Who let the dogs out? Hollywood has gone woozy over pooches, with recent releases Marley & Me
, Beverly Hills Chihuahua
and even the indie drama Wendy and Lucy
all starring drooling canines as major characters. Add Hotel for Dogs
to that lengthy list. Aimed at youngsters, this perfunctory comedy is about orphaned siblings who covertly turn a condemned hotel into a shelter for stray dogs. Sixteen-year-old Andi (Roberts) and 11-year-old Bruce (Austin), who have been shuffled through five foster homes in two years, are currently under the negligent care of two untalented would-be rockers (Kudrow and Dillon). Lacking a real family of their own, the kids create one for the strays. When the animal-control authorities get fragrant wind of the hotel's new residents, they threaten to separate the siblings—and to do much worse to the pooches.
Kids will enjoy Dogs
, finding laughs in the ingenious inventions Bruce devises for the pets (including doggy treadmills and automatic feeding systems) as well as the obligatory poop jokes. Sample: "We're in deep doo-doo," Dillon mutters when kerplopped into a dumpster full of doggy waste. Like I said, this one is for kids.
Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie | R
If he'd listened to his mother (Bassett), Brooklyn-raised rapper Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls and Notorious B.I.G.) would have stayed in school and worn a tie to work. Instead, he dropped out, sold crack, did jail time, took drugs, had kids, became a rap superstar and was murdered at age 24 in a still-unsolved 1997 shooting. This bracing biopic paints a sympathetic portrait, depicting Wallace as flawed but gifted. Newcomer Woolard (left), who is himself a rapper, connects impressively with the role, using his basset hound eyes to reflect Wallace's highs and lows. Luke sparkles as producer Sean "Puffy" Combs, as does Mackie playing rapper Tupac Shakur.
At age 78, the legendary star revs up a near-perfect performance—he says it'll likely be his last—in Gran Torino
1 HE'S G-R-R-R-EAT Playing a bigoted widower living alone in a changing neighborhood, Eastwood growls more often than he speaks. And never has a grrrrr been so expressive.
2 HE ACTS HIS AGE In recent decades, Eastwood has abstained from chasing nymphets onscreen or pretending that it doesn't hurt when he gets slugged.
3 HE MAKES WRINKLES SEXY Crow's feet at the eyes? They only make Clint's squint even more menacing. Now if he'd just say, "Read my pruny lips," it'd make my day.
In the biopic Notorious
, the actress, 50, plays the Notorious B.I.G.'s tough-loving mother. But in real life she spoils her 3-year-old twins Bronwyn and Slater.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM B.I.G.'S MOM, VOLETTA? Unconditional love and unconditional expectations. She didn't let bad behavior slide, but there was nothing she wouldn't do for him.
HOW ARE THE TWINS? DID YOU SURVIVE THE TERRIBLE TWOS? I called them the terrible one-and-a-halfs! My husband [Courtney B. Vance] thinks I can get better at being more strict. I'm more the spoiler, giving them candy and toys.
DID YOU ENJOY WORKING WITH COURTNEY ON ER
? It's interesting being intimate with your husband in front of a crew. Makes you shy—but you have to get through it!
LAST CHANCE HARVEY
Natural charmers Dustin Hoffman (left) and Emma Thompson prove irresistible company in a sweet, low-key romantic comedy about two lonely hearts who meet in London. The plot holds no big surprises, but that predictability is part of its appeal. (PG-13)
WALTZ WITH BASHIR A pack of ferocious dogs chase a man down a street. That's the startling first scene of a harrowing but brilliant animated documentary by director Ari Folman about his experiences as a young Israeli soldier during his nation's first war with Lebanon in the early '80s. (R)
Now 22, the child actor gets tough with Daniel Craig
and Liev Schreiber in Defiance
WHAT WAS IT LIKE HAVING DANIEL AND LIEV AS BROTHERS? I grew up in a household of women, so it was exciting. We were roughhousing all the time. I loved it.
HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH FAME AT 13? I had my mom. The day I got back from the Oscars, she said, "Great. Now take out the trash."
HOW DID OTHER KIDS REACT? They chased me around school. I didn't know if they wanted to beat me up or congratulate me. I never stopped running to find out.
Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon | PG