FREE- TO- AIR FILMS
WHEN it comes to sequels, remakes, spin- offs and other secondary Hollywood by- products, we know what to expect: something less than the original. But occasionally a film surprises us. Die Hard 2 ( Saturday, 8.35pm, Seven) is at least as good as the first film, thanks in part to Bruce Willis’s talent for self- deprecating irony. Once again humble New York cop John McClane finds himself single- handedly foiling a terrorist plot ( this time an airport hijacking). ‘‘ Man, I can’t believe this,’’ says McClane. ‘‘ How can shit like this happen to the same guy twice?’’ Well, only in hi- tech Hollywood action thrillers ( and their sequels).
Exorcist II: The Heretic ( Tuesday, 12.10am, Nine), directed by John Boorman, appeared four years after the famous demonic shocker from William Friedkin, and was remarkable for its avoidance of gore and obscenity. Boorman substantially recut the film after it was savaged by US critics. This time Lamont ( Richard Burton) investigates the death of Father Merrin, the priest who originally exorcised little Regan ( Linda Blair), and the horror and eeriness of the story stand up well. ( We had to wait another 13 years for The Exorcist III .)
Beethoven’s 4th ( Sunday, 1pm, Ten) was the second of two direct- to- video sequels involving our big, slobbering St Bernard, and turns on the accidental swapping of Beethoven with an aristocratic canine lookalike. I always thought the film’s titles were the cleverest thing about them. As for Austin Powers in Goldmember ( Saturday, 10.30pm, Nine), the third of Jay Roach’s psychedelic comedy spoofs whose title is the least clever thing about it, opinions differ on the merits of the sequels, depending largely on whether one cared at all for the original. Mike Myers may be better known and loved these days as the voice of Shrek, but the Austin Powers trilogy is his true legacy: flip, cheesy, frenetically gross send- ups of James Bond cliches and post- mod swinging London, call it what you will. In Goldmember the parodies include Godzilla movies and a hip- hop prison rap performed to a tune from Annie . Michael Caine turns up ( embarrassingly) as Austin’s uncool dad.
Of the three versions of John Buchan’s ripping espionage yarn, director Don Sharp’s 1978 film The Thirty- Nine Steps ( Thursday, 12.50am, ABC), is probably the least satisfactory and certainly suffers by comparison with Hitchcock’s classic. But the story is so captivating that I think any version will do. This one has Robert Powell as the
archetypal British hero Richard Hannay pursuing a network of spies through London music halls and the Scottish highlands, and dangling ( in one memorable shot) from the face of Big Ben.
Swimming Upstream ( Wednesday, midday, Nine), directed by Russell Mulcahy, is the story of Anthony Fingleton, who survived a tough Brisbane childhood at the hands of a drunken bullying father and became a champion swimmer in the early 1960s. Exceptional performances, as one would expect, from Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis as the parents — Harold, the alcoholic father, Dora the longsuffering wife — with Martin McGrath’s sundrenched camera work beautifully evoking Brisbane suburbia in the ’ 50s.