Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide To This Week’s Movies: Hip-Hop Hooray! And, Woof!

During Sunday night’s Golden Globe telecast, one of the (many) things that mystified us was the sight of Beyoncé and Jay-Z at a table with The Reader director Stephen Daldry and Cameron Diaz. Just who on earth does the seating charts for these events? We need to know. Anyway, everyone gave gracious speeches and was tastefully dressed; Beyoncé clapped delicately and Jay-Z looked on with approval. It’s funny because 1997, that heyday of hip-hop, doesn’t really feel all that far away. … But if you compare the sight on Sunday of Beyoncé and Jay-Z and Sean Combs, supporting his Golden Globe–nominated A Raisin in the Sun, to a scene from Notorious—with the raw rapping sounds of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur; all that bling and Cristal; and Puffy (he was still Puffy then, after all) dancing around like a maniac onstage—2009 will come crashing down around your ears.

In order to make Notorious, which is about the life of Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. “the Notorious B.I.G.”), his meteoric rise in the music industry and his gunning down at the age of 24—the filmmakers had to find someone who would be able to carry off not just Biggie’s stature (he was 6-foot-3 and sometimes topped 300 pounds), but also the sheer presence (and inimitable talent) of a figure who has reached mythic proportions. They must have cheered when they found Jamal Woolard, a Brooklyn rapper in his own right, who manages to do the job and then some. The movie starts at the fateful shooting and flashes back to Wallace’s youth (the young version of Biggie is played by his real life son, Christopher Jordan Wallace Jr.). Director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) manages to show not just Biggie the monster talent, but Christopher the man—which couldn’t have been an easy feat since the film was executive-produced by Wallace’s producer and friend Mr. Combs and his mother, Voletta Wallace (played in the film by the always awesome Angela Bassett). Derek Luke has the challenging task of portraying Mr. Combs, and Anthony Mackie is Tupac (we’re guessing it might have been a whole other film if Tupac’s people were behind it instead of Wallace’s mother). But the star of the show is Mr. Woolard. It surprised us just how much time the movie devotes to the actual music of Biggie Smalls, and while some of the plot teeters into a clichéd rags-to-riches tale, we’re guessing folks won’t mind; expect lots of iTunes-downloading after.

Notorious opens Friday at Regal Union Square cinema.

 

Hotel for Dogs is—surprise!—a movie about a hotel for dogs. Emma Roberts (niece of Julia) stars alongside Jake T. Austin as orphaned siblings who rescue the dogs from the pound and streets, but it’s the wildly cute variety of pooches that steal the show. This movie is for the kids, plain and simple, so who are we to quibble over pesky plot problems (one example: how on earth would the beautiful Francis Drake hotel that houses the pack and then some not have been sold for overpriced condos?). Look for Don Cheadle to show up as a social worker (oh, Don Cheadle; what won’t you do?), along with Lisa Kudrow and Entourage’s Kevin Dillon, making the most of their roles as aging, wannabe rock stars.

Hotel for Dogs opens Friday at Regal E-Walk and Battery Park cinemas.

svilkomerson@observer.com

Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide To This Week’s Movies: Hip-Hop Hooray! And, Woof!