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.

Halloween Scene: Blade (1998)

We as comic fans owe a lot to Blade. Not only did the movie show audiences and studios that comic book movies didn’t have to be corny, but also that they could be fun, good and play with different genres. These things had been done before, of course, but the Batman series of films did a lot to both elevate and then destroy people’s conceptions of what a superhero/comic book movie could be. Then Blade came along in 1998, which makes me feel quite old. I followed the movie’s progression in Wizard and was in full support of it like I was of every comic related project I ever heard or read about. I would have been about 15 when the movie came out and since it’s rated R–another brand new concept for the subgenre of movies based on Marvel or DC characters–so I probably didn’t see it in theaters but somewhere along the way I did and I dug it.

I watched it again on Friday and planned to do a Halloween Scene themed Friday Fisticuffs about it, but we wound up hanging out with friends Friday night and it got away from me. Overall, I’d say the movie holds up pretty well, but some of the special effects just look silly.

But first, the good. I like that the movie’s a well-balanced mix of horror and action. With the tragic backstory and F-bomb filled one-liners, the movie definitely feels like a 90s action flick. For me that’s a good thing, but I could imagine it would get to be too much for some. At the same time there’s a pretty cool vampire story going on here. The vamps are from different clans and somehow, some of them were born as vampires while others have been turned. The purebloods have built empires on every continent that help to supply them with blood, but also keep them unknown. Enter Deacon Frost, a non-pure blood who wants to bring about an ancient blood god who will turn everyone into a vampire so it won’t matter who came from who. I thought it was an interesting angle to take with the story, one that I most definitely hadn’t seen at that time and can’t recall seeing since, but that might just be because I’ve got a crummy memory.

The monster story elements might have been great, but the effects weren’t so great. I should clarify, the CGI effects are crap, the practical stuff looks fantastic and the jump from one to the other is pretty jarring. Take that epic opening action scene at the blood rave (everything about this scene is great, by the way, the soon-to-be victim plays it pitch perfectly). The teeth look great (the only way you can really tell someone’s a vamp), then Blade shows up and there’s some great action scenes, but as soon as the vamps start getting blasted they turn to dust which just look bad, especially because they have a weird spark inside. It makes me think about Buffy and how those effects looked pretty good. There’s also some pretty bad stuff going on at the end when a blood toxin thing gets introduced and the blood god kind of makes an appearance. I know there’s been a lot of talk of filmmakers going back and mucking with their films, but I would be in full support of Blade getting some new effects added in. Go back and watch that scene with the subway train and tell me it doesn’t look terrible.

I had a great time watching this flick again. Snipes is at his action star best, Stephen Dorff plays a great “low man on the totem pole trying to rise up” bad guy, Kris Kristofferson is absolutely awesome and reminds me of Sam Elliott in Road House and Donal Logue is great as the unlucky vampire henchman. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it, if you haven’t seen it in a while, give it another look. I think you’ll dig it!