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GOOD SURFING FOR MOVIE MAVENS

Akira Kurosawa's classic 1952 movie about a dying bureaucrat, Ikiru, made a huge impression on me when I was in college. So the legendary Japanese director's death this month sent me right to the World Wide Web to get reacquainted with Kurosawa's body of work. I found plot summaries of his movies, memorable dialogue (in English), and reviews.

Cyberspace is a cinema maven's paradise where you can pore over screenplays, peek at coming attractions, pick up gossip, and confirm whether the thumbs of Siskel and Ebert are pointed north or south. Along with the Siskel and Ebert Web site, there are plenty of spots to help you decide where your dollars will be best spent. You can read the critics from the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, New York Magazine, and The Washington Post at their sites. Entertainment Weekly Online, Film.com, moviefinder.com, Mr. Showbiz, and Microsoft's Cinemania Online are among the many other sites that provide reviews of current pictures and let you post your own ratings or comments.

Mr. Showbiz rates movies on a scale of 1 to 100--Saving Private Ryan earned a 98. To play off the Northwest Airlines strike, Mr. Showbiz served up a list of first-rate labor films, including On the Waterfront and Matewan. At Film.com, you can view movie scenes, trailers, and other clips, such as a recent interview with Neal LaBute, director of the dark comedy Your Friends & Neighbors.

Cinemania's site features clips and trailers, as well as commentary from critic Leonard Maltin. It's an offshoot of Microsoft's discontinued CD-ROM film guide. Punch in your Zip Code, and you get movie times in your area. But Cinemania missed some theaters near my apartment. Better for movie times is MovieLink, the online equivalent of 777-FILM. In 16 cities, filmgoers can even use their keyboards to order tickets directly.

For sheer depth of content, be sure to visit the Internet Movie Database, owned by bookseller Amazon.com. Updated weekly, the collection contains details on more than 150,000 films dating back to the 19th century, and includes 2 million entries on luminaries on either side of the camera. You can find listings of box office grosses and Oscar winners. You can do a search to see if actors ever worked together. I learned that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz appeared together on the big screen three times.

Despite all the content, many movie sites suffer critical flaws. Consider moviefinder.com. It lets you search a list of movies by genre, rating, and other criteria. But the site may promise more than it delivers. For example, I went to the ''films you'll like'' area, where you type in the name of a movie, and up will pop other titles with something in common. When I entered The Godfather, however, the only two names that popped up were The Godfather and The Godfather, Part 2. Nothing turned up when I typed in a more obscure movie, the 1992 John Dahl thriller Red Rock West. The site also promises lists of suggestions based on the tastes you display while grading flicks. You must be a registered user to take advantage of this feature. But to register, you have to reveal your income. I give that requirement a thumbs down.

DEALING. Along with the reviews and trivia, you can play games that let you see if you can figure out what makes Tinseltown tick. The Hollywood Stock Exchange (www.hsx.com) is a stock market simulation that starts participants off with $2 million in play money to trade ''securities'' representing films. Shares are first offered during the concept stage and liquidated four weeks after nationwide release. You can opt in or out at any time. Three months before the Beavis and Butthead movie was released, it was priced at $17. It traded at $22 on opening day, meaning investors expected it to garner $22 million after four weeks. The film actually earned $45 million and was delisted at $45. You can also buy ''StarBonds,'' based on how well actors do at the box office. The rules even allow insider trading based on firsthand knowledge of the movie industry. Hooray for Hollywood.

By Edward C. Baig



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Updated Sept. 17, 1998 by bwwebmaster
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