (perhaps to educate farmers on water and land management) and its state-owned hospitals, is failing. That’s oil, of course.

It’s not the low oil price that’s hurt Venezuela. It’s terrible management, the near destruction of the private sector in the oil industry, and a kleptocracy at the top of the Venezuelan government’s food chain that’s hobbled its flagship enterprise, PdVSA.

A PdVSA fuel tanker seen in the Gato Negro neighborhood in Caracas. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery SharifulinTASS via Getty Images) photo credit: Valery Sharifulin/TASS

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In March, Venezuela’s oil production fell to 870,000 barrels per day according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The average daily production for the month decreased by 270,000 barrels, or 24% lower than the month before. Looked at over a 12 month period, PdVSA is producing around 41% less than a year ago, according to IEA.

Rolling blackouts have played a big role in the shortfall. Over the last four weeks, the entire country has been plagued with electrical problems, problems Maduro blames on the U.S. and opposition parties in Caracas for sabotage.

Also worth noting, U.S. sanctions on PdVSA crude oil means no more exports starting April 28. Many PdVSA clients have already been winding down purchases. Sanctions require that all existing sales of Venezuelan crude oil be kept in a locked bank account owned by the company in the U.S. and cannot be repatriated until sanctions are lifted.

People collect fresh water from broken pipelines near a shantytown in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Saturday, April 13, 2019. Since a massive power failure struck on March 7, the nation has experienced near-daily blackouts and a breakdown in critical services such as running water and public transportation. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano) photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Venezuela told OPEC — of which it is the only member in the Americas — that national crude oil production in March would hit 960,000 barrels. OPEC estimates that the country extracted only 732,000 barrels a day in March and 1.02 million barrels in February. For comparison, Venezuela produced 2.4 million barrels per day in 2015, a year before its economic crisis began.

OPEC has asked member states to reduce production, so this also has to be considered. But PdVSA oil output has been slipping for years due to lackluster investment. Even with lower output from OPEC members, $70 barrel of oil has barely kept Venezuela afloat. The country has been dependent on China and Russia loans for the past three years and is now open to humanitarian aid from Red Cross International. This is not a country firing on all four cylinders. Even if its onion farmers are planting like never before.

 



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