This week, there are four exceptional performances to check out. Two were Oscar-nominated (George Clooney in The Descendants and Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn) and two could well have been (Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia and Charlize Theron in Young Adult).
Alexander Payne's The Descendants takes place in Hawaii, where Matt King (Clooney) heads a family that is preparing to sell its land for development, a deal that should make everyone in the family rich. But there's no joy for him, because Matt's wife lies in a coma from a boating accident and isn't likely to wake up. Now he must take care of his daughters, Scottie, 10 (Amara Miller), and her disaffected teen sister, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley).
Worse, he finds out that his wife was cheating on him with a real estate agent (Matthew Lillard).
As in Payne's other films, Election, About Schmidt and Sideways, The Descendants is about American males adrift. A marvelous Clooney is able to make us forget his movie-star looks and charms to convey the trials of a man trying to find his place in the world.
The Descendants retails for $29.98 or $39.99 Blu-ray.
I didn't think any actress could create a credible Marilyn Monroe, but Michelle Williams did it. In My Week With Marilyn, she not only has the sexiness and sweetness of the Hollywood legend but creates a real person — and that's no easy trick.
The film, directed by Simon Curtis, has its charms, telling the story of the unlikely meeting/clash of two showbiz titans — Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) — for the tumultuous filming of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. It's based on two memoirs by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who was an assistant to Olivier. Clark claims to have had a brief affair with the star, who had just married playwright Arthur Miller.
What's true or not doesn't really matter. The film captures the glamour and fun of the era, which, like Marilyn, was a mixture of innocence and naughtiness. And as with Marilyn, it's impossible to take your eyes off Williams.
My Week With Marilyn retails for $29.98 or $39.99 Blu-ray.