by Mark Burger

 marksburger@yahoo.comDVD PICK OF THE WEEK: THE SINKING OF THE LACONIA (Acorn Media)

A fact-based story gets first-class treatment in this enthralling mini-series, originally broadcast on the BBC.In September 1942, the Laconia, an old cruise ship refitted as a troop ship for the war effort, is en route to Liverpool carrying Italian POWs, Polish soldiers and some civilians when it is torpedoed by a German U-boat. Realizing (too late) that the Laconia was not a battleship, the U-boat captain (the excellent Ken Duken) does the unexpected: He tries to rescue the survivors and transport them to safety.This little-known chronicle of courage, heroism and sacrifice works as both a World War II thriller and the proverbial disaster movie, yet it’s the human aspect of the story that shines brightest under Uwe Janson’s taut direction. The Germans are not collectively portrayed as monsters, and all the characters come across as human beings, replete with flaws and failures.A fine cast includes Franka Potente, Lindsay Duncan, Thomas Kretschmann, Andrew Bucan and the always welcome Brian Cox, stealing his every scene as the wise, weary captain of the Laconia.

BEST LAID PLANS (Well Go USA Entertainment): Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was the inspiration for director David Blair’s contemporary crime saga, starring Stephen Graham as a small-time hood and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) as his simple-minded but faithful friend, swept up in dirty doings in the London underworld. The DVD retails for $24.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $29.98.

THE BIBLE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Keith David narrates this self-explanatory, five-part History Channel mini-series that dramatizes the Old and New Testaments, with Roma Downey (also an executive producer) as Mary and Diogo Morgado as Jesus. The DVD boxed set retails for $59.98, the Bluray boxed set for $69.98.

“BORGEN” (MHZ Networks): A four- DVD boxed set ($49.95 retail) of all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2010 season of the award-winning Danish political drama, which aired on Link TV in the US, starring Sidse Babett Knudsen as an idealistic politician who is elected Denmark’s first female prime minister. In Danish with English subtitles.

CYBERSTALKER (LionsGate): Mischa Barton is targeted by same fiend who murdered her parents years before in this flat whodunit set in Philadelphia but filmed in Ottawa. Yet another shocker “inspired by true events” in which the end result is anything but inspired.

FORCED LANDING (Alpha Home Entertainment): Pilot Richard Arlen is enmeshed in international intrigue when he falls for Eva Gabor (in her screen debut), the object of Pacific Islands dictator Nils Asther’s attention, in this brisk 1941 programmer boosted by John Alton’s cinematography and an earnest cast including Evelyn Brent and J. Carrol Naish.

THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY (Image Entertainment): A documentary film crew follows a scientist (Kris Lemche) to the Arctic Circle in search of the real Frankenstein monster. Yet another Blair Witch knock-off, this boasts an interesting idea but is all build-up with very little payoff — and a monster barely glimpsed.

FUTUREWORLD (Shout! Factory): The Blu-ray bow ($19.97 retail) of the 1976 sequel to Westworld (1973), starring Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner (in an awardwinning performance) as reporters who uncover a plan to replace world leaders with robot duplicates by the mysterious Delos Corporation. A good supporting cast includes Arthur Hill, John P Ryan, Stuart Margolin and Yul Brynner, in a brief (and rather meaningless) reprise of his “Gunslinger” role. This was actually his final film. Not quite as good as Westworld, but entertaining and very ’70s. Rated PG.

THE MARINE 3: HOMEFRONT (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Pro wrestler Mike “The Miz” Mizanin displays his muscular moves in the latest installment of the action franchise, as a Marine on leave who swings into action when little sister Ashley Bell is kidnapped by political extremists. Not good, but has its punchy and crunchy moments, plenty of CGI firepower, and reliable if typecast Neal McDonough as the main heavy. Rated R.

THE SESSIONS (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Fact-based comedy/drama about a quadriplegic writer (John Hawkes) who hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to relieve him of his virginity. A bit strident, and Marco Beltrami’s score is excessive, but top-flight performances carry the day: Hawkes, William H. Macy (as a friendly priest) and Hunt, who earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Rated R.

STITCHES (Dark Sky Films/MPI Media Group): This award-winning horror comedy offers British comedian Ross Noble a change of pace — as the title role of an undead clown seeking revenge on those who killed him during a birthday-party mishap. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.

TAI CHI ZERO (Well Go USA Entertainment): Actor/director Stephen Fung’s martial-arts extravaganza — the first in a planned trilogy — stars Jayden Yuan as a young warrior with mystical powers who learns the secrets of Tai Chi. In Mandarin with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98. Rated PG-13.

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Paolo Sorrentino’s award-winning comedy/drama stars Sean Penn as a retired rock ‘n’ roller in pursuit of an escaped Nazi war criminal who tortured his father in a concentration camp during World War II. The eclectic cast includes Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Kerry Condon, Shea Whigham, Harry Dean Stanton, Joyce Van Patten and David Byrne, who also coscored the film with Will Oldham. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.99. Rated R.

“THREE FATTIES” (Alpha Home Entertainment): A collection of nine silent comedy shorts featuring the tubby trio of Frank “Fatty” Alexander, Hilliard “Fat” Karr and “Kewpie” Ross, who were also known as “A Ton of Fun.” Despite their individual and collective girth (each weighed over 300 pounds), they were fairly agile and athletic — and pulled off some stillimpressive slapstick gags. Calling them “Three Fatties” or even “A Ton of Fun” may be politically incorrect in this more enlightened day and age, but one thing is certain: these guys were funny.

“UFC — BEST OF 2012: YEAR IN REVIEW” (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The title tells all in this compilation of highlights from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, featuring such heavy hitters as Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and others, plus plenty of bonus features. The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $29.99.

UNDEFEATED (The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin’s rousing, Oscar-winning documentary feature follows Bill Lindsay, a volunteer football coach, as he leads the Manassas Tigers, a team from an impoverished, inner-city Memphis high school, to a surprisingly successful season. Rated PG-13.

WOOCHI: THE DEMON SLAYER (Shout! Factory): Writer/director Choi Dong-Hoon’s 2009 blockbuster stars Gang Dong-Won in the title role, a reckless and undisciplined wizard who is imprisoned inside an ancient scroll, then set free in present-day Korea to battle wicked goblins. In Korean with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $19.97, the Blu-ray for $26.97.

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2013, Mark Burger.