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: The Craft (1996)

I’m kind of shocked it took me 14 years to finally get around to watching The Craft. Not only is it a horror movie, but it’s got Robin Tunney who was in my beloved Empire Records, Mary Jane from Half Baked, Neve Campbell who’s pretty much a non-entity in this movie and the ridiculously crazy looking Fairuza Balk who looks a lot like Tunney’s Empire Records costar Debi Mazar. And, hey, maybe if I had watched this back when it came out I would have liked it, but The Craft is a snoozefest. Ten minutes in, I knew the plot: new girl joins coven, she’s got real power, they start using it, things start getting out of control, the new girl tries to get them to stop, the other girls turn on her and she wins in the end. And hey, I was right. Plus, it was over-long. I’m a big believer that horror movies should be at a tight 90 minutes and this is 101, all of those extra minutes could have and should been cut.

I did like a few things. The actresses were all pretty. That was nice to see. But seriously, it’s always fun to see familiar actors in different roles, though I wish they wouldn’t have been so one-note. Skeet Ulrich was also in this, which is interesting because he was also in the other big 1996 horror movie, Scream, which I reviewed recently. Oh, Brekcin Meyer’s in it too and he was actually really funny. The weirdest appearance for me was Christine Taylor as the racist girl who picks on Mary Jane and actually calls her a neogroid. I think my jaw was on the floor for a full on minute and THEN I realized that it was one of my all time crushes (and one of the funniest actresses around) saying it. So weird and not okay.

Oh, hey, also, I went to a private Catholic high school and there’s no way you can get away with all of the uniform violations these kids do. Shirts hanging out, some people wearing ties, others not, short skirts. We’d get a demerit for that kind of stuff (well, not the skirt thing, it was an all guy school). The volume also jumps up and down in really annoying places, which makes it hard for me to watch this while the missus is sleeping. Uncool. All in all, if you somehow missed out on The Craft the first time around, don’t bother.

Halloween Scene: Scream (1996) & House Of Wax (1953)

Even amongst all this Christmas craziness, I still find some time to check out the occasional horror movie (though not as much as I would like). I made a double feature out of the mostly unrelated Scream and House of Wax on the NetBox the other night and had a good time with both.

I saw Scream back when it came out. I don’t think it was in the theaters, more likely at a friend’s house. At some point, I bought it on VHS andkept it secret from my parents. I wasn’t very well versed in horror at the time, but I liked it a lot, especially Matthew Lillard and Jamie Kennedy (what 13-year-old didn’t?) even though I got almost none of the horror references. I watched it again a few years back with Sam and Megan along with Hostel before heading down to Wizard World Philly the next day. We were all pretty freaked out and  I remember thinking that Scream held up pretty well. After watching it again with even more horror movies under my belt, I’m not sure if I like it as much. It was still enjoyable, but I didn’t buy into it as much this time around. I was left with a lot of head scratching “that doesn’t make sense” moments. For instance, how does Rose McGowan not open the door back into the house from the garage one moment and the killer does the next? Also, what kind of garage doesn’t have a side door? Also, upon further viewing, I don’t really buy Skeet Ulrich and Lillard’s explanation at the end of the movie for why they did it. I know it’s a joke throughout the movie that you don’t really need a motive anymore to be a killer, but why the hell does Lillard’s character do it? I can buy Ulrich’s motive, but Lillard literally says he’s doing it because he’s seen to many movies. Really? You’ve decided to plunge knives into your classmates because you’re seen too many movies? I’ve seen a butt load of horror movies and I don’t feel the need to kill anyone (that’s what video games are for).Plus, it’s funny to hear about how expensive cell phones are, with the cop yelling at Ulrich something like “How can a KID afford one of these?!”Hehe.

Those minor problems aside, it’s still a really enjoyable movie and changed the game for horror. Up until that time, horror was in pretty dire straights after a late-80s slump. Scream brought some heft to the table with a fairly solid story, a fun premise,”master” horror director Wes Craven, a script by the Dawson’s Creek guy, a stable of great actors (I think they all kill in this movie, except for Ulrich who’s channeling Johnny Depp a bit too much for my tastes), plenty of nods to horror fans and, of course, presenting us with “the rules.” Sure, older horror fans knew that you never screw, smoke, do drugs or say “I’ll be right back,” but those of us who were more impressionable at the time hadn’t figured it all out. I will say that, while I didn’t remember many of the scenes and movies referenced in Scream, I always remembered those rules. Heck, I actually wanted a few more. Maybe Craven, Williamson and Kennedy can get together and write a book/make a few YouTube videos. They’re making a fourth Scream right? I smell a potential tie-in! For some reason (and I hate when they do this), only the first Scream movie is available for instant watch on the NetBox, which is a bummer because I want to watch 2 and 3 again. It’s been a while since I’ve seen 2 again and I’ve only seen 3 one time (gotta love the Jay and Silent Bob cameos).

Up next was the original House of Wax movie, starring Vincent Price. I had seen the 2005 remake which is most well known for murdering Paris Hilton (for what it’s worth, I think she actually did a good job in the movie), but the two movies are completely different. The original stars Price as a man who runs a wax museum. His business partner burns it to the ground and Price is assumed dead, only to return with a much more macabre-oriented museum with wax figures that look suspiciously like people from the neighborhood. The remake revolves around a bunch of kids whose car breaks down in a town seemingly overrun with wax figures. Anyway, I’m a fan of anything Vincent Price is in, I’m still making my way through the MGM Vincent Price DVD box set I was given when I was still a lowly researcher at Wizard. We’re also fraternity brothers in Alpha Sigma Phi, so there’s that. I even included the man in one of those “What three people would you like to have dinner with?” essays that helped me get into college (Jimi Hendrix and Chicago columnist Mike Royko were the other two, for what it’s worth).

House of Wax continues my huge levels of enjoyment whenever seeing Price on screen. He plays his usual awesome self, you know, the seemingly normal guy who’s going a little bit crazy. This time around SPOILER WARNING, Price uses his thugs-turned-artists (one of which is Charles Bronson) and his own skills to kill people so he can cover them in wax and put them up in his brand new chamber of horrors (he doesn’t have good use of his hands since the fire). He killed the guy who tried to burn the place down and goes after his girlfriend. That’s where things get troublesome, because that woman’s roommate recognizes her dead friend in the museum. Eventually the cops catch on and there’s a manhunt. While watching it, I was continually struck by how similar this movie is to Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood (1959), though the characters’ motivations for turning corpses into art are completely different.

You might have noticed from the poster that the movie was originally filmed in 3D and much like my viewing of the My Bloody Valentine remake, I watched it without the aid of the third dimension. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the movie because it would have too many “whoa, look what’s flying at the camera NOW” moments, but those are few and far between. I actually forgot the movie was even originally in 3D until the opening of the new wax museum where there’s a dude smacking those paddleballs around at the audience. I bet that was pretty cool in 3D, but you’re not really missing much (not like, say Friday The 13th 3D, which is a bummer when not in 3D). Also, just check out how rad that poster is? This one’s definitly worth a look and makes me want to open a movie theater like The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin or The New Beverly in LA so I could show movies like this as they were originally intended. Anyone looking to hook that up in Orange County NY? I’ll be your manager, no probs.