Examiner Film Editor

In 1936 Shanghai, two people form a bond on the brink of the Japanese invasion: a blind former U.S. diplomat and a beautiful Russian countess. The diplomat opens a nightclub, “The White Countess,” to help him forget the loss of his family in political violence. There, he forms a relationship with the countess, who is reduced by circumstances to work as a bar girl to support her late husband’s aristocratic family.

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Hiroyuki Sanada (“The Twilight Samurai”), and three actresses from the Redgrave dynasty (Natasha Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave), this is one of the last films to be released by the award-winning team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory (Merchant died in May 2005).

“The White Countess” opens Jan. 13 at the Seven Gables theatre in Seattle.

Less promising in cast and story is “The Last Holiday” from director Wayne Wang (“Maid in Manhattan,” “The Joy Luck Club”). It stars Queen Latifah as a cookware salesperson for a New Orleans retailer who throws caution to the wind when she learns she only has a short while to live. She embarks on a dream European vacation, and thinking she has nothing to lose, undergoes a metamorphosis from shy to uninhibited. The transformation affects everyone around her, including a respected chef (Gerard Depardieu) and a retail magnate (Timothy Hutton). This movie also opens Jan. 13.

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