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BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT (Blu-ray)

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BarbershopTheNextCutcoverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: No
2016, 111 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sexual material and language
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

I missed seeing Barbershop (2002), Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004), and the spin-off, Beauty Shop (2005). But because it’s been more than 10 years since the last one, I wasn’t at a disadvantage. Barbershop: The Next Cut stands on its own, and though it could stand a fresher plot, the cast (old, plus new) is still entertaining.

My wife and I watched with our two teens, and it surprised us how often we found ourselves laughing out loud at the banter between characters that were sometimes a few hairs short of being total caricatures.

But the plot is both simple and formulaic: Calvin (Ice Cube) still owns a barbershop on Chicago’s south side, where old-timer Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) does more talking than trimming and Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar) is the only non-black. To keep the business thriving, Calvin has partnered with Angie (Regina Hall), who runs a beauty shop out of one half of the space. But making money and making jokes take a backseat to their big concern. Every day in the neighborhood there’s a shooting, and the violence between rival gangs has gotten way out of hand—so bad, in fact, that Calvin and the rest of the Barbershop “cutters” are facing the same crisis as the rest of South Side Chicago: they can’t even walk the streets without thinking their lives are in danger. Trigger-happy gang members are taking innocent lives and rapidly making that part of the city uninhabitable.

BarbershopTheNextCutscreenIt’s gotten so bad that Calvin and his wife, Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis) are considering abandoning the shop his father once owned because they are worried their teenage son, Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.), might not live to see 21 if they remain. Calvin is even looking at properties on Chicago’s safer north side—though he’s keeping that a secret from his cutters, stylists, and regular customers. They include a caterer (Anthony Anderson) who tries to profit any chance he gets; a fast-talking entrepreneur named One-Stop (J.B. Smoove); a goofy nerd (Lamorne Morris); and a hunky cutter (Common) that draws the wrath of his wife-stylist, who also happens to be Calvin’s sister Terri (Eve), when he appears to flirt with stylist Draya (Nicki Minaj), whose rear-end is the “butt” of many jokes. No subject seems off-limits for comedy, including Black Lives Matter and Michelle Obama. And of course there are Bill Cosby and Justin Bieber jokes.

Director Malcolm D. Lee seems comfortable blending comedy and serious issues, though the latter is rolled up in a main plot that feels too easily resolved. Barbershop as social center? Totally believable. Barbershop as town hall meeting site? Also believable. Brokering a ceasefire between the rival gangs, with a free haircut day to draw attention to it? Considerably less believable, but not as hard to swallow as a facile ending. Still, the message is a good one, and the jokes wrap the package nicely.

But parents be warned. Some PG-13 movies come closer to PG and are acceptable for younger-than-teen viewers as well. Barbershop: The Next Cut will have you raising your eyebrows at a few risque scenes that seem closer to an R-rating, as when a man’s wife presents her fully clothed bottom, wiggles it around, and says something like, “Go ahead, put it up there.” Though there are no nude or sex scenes, there are a number of sexual references like that (including talk of big butts and masturbation) which could make for uncomfortable viewing for some families.

Lanaguage: Mild swearwords throughout, along with at least one F-bomb and liberal use of the “N” word.
Sex: Nothing shown, and no nudity, but multiple instances of sex talk
Violence: Talk of a young boy being killed, along with a few gunshots and in-your-face pushing, but no blood
Adult situations: Mostly sex talk and gang confrontations
Takeaway: Rotten Tomatoes critics gave Barbershop: The Next Cut the highest rating of the four franchise films, with the original Barbershop coming in second; our family was split along gender lines, with the males giving it a B- and the females a C+

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BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (Blu-ray combo)

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BatmanvSupermancoverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: No
2016, 151 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: C-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

My teenage son said it best: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a good action movie, but not a very good superheroes film. That is, there’s plenty of action, great CGI visual effects, and breakrib (if not breakneck) pacing. But it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad . . . and doesn’t that Good v. Evil dichotomy drive every superhero film? A little more character development and motivation wouldn’t hurt either, though both of those require a little squinting to see in this 2016 film from Warner Bros.

You almost get the feeling that you’re being had—and not just because of the neurotic, helium-voiced way that Jesse Eisenberg chose to play Lex Luthor Jr., or that you’re stuck with a Jr. in the first place. It’s that the filmmakers thought they could throw everyone into the deep end of the pool and call it a party. They expect that you’ve seen (and remembered) Man of Steel, because if you haven’t, then the opening will make even less sense. Even if just watched Man of Steel there are questions, and I’m not just talking about why WB can’t use the standard abbreviation for “versus.”

BatmanvSupermanscreen1Batman was always a vigilante, but why has he apparently gone rogue against all of society? Why is Superman suddenly so sensitive to public opinion that he’s gotten a megalomaniac complex? Who is shooting at whom, and why, when we see Lois Lane trying to interview a terrorist in the opening Africa sequence? Most importantly, why, pray tell, does Superman threaten Batman, setting up the “v.” conflict? Aren’t both of them on the outs with society? Those are just a few of the nagging questions that surface early.

All of which is to say, Batman v. Superman has one problem, and it isn’t Lex Luthor. It’s that the narrative feels disjointed . . . and how is that even possible, when director Zack Snyder had 151 minutes to work with in this theatrical cut?

Some of the questions are explained and the narrative smoothed out by an extended cut that’s included in this “Ultimate Edition,” but it shouldn’t take 181 minutes to tease out the narration, should it? Especially when the screenplay comes from two guys that in past outings have given audiences terrific, economical scripts: Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins). Snyder, for that matter, directed such previously taut films as 300 and Watchmen. So what happened here?

I can’t even begin to tell you, except that you watch the action thinking that it’s all very cool and that there’s a lot at stake, yet it’s hard to get too involved when there are so many lingering questions. With a superhero film you want to get a handle on how all those interlocking pieces fit together, whether the comic universe is Marvel or DC, and it’s tougher here to do than with any of the Avengers films.

BatmanvSupermanscreen2Here’s what I think happens: The plot picks up a year and a half after the final battle from Man of Steel. Both Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) feel the other is a threat, despite the fact that Lex Luthor Jr. (Jesse Eisenberg) is mixed up with weapons dealers and trying to get his hands on Kryptonite. Superman is called before a congressional hearing to explain himself, Batman dreams of battling Superman and prepares to act out that dream by stealing the Kryptonite from Luthor, who has kidnapped Superman’s stepmom, Martha Kent (Diane Lane). And Lois Lane (Amy Adams) doesn’t really have much to do after that opening scene except to try to convince Batman that Superman isn’t a bad guy. Oh, and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) makes an appearance.

There’s more, of course, but don’t look to bonus features for a fuller explanation. They all seem promotional in nature, and you get the feeling that Warner Bros. was less concerned with making sense out of this film than they were trying to set up future films in the DC Universe.

Action movies and young audiences have a lot in common: they live in the moment and don’t question things. That’s not a bad mindset to adopt when you pop in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It may not be a great superhero movie, but with an alien monster and large-scale battle scenes it really is a darned good action flick that bears re-watching . . . and with every viewing you begin to pick up a little more. Good thing, because the extended cut that somewhat smoothes out the narrative is rated R for even more intense sequences of violence. As is, the PG-13 version is adult enough to push this film out of reach of viewers younger than 12 or so.

Language: No F-bombs, but there’s a handful of lesser swearwords
Sex: One bathtub scene with a man and woman, but as with a naked dead man nothing revealing is shown
Violence: Plenty, though bloodless, including gunshots to the head, self-inflicted cuts to the hand, ad the usual explosions and action movie battles
Adult situations: Aside from alcohol use there’s a scene in which a child’s parents are murdered in front of him and a later scene where Doomsday originates that might be a little too powerful for young viewers
Takeaway: I look forward to future conflicts, but so far the clear winner in the Marvel Universe v. DC Universe is Marvel.