Brave

Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson PG |

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ANIMATED

A lead character who's not all that likeable until the movie's almost over? Well now, that is brave. It's also not a terrific idea. Merida (Macdonald) is petulant, snotty and irresponsible-in other words, a teenager. But the archery-loving Scottish princess also lacks empathy and is cruel to her fiercely traditional mother, Queen Elinor (Thompson), and that's harder to swallow. Worse, though, is Brave's nutty central plot twist. The spoiler-lite gist is that after visiting a witch (a kicky Julie Walters) in hopes of avoiding marriage to one of the dorky sons of a nearby clan, Merida leaves with a darkly magical charm that sends her on a life-altering quest. The journey provides some of the film's prettiest scenes, and the character design, like the voice talent, is flawless. (Merida's auburn tumbleweed of a mane is wondrous.) But I couldn't help but wish that the film had as much depth as those expertly rendered corkscrews. The story of a medieval lass aching to control her own life doesn't need witchy nonsense to be compelling. It already is.

SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD

I don't know about you, but when the Armageddon asteroid heads our way, I'm not reporting to work or hitting the gym. Dodge (Steve Carell) can't think of much else to do until riots break out, threatening his grating neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley). That's when the pair hit the streets and Seeking a Friend hits the skids, careering from black comedy to zany road movie to sweet romance. All the while doom hovers, but Penny is such a dope, you can't be too sad the world's ending.

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CATHERINE ZETA-JONES

YOU SHOT ROCK OF AGES AFTER A THREE-YEAR FILM BREAK. HOW DID IT FEEL TO BE BACK ON-SET?

A musical is a place where I feel really comfortable. It was so much fun. I'd never done dancing like that in a suit. I was more comfortable in the [leotard] at the end than I was in the buttoned-down Michele Bachmann-in-the-'80s outfits. During the costume fitting, it was so bad it was brilliant.

WERE YOU A BIG-HAIRED METAL FAN IN THE '80s?

I was much more of a New Romantics fan. I must say I had big hair. It was so big, if I sat in the front row of a Clash show, people behind me couldn't see.

WERE YOU EVER A GROUPIE?

No. My daughter is much more of a groupie already. Both of my children [Carys, 9, and Dylan, 11, with husband Michael Douglas] are into music. They keep me informed of the music of right now. And they have a retro sense of music because we play '80s songs on Sirius all the time. And '60s. They're musically well-rounded.

WHAT DO YOUR KIDS THINK OF HEAVY METAL?

They sing "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" around the house. My daughter said, "Will you teach me the dance [from the movie]?" So I'm going to teach her the dance.

YOU'VE SHOT FIVE MOVIES IN THE PAST YEAR. HOW DO YOU AND MICHAEL JUGGLE?

I have this crazy blitz on a movie, and then I go home. If I'm working, then Michael doesn't work. And vice versa. I'm off for the whole summer while Michael is shooting [Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra].