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Avengers Endgame movie review: An epic conclusion to Marvel’s Infinity Saga; it’s a triumphant tear-jerker

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Avengers: Endgame
Directors – Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast – Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Don Cheadle, Brie Larson, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin
Rating – 4.5/5

With Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived at its long-awaited ‘conclusion’, offering fans an old-fashioned mix of grand spectacle and undiluted emotion. To say that it is a success would be too simple an observation; what it deserves instead, is a eulogy.

Like a series finale of a television show you’ve loved for years, it crosses all the Ts and dots all the Is – some more neatly than others – and ends not so much with a feeling of rigid resolution, but a sense of freeing possibility. For new doors to open, Marvel seems to be saying, old ones must first be closed. It’s a film that will compel even the Frost Giants in the audience to whoop and weep.

Watch the Avengers: Endgame trailer here

For films like Avengers: Endgame to succeed, piled as they are with unfathomably large expectations, a well-oiled system is required to be in place. There needs to be a discipline in the writing, a crispness to the editing, and a generosity in the performances. True ambition in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more often than not, is born out of a strict adherence to rules. And there are perhaps no two filmmakers better at working within studio sandboxes than Anthony and Joe Russo – at least not on this unprecedented scale.

Avengers: Endgame is a terrific example of that epic intimacy that Marvel does so well – alternating between glorious action and subtle character moments. Watching it almost feels like taking a wistful walk down memory lane, flanked on either side by a Russo brother, our hands held firmly in theirs. It’s an odd feeling that I can’t quite describe; a mixture of déjà vu and nostalgia, of melancholy and euphoria.

It’s a delicate balance to strike, but not nearly as difficult as having to write a review without revealing potential spoilers, whose definition, it seems, is as subjective as the idea of Iron Man 3’s Mandarin being a good villain.

But there won’t be any spoilers here, at least not beyond what we’ve seen in the trailers. The marketing campaign that Marvel put together for Endgame is a work of art in itself – I can confirm that most of the footage we’ve seen is pre-opening credits stuff. There are, however, parallels to the scientific methods trailer companies employ and the Russos’ keen understanding of blockbuster storytelling. Despite being the longest superhero film in history, and the longest film in the MCU, Avengers: Endgame is paced like Quicksilver on crack cocaine. Not a single moment feels unnecessary, but there are scenes – especially in the first act – that feel slightly rushed.

It’s their own fault, really. Over the years, we’ve come to develop certain expectations from our Marvel movies, as well as a patience for their indulgences. This makes the ‘getting the band back together’ scenes in Endgame rather tedious. We know what needs to happen, so why dilly-dally?

The fatal flaw with Avengers: Infinity War, I feel, was that at no point did the Decimation feel like it would be irreversible. It was a scene – a very good scene – built entirely on shock value that dissipated almost as swiftly as one of ‘the fallen’. And after all, they say that no movie death should be believed unless you see a trickle of blood escaping from the corner of the character’s mouth.

It was a similar situation with Captain America: Civil War. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s differences felt more like a momentary tiff than an ideological confrontation; in other words, of course they were going to get back together.

Avengers: Endgame isn’t like that, and that’s what elevates its credibility, and injects unexpected drama to its already weighty themes. There’s a sense of finality to it that feels wholly unprecedented in the MCU. The Russos are probably operating at their most mature here, examining themes of parenthood and patriarchy, loss and legacy – and of power; how it switches forms as it moves from one hand to another (literally). The only way to confront radical terrorism, the film asserts – and Thanos is a radical terrorist, make no mistake about that – is through unity and bravery.

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man in a still from Avengers: Endgame.

This isn’t to say that Endgame is a dour film – the trailers have certainly sold it that way; like an unholy love child between Back to the Future and The Leftovers. But I was surprised by how funny it was, and when it needed to be, how purely entertaining.

One scene in particular – I won’t say a word more – will extract the same sort of response from audiences’ as Thor’s entry did in Infinity War.

But regardless of what they say, Endgame is very much Infinity War – Part 2, in that it directly addresses the fallout of the Snap. Certain scenes feel like they’ve been there since the earliest drafts of the script, while others genuinely feel like they were added post the release of Infinity War – the Russos have always had a finger on the audiences’ pulse, so it would make sense for them to have done that.

They’re insisting that this is the end, but it’s like Tony choosing pizza over cheeseburgers – we all know that’s never going to happen. The more movies they keep making, the more they’re going to dilute the impact of Endgame, But for fans who’ve been there from day one, it will be the satisfying conclusion they’ve been waiting for, and a love letter to the franchise they adore. The MCU, in this moment, has given us a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Cherish it. Hold it dear. Whatever it takes.

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Article 15 movie review: Ayushmann Khurrana hunts for inconvenient truths in an essential film

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Article 15
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Sushil Pandey, Sayani Gupta, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub
Rating: 4.5/5

The posting was a punishment. Ayan Ranjan, newly minted Indian Police Service officer, the tuck of his shirt crisp as a new banknote, readily admits the reason he’s sentenced to the bleak badlands of Uttar Pradesh. Ranjan had agreed with a senior officer without sounding officious enough — he had said “Cool, sir”, a yes-man forgetting his only line — and the perceived insubordination was enough to land him in a world where half the people don’t touch the other half.

Article 15, Anubhav Sinha’s searing film about the indignities endorsed by the caste-system in modern day India, does not play it cool. Inspired by the real-life Badaun killings — and a stirring tribute to Alan Parker’s 1988 procedural thriller Mississippi Burning — this film features policemen hushing up the murder and gangrape of three 15-year-old girls because they belong to a lowered caste. Us, and Them. It is a grim, unrelenting and essential film, one throwing up truths we choose to forget.

“Welcome to Page 7 India,” says Ranjan’s wife, when he calls and texts her, his eyes wide with newly discovered outrage at the plight of the Dalits and the downtrodden in middle India. Reports about these atrocities are relegated to the little-read middle of the paper, far from the front and sport pages. Ayan, a young Brahmin who likes his single malt, and walks around with a holster suavely sticking out from underneath a well-cut blazer, feels as much a stranger to that locale as an Englishman. The policemen below him are keen to make sure he isn’t some young fool out to change the system after watching too many renegade cop movies starring Ajay Devgn. ‘They get transferred,’ grunt old cops in the know, ‘while we get killed.’ Us, and Them.

Written by Gaurav Solanki and Sinha, the film has the stench of honesty. It is hauntingly shot by Ewan Mulligan, who slides through the shadows to zero in on acute specifics: the breakfast prepared before a murder, the everyday banality of a crime scene, and — most unforgettably — a man cleaning a filthy black drain. He cleans our world because we won’t do it ourselves.

As policemen plod through a marsh, Ranjan asks about politics, and the men good-humouredly state why they vote for the Elephant one year and the Cycle the next, and for the parties their mothers told them to always vote for. Rebels use Whatsapp, while cops keep tabs on activism by seeing what messages are being forwarded. The filmmakers cannily use texting to educate the leading man, the messages from his level-headed wife becoming the voice in his head. We do not need a hero, she insists. We just need people to stop waiting for a hero.

Ayushmann Khurrana plays Ranjan with inevitable entitlement. His elitist indignation while barking orders gets things done, but also distances him from the policemen answering to him. In one remarkable scene he matter-of-factly asks the cops about their places — and his own, for he is privileged enough not to know — in the caste hierarchy, and the distinctions between caste-and-Kayastha are maddening. One of them says he is a Jaat, and was ‘normal,’ but has now been granted Other Backward Class status, while Jaats in other states have not. This is illegal. Ranjan asking them their caste, I mean. Not the division, but the pronouncement of it.

Khurrana is spot-on, consistently harrowed and, building on the everyman baggage of his earlier films, immensely relatable. He eschews showiness to stay true to the part, a protagonist who is aware he will be looked on as an upper-caste saviour, aware that it isn’t his role.

Sinha surrounds him with a superb ensemble. Manoj Pahwa is frighteningly good as a higher-caste cop. Berating a junior, he clenches his teeth so hard it feels like he doesn’t trust himself to open his mouth, for fear of biting someone of a lower status. Top performances come also from Sushil Pandey as a lowly policeman who seems like the nicest bloody guy; Kumud Mishra as the son of a sweeper who is now a policeman (yet relentlessly reminded of his background); and Sayani Gupta as sister to one of the missing girls, her gigantic plaintive eyes an indictment of India itself.

The mercurial Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub plays a revolutionary, a rebel who can’t afford to lose hope because he has become a face of it. He gets the film’s most memorable lines, achingly confessing how he has been so romanticised that he is left without romance. With the horrors around, it felt criminal for him to smile at a girl he loves. In the land that allows Us and Them, all pleasure feels guilty.

What do you do when the system is the bad guy? There are no revelations here. We’ve read about such cases, we’ve sighed about these horrors. Article 15 is not a film in search of easy answers. It is instead a reminder that we already know the questions, but don’t ask them enough. Not cool, sir.

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Honor 20i review: Doesn’t make the cut

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Brand: Honor

Product name: Honor 20i

Key specifications: 32-megapixel selfie camera, triple rear cameras, Kirin 710 processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage, 3,400mAh battery.

Price: Rs 14,999

Rating: 3/5

Honor 20i is the most affordable smartphone in the company’s latest Honor 20 series. The smartphone borrows the premium design of the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro but comes with subtle changes. Honor 20i’s key features include a triple-camera setup, a 32-megapixel selfie camera, big storage and GPU Turbo 2.0 for a better gaming performance.

Looking at the specifications sheet, Honor 20i matches the competition including Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro. It’s also aggressively priced at Rs 14,999. Honor 20i may look promising but it still needs a lot improvement and is far from being the best mid-range phone.

Design, display

Honor was among the first ones to bring premium design to the budget and mid-range segments. With Xiaomi, Realme and several others following suit, Honor 20i doesn’t really stand out in the crowd. It does have a premium look and feel thanks to the trendy gradient finish colours. Up front, there’s a 6.21-inch Full HD+ display with a U-shaped notch on top. The display quality is just okay on the Honor 20i, and changing the colour tones doesn’t make much of a difference either.

Camera

One of the biggest highlights of Honor 20i is its front-facing camera. At 32-megapixel resolution, it’s among the highest in this category. Honor, however, needs to work on its portrait mode for selfies. Otherwise, selfies come out good with nice colour balance and details. The triple rear cameras seem promising but the results weren’t as expected. Most of the photos I took in daylight didn’t come out detailed. As you zoom into the photos, you see the amount of detail lost. Honor 20i also offers 120-degree lens which is good for landscape photos. If camera is priority then phones like Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro offer a more comprehensive experience.

Performance

Powered by in-house Kirin 710 processor, Honor 20i felt little slow during my usage. You’d expect phones in this category to be fast enough to handle minor tasks such as flipping through applications. But that’s not the case with Honor 20i. The battery life is pretty good with the Honor 20i running long for around 12 hours. It comes in only one variant with 4GB RAM and 128GB built-in storage.

Verdict

With phones such as Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro setting the bar really high, Honor 20i just doesn’t make the cut. The selfie camera is good but if that’s only your requirement, Xiaomi’s Redmi Y3 is even better and more affordable.

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Kabir Singh movie review: This Shahid Kapoor film is injurious to health

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Kabir Singh
Director:
Sandeep Vanga
Cast:
Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani
Rating:
1.5/5

There are so many shots of cigarette smoking in Kabir Singh I’m surprised they didn’t rope in Akshay Kumar for a supporting role, to keep reminding the film’s leading man to replace cigarettes with sanitary napkins. Substance abuse is, however, the least toxic thing about this misogynistic film. This is a film about a bully, an abuser of women, an alcoholic surgeon, and a foulmouthed hothead — and that’s just the so-called hero.

Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga, remaking his Telugu hit Arjun Reddy, gives us a character who nearly rapes a woman at knife-point, and later pees his pants. Incontinence is not traditionally heroic, therefore I assumed Vanga would make a cautionary tale. Instead, Kabir Singh applauds its pathetic protagonist, and ends up an obnoxious celebration of toxic masculinity.

Shahid Kapoor does well to play Kabir like a hand-grenade who lost his pin hours ago. He’s always seething, even on the football field, and I hoped this film would dissect the performative aggression popularised in children by sporting icons like Virat Kohli, (complete with repeated use of that unimaginative swearword that makes the curser appear like he’s invoking Ben Stokes), but no such luck. Kabir mouths off to the dean, proprietorially stakes his claim on a girl he stares at, and bullies anyone in his path as he moves her into the boys’ hostel.

It’s a shame, because there’s some sharpness here. Kabir’s riposte to the dean is scathing but smart — “You’re the dean of the college, just an employee doing his job. I’m a student of this college, and this is my college” — a fine line showing the character’s need to wear entitlement with pride. The film looks slick, and is smartly shot by Santhana Krishnan Ravichandran, who captures obvious places in intriguing ways, like stairways and, in one memorable shot, a two-man fight on a single mattress. These good bits are overlooked, however, when Kabir slaps the heroine, saying “Who knows you in college? Your identity is that you’re my girl.” Ugh. And this monstrosity is three hours long.

At some point, Kabir loses ‘his’ girl — played simperingly by Kiara Advani, who it’s hard not to feel sorry for — but Vanga continues to project him as hero, turning him into a ‘genius’ surgeon who operates only when drunk. Later, when confessing this during a medical negligence hearing, he does so with wounded nobility, like a man who thinks the Oath doctors take means they must act Hypocritical.

Kabir gets more repulsive by the scene, but other characters thinking he’s wrong doesn’t help when the creators don’t agree. A cautionary tale can’t end with the villain getting what he wants, while Kabir Singh rewards his sins with a happy freeze-frame. The best lines come from the boy’s grandmother, played by Kamini Kaushal, who wisely says, “Suffering is very personal. Let him suffer.” If only.

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