Retro Cinema: Not So Guilty Pleasures From The '90s

Get out your duster and your VHS cassettes; it’s time for a lowbrow hoedown for some of the more-maligned, yet great films from the '90s, our nostalgic decade du jour.

First off is Hook (1991), which clocks in at 29% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Why It’s Panned: Hook is laden with overly-theatrical acting and visibly mechanical special effects. Additionally, Hook is a questionable choice for a children’s movie despite featuring Peter Pan as a character, due to its on-screen presence of prostitutes, violence, and messages on death as “the last great adventure”.

Why It’s Great: “Ru-fi-o! Ru-fi-o! Ru. Fi. O!,” audiences cry out when they see this film as Hook contains fight scenes that are both imaginative and inspiring. Hook also continues in the Spielbergian tradition of brooding over daddy issues, and the sad transformation of Peter Pan into a workaholic father sets up a satisfying redemption story as he (re)learns how to balance adult responsibilities with his inner child.

Second off is Khuda Gawah (1992), known not only for starring icon Amitabh Bachchan, but for over-exaggeratingly utilizing tropes from Bollywood melodrama, even for Bollywood standards.

Why It’s Panned: Sappy. Cheesy. Predictable. Choose any adjective to describe how well-worn this story is in India -- a story of devotion, family recognition, and palatable violence.

Why It’s Great: That Khuda Gawah hits seemingly every genre trope of Bollywood melodrama is its weakness as well as its strength. For those unfamiliar with the genre, Khuda Gawah is a great introduction to Bollywood films as its elements render it a specimen for film class types who want to start to “get” stereotypical Bollywood movies.

Third on this list is Air Force One (1997), which, if it means anything, is a favorite of President Trump.

Why It’s Panned: Jin. Go. Ist. Air Force One appears on the surface, and perhaps more so, as promoting the idea that America is good and elsewhere is bad. In as much, Air Force One also seems to extend the paranoias from the Cold War, almost as if it never “ended”, even six years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Additionally, the acting from Glenn Close is atrocious in this one.

Why It’s Great: Harrison Ford playing a president is a marketer’s wet dream. This version of “our president”, by by Ford, trustworthy, reluctant, and righteously-angry plays well as a “good guy with a gun” who puts the value of the lives of “innocent” hostages before his own, highly-valued life. While Air Force One stokes nationalist flames hot enough to make you chant “USA! USA!” in your living room, the director’s snuck in a delicate wrinkle of self-awareness, the conversation where Gary Oldman’s character Egor Korshunov questions the difference between killing with a gun and a telephone call.

Lastly, 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Why It’s Panned: Another modern age-teen drama-Shakespeare adaptation? An unrealistically-idyllic high school campus? Unrealistic expectations about love and romance? 10 Things I Hate About You will likely be lost to the sands of time as it does little to separate it from other entries in the genre.

Why It’s Great: Before Heath Ledger gave us his final performance as the Joker, he was a heartthrob, with pin-ups in many a girls’ teenage bedrooms. Before Julia Stiles starred in the Bourne movies, she, along with Ledger were in 10 Things, and it was a breakout film for both of them. Ledger shines as a charming bad boy, while Stiles shines as a modern “shrew”. Whatever 10 Things lacks in originality, it compensates in execution, as the script is well-written, the scenes are well-shot, and its original source material is well-adapted.

-Blake Pynnonen