What to Watch: Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 2014

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We’re back! After a week off in Park City, What to Watch is back with 8 movies for you to check out at your local Blu-ray shop or download on your favorite streaming service. Some great variety this week, including a fantastic On Demand debut starring Elijah Wood & John Cusack, a few classics, and a couple of current Oscar nominees.

Grand Piano
Grand Piano
Photo credit: Magnet

“Grand Piano”

We’re going to try and lead each What to Watch with the most interesting new film available exclusively On Demand and this week’s is a gem for all of you who wish Brian De Palma made more movies like he did in the ’70s and ’80s. Elijah Wood plays a famous pianist doing a tribute show to his deceased mentor. He sees a note on his sheet music that if he misses a key, he’ll be shot by a sniper (John Cusack). While the set-up is simple, the execution is accomplished, right down to split screens that De Palma would adore. It’s a little slight but it’s mostly a blast, and anything that gets Alex Winter back in front of camera has value.

Where to Watch: On Demand (starting January 30th)

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine
Photo credit: Sony

“Blue Jasmine”

Woody Allen’s latest has connected with Academy members to the degree that Cate Blanchett seems a near lock to win her first lead actress Oscar and the lackluster screenplay even has a shot. As a lifelong Woody Allen fan, I’m baffled. I find this one of his least-satisfying, misanthropic works, a film that works neither as satire nor human commentary. The performers do a ton of heavy lifting to make it interesting — particularly underrated turns from Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay — but the script has made my teeth grind every time I try to watch it. I love Woody, I love Cate, and I love most of the cast, so I’m happy to see their success and maybe “Blue Jasmine” will lead viewers to their better work.

From Patrick McDonald’s theatrical review: “So few people are given the position that Woody Allen enjoys, which is the ability to maintain a consistent opportunity to communicate as an artist, and to employ a shifting intuition throughout a lifetime of work. He is an American treasure, a gift to an audience who appreciates the strange machinations of our being and consequence.

Poignant, romantic, and mesmerizing, writer/director Woody Allen’s latest masterpiece centers around Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a former New York socialite teetering on an emotional tightrope, balancing between her troubled east coast past and a fresh start in San Francisco. Having moved into her sister’s humble apartment, Jasmine ricochets between the tumultuous acceptance of her new limitations, and the dreams of reclaiming her past life’s glamour. Join a powerful cast for an intimate portrayal of the battle between fantasy and reality which rages within us all.

Special Features:
o Notes From the Red Carpet
o Blue Jasmine Cast Press Conference

Where to Watch: Blu-ray, DVD, Vudu, Amazon Instant Streaming, iTunes

In the Heat of the Night
In the Heat of the Night
Photo credit: MGM

“In the Heat of the Night”

As we come upon a month in which Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” has a chance to win major Oscars, including Best Picture, it makes sense to look back on this wildly-influential 1967 drama, which won Best Picture, Best Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and two more. It was named the 75th best film of all time by the AFI. It’s an essential part of the most formative years of Hollywood in the late ’60s and early ’70s. And so even though it’s been available before and there’s no particularly reason to revisit it now (remaster, anniversary, new special features, etc.), it can never hurt to bring a film this powerful to a new audience. They could release it every two years. I’d be fine with that.

Starring Academy Award winners Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger and Lee Grant, this provocative mystery thriller is still as powerful as ever.

In the Deep South, homicide detective Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) becomes embroiled in a murder investigation. When the bigoted town sheriff (Steiger) gets involved, both he and Tibbs must put aside their differences and join forces in a race against time to discover the shocking truth.

Special Features:
o Commentary With Norman Jewison, Lee Grant, Rod Steiger and Cinematographer Haskell Wexler
o Turning Up The Heat: Moviemaking in the ’60s
o The Slap Heard Around The World
o Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound

Where to Watch: Blu-ray, DVD, Vudu, Amazon Instant Streaming, iTunes

Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa
Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa
Photo credit: Paramount

“Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa”

That’s OSCAR-NOMINATED “Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa” to you. Yes, while some major films like “Short Term 12” and “Stories We Tell” can’t boast that appelation, the Johnny Knoxville joint landed a well-deserved Best Makeup nod. I’ll laugh pretty hard if it wins. The movie is more of the same, exactly what you get although perhaps a little smarter than “Jackass” detractors would have you believe. It takes a certain kind of smarts to craft entertainment this stupid.

Johnny Knoxville reprises his Jackass role as 86-year-old Irving Zisman in the story of a crotchety old man unexpectedly saddled with the care of his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll). The two generations of troublemakers soon develop a bond, as they hustle their way across the heartland of America on an outrageous road trip with a whole lot of high jinks and pranks on unsuspecting, real-life people - all of whom had no idea they were starring in a “truly shocking” hidden camera comedy. (Fred Topel, Craveonline.com)

Special Features:
o Deleted Scenes
o Alternate Real-Life Reactions
o Behind-the-Scenes Antics

Where to Watch: Blu-ray, DVD, Vudu, Amazon Instant Streaming, iTunes

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