Influential online film pundits

As the bloggers storm the gates of conventional journalism, a new breed of online film reviewer is changing the face of movie criticism. Free from the bureaucracy, deadline demands and professional standards of large institutions, these online film pundits have written their own rules on what’s fit to print. Along the way, they’re causing much heartburn among studio flaks, who are forced to deal with some of the more scurrilous rumors that often find their way to Web sites. But with fanatical followings and daily readership topping many print publications, the online film geeks are out of the box for good. Here, then, is a look at four influential figures:

GARTH FRANKLIN
Site: DarkHorizons.com
Home base: Sydney, Australia
Focus: Punchy catalog of film news, rumors and reviews; heavy coverage of sci-fi, action and horror genres
Reach: 1.6 million unique visitors a month
Reputation: Considered the most comprehensive and serious of the fan sites, though its reliance on anonymous rumormongers raises flak hackles
Beginnings: One year out of high school in 1998, young Aussie film buff Franklin decided to record his thoughts about movies on a Web site. “I didn’t finish university; the business took off before I had a chance,” he says.
Film most proud of championing: ” ‘Saw.’ It has a couple of Australian actors in it, so I’m kind of sympathetic.”
Most controversial review:
” ‘Spider-Man 2.’ I liked it but I wasn’t unusually impressed. I got quite a bit of flack from the fans.”
His 2004 top five: “Hotel Rwanda,” “The Incredibles,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Kinsey” and “Closer”
Summer movie most looking forward to: ” ‘Batman Begins.’ I’m not a big comics fan at all but I’m a big fan of the script.”

BERGE GARABEDIAN
Site: JoBlo.com
Home base: Montreal
Focus: Striving to be the nongeek fan site, it stresses popular entertainment over erudite film criticism, with an emphasis on action and comedy genres.
Reach: 65,000 unique visitors a day
Reputation: E-frathouse; strident in its opinions but less reliant on the rumor mill
Beginnings: After earning his MBA in 1998, Garabedian started the site to hone his writing skills in preparation for screenwriting. He began and still runs the site out of his parents’ garage.
Film most proud of championing: ” ‘Saw.’ The whole Internet focus on that film made a big difference.”
Most controversial review: After giving the third “Lord of the Rings” film six out of 10 stars, the fans “just went nuts. They were calling me all kinds of names, and I was just saying it’s not my kind of movie.”
His 2004 top five: “The Machinist,” “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “Saw,” “Man on Fire,” “Old Boy”
Summer movie most looking forward to: ” ‘Batman Begins.’ It’s a sequel but it looks like it will be at least different from the last two.”

HARRY KNOWLES
Site: AintItCool.com
Home base: Austin, Texas
Focus: The ultimate movie geek’s almanac
Reach: 6 million “unique sessions” a month
Reputation: The giant of fan sites. While impossible to ignore, Knowles is said to be heavily wooed by studios, leading some critics to doubt the site’s impartiality.
Beginnings: Knowles began the site in 1996, after he was paralyzed in an accident and spent his days searching for data on new films. “Not a lot was being done online back then. I decided that there was a need for a site for original content about film.”
Film most proud of championing: ” ‘Old Boy,’ a film I kind of discovered a whole seven months before it ever played in Cannes. To me, Park Chan-wook is the single most important filmmaker to come out in the last decade.”
Most controversial review:
” ‘Alexander.’ I absolutely loved it.”
His 2004 top five: “Ja Zuster, Nee Zuster,” “House of Flying Daggers,” “The Aviator,” “Before Sunset,” “Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War”
Summer movie most looking forward to: Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown”

DAVID POLAND
Site: The Hot Button at MovieCityNews.com
Home base: Hollywood
Focus: An insidery news columnist’s approach to film coverage
Reach: Averages 93,000 hits per day
Reputation: A professional among the unwashed hordes
Beginnings: After a career at Entertainment Weekly, Poland started a daily Internet film column. He launched the Hot Button as a standalone site, eventually folding it into his new venture, Movie City News.
Film most proud of championing: “In America,” which Poland tracked closely from its Sundance premiere through to Oscar season.
Most controversial review:
” ‘Dodgeball.’ I liked it. People thought I was insane.”
His 2004 top five: “Born Into Brothels,” “Sideways,” “The Five Obstructions,” “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Bad Education”
Summer movie most looking forward to: “I’m fascinated with what Lucas is going to do with ‘Star Wars.’ I think that’s the huge story of the summer about whether he satisfies all these people who are insane.”

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