ALAN Parker's Midnight Express (Pearl, 9.30pm) is riveting from the word go. Its fault, if it has one, is that it often turns into a bit of a wallow in prison atrocities, something that may have been an indulgence on Parker's part. Nevertheless, both he and editor Gerry Hambling won British Film Academy Awards for their work. The script was written in the early 1970s by an up-and-coming director called Oliver Stone. So here is a film with all the right credentials, yet the producers chose a complete unknown to play the lead. Brad Davis is Billy Hayes, a naive American student on a back-packing mission through Europe who gets arrested at an airport in Turkey for carrying hashish and finds himself thrown in jail and forgotten. Davis is given the task of displaying almost every emotion known to man. John Hurt is outstanding as the drug-addled Englishman and Randy Quaid's portrayal of a deranged American is thoroughly believable. As the psychotic prison official, Hume Cronyn comes close to Jack Nicholson in The Shining as a fruitcake personified. In prison, a good night is one when someone doesn't get beaten or raped. Billy's father (Mike Kellin) attempts to get his son out of jail, but the Turkish legal system is hell-bent on making him an example to other potential smugglers. When he is sentenced to more years than he has fingers, Billy makes plans to take the 'midnight express' - that is, to escape. ALL the cliches and stock characters are wheeled out for another made-to-order disaster epic, Airport '77 (World, 9.30pm). This is the third in the four-part airport series and not bad, if you like that sort of thing. James Stewart is the businessman whose private jet is sabotaged and crashes into the sea and sinks, forcing a daring rescue attempt. Usual mix of hysteria, drama and guest stars with nothing to do. Jack Lemmon is the pilot. THE comedy Scenes from a Mall (World, 1.30am) is the stage for an awkward pairing between Bette Midler and Woody Allen. It has potential, but about halfway through loses all contact with reality. Midler and Allen are a middle-aged couple who celebrate their wedding anniversary by going shopping at a mall, where revelations cause their marriage to quickly unravel. DIRECTOR John Wilder's Breaking Home Ties (STAR Plus, 2.00am) is also known as Norman Rockwell's Breaking Home Ties, a reference to the painter upon whose famous illustration it was based. Famous if you are American; everyone else will be excused for never having heard of it. This is un unashamed wallow in nostalgia about a college student's coming-of-age in the 1950s. Wilder dedicated it to veteran television producer Quinn Martin. Claire Trevor is a delight as the teacher who guides the boy through his high school years. TOM Cruise flashes his smile in Cocktail (TDM Channel 2, 8.30pm), but fails to redeem the film from high school amateur dramatics. Elisabeth Shue is cute, but that's her job, and she doesn't get to do much else. Cruise is a young hotshot who comes to New York City to make his fortune, but ends up becoming a hot bartender instead, under the tutelage of Bryan Brown. FILMS on Cable Movie Channel: Hot Chocolate (7.00am and 1.00pm). Trashy soft porn with the voluptuous Bo Derek as a Texas businesswoman who takes a holiday in the French countryside and, you guessed, falls in love. The Roar of the Vietnamese (9.00am and 3.00pm). A refugee from Vietnam is released from a closed camp in Hong Kong and given a half-way house to live in on his way to a new life in the US. He is forced to do illegal jobs for the triads, but gets sick of it and decides to fight back. Hu Hui-chung, and Waise Lee star. This Thing Called Love (5.00am). Adult comedy from 1941 about newlyweds who set up a three-month trial run for their marriage.