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Short Takes: A Very Carrey Christmas

Star keeps his antics in check in A Christmas Carol

Using the same performance-capture animation technique he employed for 2004's Polar Express and 2007's Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol is another family-friendly holiday feature from the veteran director of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump. Zemeckis doesn't mess with the Charles Dickens book much, quoting directly from it in the opening sequence that finds Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) busting out a "bah humbug" when his nephew Fred (Colin Firth) arrives to wish him a "merry Christmas."

Of course, Scrooge is in for a shock when he goes home and an apparition of his old boss, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman), arrives to warn him that he's going to be visited by three ghosts before the night is over. Carrey plays all the ghosts, making the Ghost of Christmas Past rather whimsical and giving the Ghost of Christmas Present a maniacal, bellowing laugh.

Though his recent attempts to show off his dramatic acting abilities have fallen short, Carrey is in good form here. He occasionally indulges in exaggerated facial gestures and slapstick antics, but they keep young viewers interested. So does the fabulous digital 3D that often makes snowflakes fall in front of your face. You can bet this movie will bring in big box-office numbers through the end of the year. (Jeff Niesel)

Antichrist *** 1/2

Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier's Cannes-awarded cause celebre deals with a couple (Willem Dafoe and a risk-taking Charlotte Gainsbourg) who express grief over the accidental death of their young son in extraordinarily, uh, destructive ways. If a movie can be artistically sublime and transcendently ridiculous at the same time, von Trier's latest provocation definitely fits the bill. There's even a talking fox that appears mid-movie to utter the film's most ineffable (and quotable) line, "Chaos reigns." Indeed. Destined to become a cult flick for the ages, Antichrist proves that the Breaking the Waves/Dancer in the Dark director hasn't lost his skill for rattling an audience's collective nerve. Love it or loathe it, there's certainly nothing else like it in current release. (Milan Paurich)

Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre

The Headless Woman ***

Weird undercurrents of dread permeate nearly every frame of Argentinean auteur Lucrecia Martel's (The Holy Girl, La Cienaga) teasingly opaque, densely layered mindbender of a movie. Did adulterous middle-aged dentist Verónica (the wonderfully impassive María Onetto) accidentally run over a young boy while fumbling for her cell phone? Or was it all a dream (or hallucination) brought on by Veronica's guilty conscience? As usual, Martel respects her audience's intelligence enough not to spoon feed them the answers. Enigmatic and profoundly disorienting, Martel's "art flick with a capital 'A'" plays like a Michelangelo Antonioni remake of Hitchcock's Marnie. While admittedly not for all tastes, Martel remains one of the most gifted purveyors of pure cinema on the international scene. (Paurich)

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12,

and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15

Séraphine ***

Based on the life of French painter Séraphine de Senlis, Martin Provost's film features an Oscar-worthy performance by Yolanda Moreau, who brings great intensity to the role of the troubled artist. The film beings quietly as Séraphine is working as a housekeeper when she meets Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a German art collector renting an apartment in Senlis, a small town just outside of Paris. When Wilhelm finds one of Séraphine's paintings, he's struck by its beauty and tells her he wants to be her patron. She accepts, and at first things go well. Wilhelm sells a few of her paintings, and it's not long before she's painting full-time and renting a larger apartment. But when the economy goes bad as war approaches, she gets frustrated with Wilhem's inability to get her a show in Paris. She also starts to have a mental breakdown, and it's not long before she's institutionalized. While it's certainly a sad story, Séraphine is a compassionate portrait of a visionary artist. (Niesel)

Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre

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