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by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: REACH FOR THE SKY

(VCI Entertainment)

This award-winning, inspirational 1956 biographical drama tells the story of Douglas Bader, a real-life pilot who lost both his legs in a flying accident, then triumphed over adversity by learning not only to walk again, but to fly again — and with great distinction during World War II.

Kenneth More is in top form as Bader, who steadfastly refuses to feel sorry for himself — and won’t allow others to do so — while undertaking his Herculean recovery. Adapted from Paul Brickhill’s best-selling book by director Lewis Gilbert, the film’s a little on the long side but remains refreshingly unsentimental throughout. It’s rousing and uplifting without resorting to maudlin melodrama.

Sterling support is provided by Muriel Pavlow as Bader’s wife Thelma, as well as Alexander Knox, Lee Patterson, Howard Marion Crawford, Nigel Green, Michael Gough, Michael Ripper, Eddie Byrne and Anton Diffring. This reaches high and hits the target.

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (VCI Entertainment): A bewigged Fredric March plays the title role in this hokey but engrossing 1949 melodrama based on Rafael Sabatini’s best-selling historical novel. A simplified, schoolbook telling of the story, but March is always worth watching. His real-life wife Florence Eldridge plays Queen Isabella, with Francis L. Sullivan, Felix Aylmer, Niall MacGinnis, Kathleen Ryan, Abraham Sofaer and James Robertson Justice (as Martin Pinzon) in support.

“CHUCK”: THE COMPLETE FIFTH AND FINAL SEASON (Warner Home Video): Despite the protestations of some fans, the spy-jinks come to a close for Zachary Levi’s unlikely super-agent, in all 13 episodes from the 2011- ’12 of the award-winning NBC action/comedy series. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $49.99.

DIARY OF A SINGLE MOM (One Village Entertainment/Image Entertainment): Director/executive producer Robert Townsend takes a detour into drama with this wellmeaning but unbearably heavy-handed feature based on his TV soap opera, with Monica Calhoun in the title role. Also on hand: Billy Dee Williams, Irma P Hall, Leon and the always welcome Richard Roundtree.

“THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: CARL REINER’S FAVORITES” (Image Entertainment): A self-explanatory DVD collection ($24.98 retail) of 20 episodes from the classic CBS situation comedy, which ran from 1960 to 1966 and won 15 Emmys, as personally selected by series creator and comedy legend Carl Reiner, who played Alan Brady in the series.

FLICKA: COUNTRY PRIDE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) Clint Black and real-life wife Lisa Hartman Black star in this family-friendly horse opera (literally!), inspired by Mary O’Hara’s classic novel My Friend Flicka. Rated PG.

JOYFUL NOISE (Warner Home Video): Sparks fly when big-screen divas Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton team up for this comedy about a church choir in Georgia determined to compete in the National Joyful Noise Competition. Available as a single DVD ($28.98 retail) or a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail). Rated PG-13.

THE LAST LIONS (National Geographic Entertainment/Virgil Films & Entertainment): Jeremy Irons narrates husband-and-wife filmmakers Derek and Beverly Joubert’s documentary about the African lioness Ma di Tau (“Mother of Lions”) and her cubs, available on DVD ($19.99 retail) or Blu-ray ($29.99 retail). Rated PG.

LONDON BOULEVARD (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Ken Bruen’s novel starring Colin Farrell as an ex-con who becomes the protector and confidante of a reclusive screen goddess (Keira Knightley). This stylish thriller takes a while to find its groove, veering in tone from serious to farcical, but individual scenes stand out. Farrell is excellent, and a solid supporting cast includes Eddie Marsan, Anna Friel, Ben Chaplin, reliable Ray Winstone, and scenestealer David Thewlis (resembling a dissipated Jesus) as Knightley’s mangy manager. Monahan also penned the script and receives a producing credit. Rated R.

PULLING JOHN (IndiePix): An exciting, award-winning documentary that follows John Brzenk, the undefeated arm-wrestling champion of the world, as he prepares for the Zloty Tur Championship in Warsaw, Poland, while also profiling his up-and-coming rivals Travis Bagent and Alexy Voevoda. Like the best documentaries, this makes you care about a subject you might otherwise not have even thought about. A hands-down winner (pun intended).

SCHOOLGIRL REPORT VOLUME 8 (Impulse Pictures/CAV Distributing): Subtitled “What Parents Must Never Know,” this 1974 German sexploitation comedy — billed as being based on a novel and “on actual events” — offers a series of vignettes in which schoolgirls relate tales of seduction. Amusing at times but mostly tawdry, though the girls are cute. Producer Wolf Hartwig made an entire series (this is Volume 8, after all!), then produced Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron. Needless to say, the two did not get along. In German with English subtitles.

SHAME (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Director Steve McQueen’s provocative drama stars Michael Fassbender as a New York executive and sex addict whose world crumbles when he is visited by his equally troubled sister (Carey Mulligan). Fassbender and Mulligan give forceful performances, but no explanation is ever given for their characters’ self-destructive behavior, rendering the proceedings rather pointless. Rated NC-17.

“TITANIC” (Entertainment One): Yet another re-telling of the legendary maritime disaster, this one penned by Julian Fellowes and broadcast as a prime-time ABC mini-series to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the title ship’s sinking. The cast includes Linus Roache, Toby Jones, Geraldine Somerville, Perdita Weeks, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Steven Waddington, and David Calder as Capt. Smith. Available as a two-disc DVD ($29.98 retail), a two-disc Blu-ray ($34.98 retail), or a DVD/Bluray combo ($39.98 retail).

TRINITY GOODHEART (One Village Entertainment/Image Entertainment): Erica Gluck plays the title role in this award-winning drama, as a precocious young girl who tries to reunite her estranged family with help from an angel above (Eric Benet in his dramatic debut). Filmed in Charlotte. The DVD retails for $14.98.

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): With director husband Len Wiseman calling the shots, Kate Beckinsale again dons black leather for the fourth in the ongoing action/horror series pitting vampires against werewolves (lycans). This was the biggest hit yet, so don’t be surprised if more mayhem is en route. Available as a DVD ($30.99 retail), Blu-ray ($35.99 retail), or 3-D Blu-ray ($45.99 retail). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has also released a Blu-ray boxed set of all four films ($75.99 retail). Rated R.

“VEGA$”: THE THIRD SEASON, VOLUME ONE (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Robert Urich is back as Fun City private eye Dan Tanna in the first 11 episodes from the 1980-’81 (and final) season of the prime-time ABC crime drama, created by Michael Mann and executive-produced by Aaron Spelling. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.99.

WILD CHERRY (Image Entertainment): A high-school sex comedy — loosely inspired by Lysistrata, of all things — with Kristin Cavallari, Tania Raymonde and Rumer Willis (Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter) as lovely seniors who exact humiliating revenge on the jocks who wronged their reputations. Nice to see a female point of view to the proceedings, and the cast (including Rob Schneider and Ryan Merriman) is enthusiastic, but before too long this settles into a routine — the usual one. Rated R.

“THE WITCHES OF OZ” (Image Entertainment): Paulie Rojas plays a grownup Dorothy in this mini-series inspired by the classic characters created by L. Frank Baum, wherein the denizens of Oz come to find her. A star-studded cast includes Sean Astin and Ethan Embry as Frick and Frack, Billy Boyd, Mia Sara, Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs and Christopher Lloyd as the Wizard of Oz. The DVD retails for $29.97.

YOUNG GOETHE IN LOVE (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Philipp Stolzl’s awardwinning drama (originally titled simply Goethe!) depicts the relationship between the young poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang Goethe (Alexander Fehling) and a brash girl (Miriam Stein) betrothed to another man in the early 1770s — a romance that would influence his future work. In German with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $29.95.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2012, Mark Burger

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