December 1999
s m u g
by Jael McHenry

The Hunt for Good Gossip

Two years ago I was chatting with a housemate about movie rumors. I'm guessing it was probably Phantom Menace-related. I had revealed some bit of info - possibly the Once-And-For-All-It's- Absolutely-Official casting of Ewan McGregor with a wave of my imaginary wand and a sweep of my imaginary cloak. Out of what hat had I pulled this particular rabbit? "Internet, natch." A movie rumor site.

Housemate says, "I hate those things. Knowing what's going to happen ruins the whole movie. I don't understand people who go looking for that stuff."

I coaxed a bit more information from him, downplaying my own involvement in the ooh-ooh-what's-John- Cusack-in-next online community, and finally it drilled down to this.

"It's pointless and stupid," says the 30-year-old who owns over 250 Star Wars figures.

This slight setback aside, I've managed to become quite secure in my obsession.

Movies I don't see, as a matter of fact, are at least at interesting as movies I do. Even movies that don't have a chance of ever getting made are interesting to me. (Superman Lives, anyone?) I'm one of those people who appreciates the word "spoilers," who appreciates having the choice whether or not to "sweep the space below" with my cursor, to reveal some plot point or secret character identity that might ruin a movie for me. Whether or not I swipe them depends on the movie. Only one have I regretted. When Fight Club first became a topic of discussion on my favorite movie rumor site, Coming Attractions, in March of 1998, I didn't think I'd see it. Brad Pitt is a deterrent to me, as is rat poison, Michael Douglas, or that bitter stuff that's supposed to keep you from biting your fingernails. But even with Pitt on the con side, Edward Norton loomed large on the pro side, and in the end I went. But I knew something I shouldn't have known, and maybe I enjoyed it less for that reason. We'll never know.

I actively seek out this kind of information. Any chance of Kevin Spacey putting The Iceman Cometh on film? Who's up for the role of the third Angel this week? Are the guys at Haxan Films seriously thinking about a Blair Witch sequel, and does that finally put the last nail of commercialism in the coffin of art? This kind of news isn't exclusively limited to the Internet, but there's a greater momentum to it on a website than there is in my monthly copy of Premiere. And as with any type of information, there are places to go, and places to frequent.

I'm generally unimpressed with websites that started out in a different incarnation, especially as TV shows. E! and Entertainment Tonight, for example, are difficult to navigate. ET Online is particularly counter-intuitive. Besides, it's sprinkled with mistakes that scream Overactive Spellcheck, like "Bonhomie Carter," which would be a great name for a Chandleresque private eye, but is not the name of the Fight Club actress. The screen's so crowded it reminds me of an SNL skit mocking MSNBC, where they keep filling the available space with graphics, crowding the frame closer and closer and closer until you can barely see a talking head poking through all the flotsam. ET Online's got a banner at the top, an ad at the bottom, menus on both margins, and a black background to boot. Menu to the left of me, menu to the right, here I am; stuck in the middle with - five words of story, three of which I have to scroll down to see. Say what you will about USA Today, but this site actually out-briefs them, big time.

The only Art Formerly Known As Print Media site I'm Variety and even then, I'm not exactly content. Their technical difficulties happen a little too frequently. But advance reviews are timely and professional, and of course they're the source everybody else cites when casting news becomes official. If I want to feel like I've seen a movie I have no intention of seeing, this is where I go.

Internet sites that started life as Internet sites have me split down the middle. And I'm not talking Sweet Frosted Side For The Kid In You split, either. I love and I hate, and the on the love side is Coming Attractions, and on the hate side is Ain't It Cool News.

It bugs me for some reason that Harry Knowles has some measure of celebrity when Patrick Sauriol goes unheralded (sorry if you're actually heralded, Patrick, I must not be looking in the right places.) Maybe I'm a snob. Maybe I'm not hip enough. But I appreciate the professional, organized, witty-but-even-handed tone and look of Coming Attractions. Ain't It Cool News has this Look-Ma-I've-Got-A-Site, Personality-First-Content-Second feel to it. Can't find what I'm looking for, can't separate the wheat from the chaff. And there's plenty of chaff. Give me a nice scroll-down menu of titled links anyday. I'd much rather read Cinema Nutrition (a cute little feature that reduces reviews to FDA-style labels) than a rambling, panting description RIFE with ALL CAPS describing Harry's CAMEO in The Faculty where HARRY was TOUCHED by Salma HAYEK. Centered, no less.

Part of the ever-growing, soon-to-conquer-the-world Go network, Mr. Showbiz is pretty good. Brief articles on everything of consequence in TV and movies, reviews of movies as they open, and a decent collection of above-average celebrity interviews. They've also got some pretty entertaining contests and games, including Plastic Surgery Lab, in which you mix and match celebrity features to make (usually rather horrifying) faces.

For a movie freak like me, The Internet Movie Database is Mecca. This should come as no surprise to those of you who've seen it. (The other five of you, shame.) It's the most comprehensive resource I know of, and searchable down to the mote. Not particularly strong on upcoming movies, but certainly solid on, well, virtually everything that's ever been released, far as I can tell. Their latest redesign has added message boards and recommendations and -- wow. Everything. If their daily news hit earlier in the day I'd be a disciple. As it is, I'm still a twice-a-weekday visitor.

There's the rub. Twice a weekday. Once to Coming Attractions, twice to IMDB, three or four times to Mr. Showbiz (since they update periodically instead of all in a lump.) Yes, I spend entirely too much time in these places. I probably spend as much time hunting down movie rumors as my former housemate does collecting Star Wars figures. That's okay. Like I said: I'm secure in my obsession.

what are your online obsessions?

in the junk drawer

and such
and such

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