Record Recs: (Free) sci-fi flicks, ’90s rom-coms

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Although Images Cinema may be closed, a world of movies is still available to bored or procrastinating Ephs. (Joey Fox/Williams Record)

If you don’t have a Netflix subscription — or even if you do, and you’ve finished Tiger King and whatever else Netflix has to offer that is not Tiger King — you might be running out of ideas for how to pass the time. Luckily for you, the College Libraries provide access to Swank, a free movie service, in the name of learning.

Every week until the end of the semester, Record editors will choose five movies: four old favorites and one new discovery. This week, Irene Loewenson ’22 serves up five classic 1990s rom-coms, while Joey Fox ’21 offers five heady sci-fi bangers — all available on Swank.

Irene recommends: Four favorite 1990s romantic comedies

Groundhog Day (1993): When each day seems the same as the one before, switch things up by watching Groundhog Day, a movie about grouchy weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray), who wakes up to an endless string of Groundhog Days in small-town Pennsylvania. Murray as Phil is both hilariously dry and convincingly miserable. This movie is excellent, but beware of rewatching it: If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it 100 times.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993): Sleepless in Seattle, directed and co-written by the unmatched Nora Ephron, follows two characters whose lives intersect after one calls into a radio talk show. Though the film came out in 1993, its themes feel more relevant than ever: It’s about loss, about distance, about loving people you can’t see or touch.

Clueless (1995): If Jane Austen had set Emma in Beverly Hills in the 1990s, complete with matching plaid outfits and ostentatious gum-chewing, you would have Clueless. The movie follows Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), a good-hearted but ditzy teenager, through problems romantic, academic and vehicular. Start watching for Paul Rudd; keep watching for lines like, “The PC term is ‘hymenally challenged.’”

You’ve Got Mail (1998): Another Nora Ephron classic, this time about two people who develop an anonymous correspondence over email. Is this movie’s fascination with the technology of email a little dated? Yes. Does Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox (no relation to my co-author Joey Fox, although Ephron apparently dated his grandfather’s distant cousin also named Joseph Fox, so go figure) sometimes act like an irredeemable piece of trash? Also yes. But fine acting by Hanks and Meg Ryan, along with Ephron’s snappy dialogue, make this movie well worth a watch.

And one I’d never seen before, which you shouldn’t see, either:

Jerry Maguire (1996): Consider this an un-recommendation. This sluggish movie centers on a sports agent with a heart of gold (played by the fascinatingly mediocre Tom Cruise) as he goes through an early-mid-life crisis. Fired from his job, he must rediscover what it means to be an advocate for his one remaining client, wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a character written lazily and in a way that often plays into racist stereotypes. It’s a marvel that Cruise was cast at all, let alone as Renée Zellweger’s romantic interest (and boss — the movie includes a couple of tasteless Clarence Thomas jokes). By the end of Jerry Maguire, I had forgotten his character’s name; it’s Jerry Maguire.

Joey recommends: Four great high-concept science fiction movies

Arrival (2016): I’ll lay all my cards on the table and say that this is my favorite movie, full stop, and its availability on Swank is a true gift from the gods. An alien species speaking a mysterious language lands in the rolling mountains of Montana, and the indomitable Amy Adams is tasked with cracking the case. My description here is whimsical, but the movie itself is heartbreaking and awe-inspiring.

The Iron Giant (1999): An animated love story (or possibly buddy comedy?) between a boy and his colossal killer robot; what’s not to like? This movie generates immense nostalgia for me, and even if you haven’t seen it, its Cold War vibe and hand-animated charm may do the same for you. Also, I did not realize this until I looked it up, but Vin Diesel of all people voices the Iron Giant. So, if that’s not a reason to check it out, I don’t know what is.

Cloud Atlas (2012): I’ll be my pretentious self and say: You should read the book Cloud Atlas, which is superb in some ways that can’t possibly translate to the screen. But since even universal Pass/Fail cannot save most of us from an avalanche of readings, the movie is a highly acceptable compromise. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry each play about 44 different characters spread across six time periods, arcing in separate but connected journeys towards enlightenment. Plus, the score is killer.

Sorry to Bother You (2018): “Sci-fi” is a bit of a stretch here, but Sorry to Bother You is certainly high-concept. Part telemarketer sitcom, part withering critique of American racism and predatory capitalism, part fetish flick (I won’t spoil anything else!). It stays on the rails for a little while, then goes off the rails, and then completely erases the mere idea of rails. Tessa Thompson’s earrings are a sight to behold and should probably be given their own feature film.

And one I’d never seen before, which you might want to skip:

Melancholia (2011): I’ll be honest, this one was weird. I didn’t have quite as bad a time as Irene (I once saw the first ten minutes of Jerry Maguire, and that was more than enough), but Melancholia is an acquired taste — one which I’m not sure many people have. Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a mismatched pair of sisters hurtling towards the end of the world, but you wouldn’t know that from the first half of the movie, which instead focuses on an absolutely unbearable wedding reception. The movie picks up in the second half, but it’s still a bizarre ride. My verdict: only watch if you’re a massive Mary Jane Watson stan.