LAST HOLIDAY (2006). A remake of a 1950 British comedy starring Alec Guinness, Last Holiday is better than expected thanks to its retooling as a vehicle for Queen Latifah. Director Wayne Wang has long been demoted from indie darling (Smoke) to studio hack (Maid In Manhattan), and his desire to appease the studio gods means that there's very little innovation on view in this predictable picture. But Queen Latifah and her supporting cast -- to say nothing of the gorgeous location shooting and eye-popping shots of delectable food dishes -- go a long way toward making this digestible. Latifah stars as Georgia Byrd, a working class woman who, upon learning that she'll die in three weeks, cashes in all her assets and heads off to the Grandhotel Pupp (located in the Czech Republic) with the intent of winding down her life in luxury. While at the hotel, she befriends the cook (Gerard Depardieu -- how I've missed him!), offers sage advice to assorted individuals (among them Giancarlo Esposito's silky senator and Alicia Witt's kept woman), and butts heads with her former boss, the hardhearted CEO of a national retail chain (Timothy Hutton). Meanwhile, her love interest (LL Cool J) back home discovers her dark secret and hightails it to be by her side. The message of the film is that everyone -- no matter what lot in life -- should be treated with dignity and respect, but after watching Latifah receive endless massages, hit the snowy slopes, and chow down on lobster and lamb, most viewers will be forgiven for believing that the true message of the picture is that (duh) it's better to be rich than poor. DVD extras include three making-of featurettes, two deleted scenes and two recipes for food dishes prepared in the film.
SHOPGIRL (2005). It's been duly noted that we hapless humans have to work hard at relationships, but the romances that exist at the center of Shopgirl operate at levels so beyond infuriating that they scarcely seem worth the trouble -- for the characters or for viewers. It isn't the fact that these love stories are rarely believable -- they aren't, but what the hey, we've all been at the center of real-life encounters that would test the credulity of anyone not privy to all the details. Rather, it's the manner in which the conflicts have been jerry-rigged in such movie-phony ways that it's difficult to care one way or the other how everything will turn out. Claire Danes, stripped of anything resembling a personality, plays a Saks glove counter flunkie who's so man-hungry that she drapes herself all over an obnoxious slacker (Jason Schwartzman) whose idea of safe sex is to wrap a Ziploc baggie around his pecker before intercourse. When it appears that this relationship won't go anywhere, she next succumbs to the advances of a wealthy older gentleman (Steve Martin) who can buy her lots of pretty things but can't commit emotionally. Shopgirl is based on Martin's novella of the same name, and although he wrote it a couple of years before Lost In Translation came around, it's obvious that director Anand Tucker wanted to capture the same air of melancholy and romantic yearning that distinguished Sofia Coppola's exemplary film. Alas, the only thing lost in translation here is the point of this aimless, airless dud. DVD extras include audio commentary by Tucker, a making-of piece and two deleted scenes.