Brendan Gleeson

“The Guard” (R) — In the small, stony grey part of Ireland, a murder becomes the single thread that could unravel a big wool sweater of crime. It’s the kind of oddball setup and sinister conspiracy that can be tackled only by a mismatched duo from contrasting worlds: a doughy, sardonic small-town Irish cop (Brendan Gleeson) and a straight-laced, authoritative FBI agent (Don Cheadle.)

The two proven actors handle the lowered-brow comedy like a brain surgeon handles a game of Operation. Gleeson’s quips and character-acting carry the comedy well and precipitate chemistry with Cheadle’s straight man. “The Guard” shows that the buddy-cop comedy is still good for a laugh, provided moviemakers are handy with the right setting, script and talented performers who can have fun with it.

“Contagion” (PG-13) — This fast-paced, broad-scoped and paranoia-inducing disaster flick follows a deadly plague and its effects on human life as we know it — while ending a lot of it. Gweneth Paltrow picks up a new super-bug in Hong Kong, then spreads it all over the place on her way back home to her Matt Damon husband. A star-lined cast adds gravitas to the lives of the various folks feeling the impact of the epidemic, including Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Jude Law.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the story ably shifts focus from wide-angle to up close and intimate. The film really shines with its examinations of the many points of contact we have with each other in everyday life. When shaking the wrong hand or eating the wrong bar nut could end your life, people try to adapt to a new, sterile way of life.

“I Am” — Director Shadyac made his millions directing Jim Carey in movies like “Ace Ventura” and “Bruce Almighty.” After an accident left him with a long, painful recovery to think about life, he decided to put together a small crew and talk to experts about what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it. Some segments are shallow and saccharine-sweet, but the majority are charmingly optimistic and at least a little thought-provoking.

“I Don’t Know How She Does It” (PG-13) Sarah Jessica Parker reprises her favorite role as a grating, self-martyring career woman. Except in this movie, career women are borderline sociopaths, and stay-at-home moms are piranhas waiting to gnaw away at mothers who work uptown. Parker plays Kate, a working mom who has it all in her glittering upper-middle-class life, which is just so gosh-darn hard.

Poking fun at the quirky challenges of everyday life is a valid premise for a story, but this movie’s world is charmless and polished clean. Parker is downright annoying as everyone else looks straight into the camera and heaps praise on her for working so hard to send emails and throw elaborate parties.

“Justified: The Complete Second Season”
“Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season Five”
“Royal Pains: Season Three — Volume One”
“Thats My Boy: Complete Series”
“Red: Werewolf Hunter”

© 2011 King Features Synd., Inc.