Computer Movie: Track Down a.k.a. Takedown (2000)

track down poster One of my favorite movie subgenres has to be computer movies (heck, it’s got it’s own Category over there on the right). Favorite examples include WarGames, Sneakers, The Net and Hackers. It might seem inconceivable, but back then, the general public wasn’t sure what to think about all these people talking to each other over a mysterious new invention called the internet. Hackers — people who understood how computers worked and used their abilities either for good or ill — were as mysterious as comic book vigilantes, roaming the online landscape under the guise of colorful aliases. All of this mixed together for a new breed of films, ones trying to capitalize on the rising popularity and mistrust of computers, adding more traditional action elements  to thrill audiences. Some of them are actually solid films, some are fun cultural artifacts and some are ridiculous. I especially enjoy seeing how excited people got about the kind of technology that your phone surpassed about a decade ago.

Track Down, as it’s known on Netflix Instant, or Takedown, which it’s also called is one of these movies. Unlike the movies I mentioned above, I’d never heard of this one directed by Joe Chappelle (Phantoms, Fringe) and starring Skeet Ulrich, Russell Wong, Master P, Amanda Peet, Donal Logue, Jeremy Sisto, Christopher McDonald, Tom Berenger and Ethan Suplee. The film is based on the story of real life hacker Tsutomu Shimomura (Wong) working alongside the government to bring down legendary hacker Kevin Mitnick (Ulrich).

Obviously beefed up and made more theatrical, this is a pretty fun little movie. I like how they made the relatively boring idea of sitting-in-front-of-a-computer look interesting without getting into the craziness of something like Hackers. Ulrich also seems to be channeling his inner Johnny Depp throughout the film as the pressure of running from the government and going up against a talented adversary clearly wears on him. Chappelle also brings some style to the proceedings with the use of filters and whatnot. You might get sick of the color orange from the last 20 minutes or so, but at least he was trying something.

takedown poster

There’s actually a documentary called Freedom Downtime that a bunch of Mitnick’s supporters created in 2001 pointing out the inaccuracies of this film. I’d be interested in checking that out as I’ve been curious about Mitnick’s life for a while (I also want to read his books The Art Of Deception, The Art Of Intrusion and Ghost In The Wires). However, I still think it’s possible to enjoy this flick as its own entity that works as a take on actual events (it’s based on Shimomura’s book called Takedown), an action-thriller movie and a look at Hollywood’s reaction to computers.

If you dug the more serious elements of Sneakers and the look and feel of Hackers, then I think you’ll dig Track Down/Takedown.

Canceled TV Cavalcade: Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (2006-2007)

Yeah, I know I’m using a pun on the whole Canceled Comics Cavalcade with my semi-frequent Roseanne posts, but what can I say? A good title is a good title.

Back in 2006 I was pretty excited because there were two shows coming out that were based around a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show. Many people actually took sides between 30 Rock and Studio 60 and I was one of them, but I totally sided with Studio 60. The show was created by TV royalty Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme who have had varying levels of success with their partnerships. West Wing, which I haven’t watched, lasted plenty of seasons while Sports Night, which I did watch and loved, lasted only one season, just like Studio 60.

The concept is that an SNL-like show set in California starring DL Hughley, Sarah Paulson, Nathan Cordrry and a series of other actors including Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg gets taken over by former head writer and producer Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford after their old boss loses it on TV and tells people how it really is. Meanwhile, Amanda Peet plays a brand new executive at the TV station who’s first day coincides with the old boss’s meltdown. It’s her idea to get Perry and Whitford even though her boss/fellow exec Steven Weber isn’t so sure about it. From there you get fictionalized accounts of the politics of television from the boardroom to the writers room and a series of relationships like Whitford and Peet’s burgeoning romance and the crazy-complex history between Paulson and Perry who have dated and broken up more time than Ross and Rachel on Perry’s former show. 

I absolutely love this show. For one thing, it’s got that signature Sorkin walk and talk format with the camera following characters from one place to the other and moving the story forward in that very natural manner. When I was working at the magazine and there were more people there, this is kind of how things would be sometimes. I also like watching shows about writing and the process of writing. Perry finds himself in a writer’s room with a former writer whose wife and daughter died recently (Mark McKinney), a failing stand-up comedian (Colombus Short) and a writer from the room who hasn’t had a sketch on the show yet (my beloved Lucy Davis from the amazing British Office) and basically takes the reigns and ends up doing most of the show himself. I can kind of relate to how things when towards the end of my tenure at the magazine, but not nearly to that degree. As a writer myself, I’ve definitely had to deal with writer’s block and feeling like my material just isn’t good enough.

Now, of course, I’ve never been in a comedy TV writing room. I have been in rooms trying to come up with ideas for TTT, but I’m guessing it’s not really the same thing. My point is that I don’t know how accurate the portrayal is, but I also don’t really care because I always had fun with what was going on. I also appreciate how the show really gets into the nuts and bolts of putting a TV show like this on, unlike 30 Rock, which I also love. Heck, if you pay attention, you can learn something about the bedhind-the-scenes type stuff from Timothy Busfield’s role as the guy in the control room.

I’m also envious of the relationship between Perry and Whitford. They’re basically two dudes who met while working on the show and became friends. After their mysterious departure from the show within a show (which we find out about by the end of the series) they stuck together and paired up to write and direct successful movies. I’d like to have that kind of working relationship with someone. Their relationship is written and directed so well it reminds me of a lot of the people I used to work with and am still friends with now. Even their names, Matt and Danny, sound really good together. It’s those little touches that reveal more detailed writing.

Anyway, the question that always comes up when talking about a show that only lasted one season is “does it end well?” While there are definitely some smaller story elements that could have been carried on in a second season and oh how I wish it had, all of the major elements do get addressed by the end of the series. From the relationship between Perry and Paulson to Whitford’s relationship with Peet are her child. It’s a little more satisfying than something like Freaks & Geeks which still ended well, but left things on a total cliffhanger/set up for the next season. I highly recommend this show for anyone.

Quick Movie Review: Southie (1998)

Southie’s another one of those movies that I’m not sure why I put it on my queue. But I did and today I watched it. It was alright. Donnie Wahlberg returns from being away from Southie (a rough Irish neighborhood in the Boston area) for a few years. He’s given up drinking and wants to get a legit job so he can take some of the stress off of his ailing mother, but, as these kinds of movies go, he’s given no other real option than to return to a life of crime. But it’s not what you think, instead of being muscle for a mob guy, Wahlberg teams up with Will Arnett who’s starting up an illegal gambling club and needs some investment money.

There’s also some back story with Wahlberg almost killing a dude who’s also involved int he gambling house. The plot’s pretty by-the-numbers, but the performances are pretty good. You’ve also got Rose McGowan, Lawrence Tierney, John Shea (who also directed) and Amanda Peet who doesn’t really do much but play the girl our hero used to be in love with. Actually, now that I think about it, the plot’s similar to the original My Bloody Valentine, but without the axes and twist ending.

The movie’s completely skipable unless you’re a huge fan of anyone included. I had the most fun watching Arnett, because I’ve never seen him in a serious role. He kind of wavers on the Boston accent, but doesn’t commit enough to it in the first place for his lack of one to be annoying. Aside from that there’s a few fights, a lot of talking, the death of an old person and that shotgun in the poster? It shows up exactly once. You’d be better off checking out Four Brothers if you’re looking for a movie like this, plus, it’s got Mark Wahlberg instead.