THE POSTCARD KILLINGS (2020) – Average Thriller Nothing To Write Home About

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the postcard killings

THE POSTCARD KILLINGS (2020) was released on March 13, 2020, right at the onset of the social distancing policies here in the U.S as a result of COVID-19, and so I didn’t get to see this one at the time. It’s now available on Xfinity On Demand and other online movie services.

The main reason I wanted to see THE POSTCARD KILLINGS was because of its star, Jeffrey Dean Morgan— yep, Neegan himself from TV’s THE WALKING DEAD (2010—) who plays a New York City police detective on the trail of a serial killer in Europe.

THE POSTCARD KILLINGS opens with New York police detective Jacob Kanon (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) being shown the bodies of his daughter and her husband on slabs in a morgue, both brutally murdered, their bodies mutilated. Haunted by this reality, Kanon decides he’s staying in Europe to help solve the case, and he learns that before the murder the killer sent a postcard to a London reporter. Soon, these murders start happening in other European cities, the victims always a young married couple, and a postcard always sent first to a reporter announcing the killer’s arrival in that city. The victims’ bodies are displayed in such ways to mimic famous artworks.

Kanon travels throughout Europe hot on the killer’s trail, trying to get a step ahead of the murderer, sometimes working with local officials, sometimes not, as many of the officials don’t agree with what they see as his aggressive American methods. Kanon does befriend one of the reporters who received a postcard, Dessie Lombard (Cush Jumbo), and the two work together to uncover clues to the killer’s whereabouts and next move.

I liked THE POSTCARD KILLINGS well enough, but I didn’t love it. The number one reason it didn’t completely wow me is its story doesn’t hold up for the entire movie. The first half is very good, but there’s a twist midway through that didn’t completely work for me. I mean, it’s okay, it’s not a game changer, but the story definitely goes in a direction that is less interesting.

Hence the screenplay by Ellen Furman and Andrew Stern is not a strength.

I enjoyed Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the lead role as detective Jacob Kanon, but the material here is just average, and what he’s asked to do in the role hardly means pushing the envelope. He’s a grieving father who wants to make the person who murdered his daughter pay, but don’t expect the kind of passion Liam Neeson used to bring to these kinds of roles.

Cush Jumbo is fine as reporter Dessie Lombard who helps Jacob solve the case, but making a bigger splash in a smaller role is Famke Janssen as Jacob’s ex-wife Valerie, who while at odds with Jacob, eventually is able to help with the investigation herself. Janssen, as you might remember, played Jean Grey/Phoenix in the X-MEN movies.

Joachim Krol is also memorable in a supporting role as Inspector Bublitz, one of the few European police detectives who feels empathy for Jacob and is supportive of his efforts. And Naomi Battrick is excellent as one of the characters involved in the plot twist. She’s really good.

Director Danis Tanovic avoids getting all that gruesome, even though this one is unrated. Likewise, even though the majority of the story takes place all over Europe, he doesn’t take full advantage of these European settings, so the film doesn’t have the same kind of feel you get from say a Bond or Jason Bourne movie. There are quick establishing shots and then we switch to interiors, where most of the action takes place.

THE POSTCARD KILLINGS has its moments, mostly during the first half of the movie, but its short on thrills and not really a deep enough drama to get under your skin or make much of an impact. As serial killer thrillers go, it’s pretty average.

It’s nothing to write home about.

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RAMPAGE (2018) – Giant Monster Tale Keeps Things Light

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rampage

I am not a fan of movies based on video games.

However, I do enjoy movies about giant monsters, and in general I find Dwayne Johnson to be an amiable screen presence.  So, while I expected very little from RAMPAGE (2018), a giant monster adventure loosely based on the classic arcade video game, I certainly wasn’t dreading it.

RAMPAGE opens in space with an experiment gone wrong. A scientist attempts to return to Earth but her ship burns up upon re-entering the atmosphere.  However, capsules containing an experimental genetic pathogen which causes its subjects to grow and mutate into unstoppable aggressors survive the flight and crash to the ground where they are ingested by a gorilla, a wolf, and a crocodile.

The albino gorilla, named George, lives in a zoo and is cared for by a zoologist named Davis (Dwayne Johnson).  When George suddenly grows and becomes aggressive, Davis tries to protect his prize gorilla, who also happens to be his friend. Have I said yet that this one is silly at times?  Well, there. I said it.

Enter Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) who used to work for the company that created the rogue DNA.  Yep, once more, the bad guy in the film is yet another— repeat after me– evil company!— this time led by the ice-cold Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her goofy brother Brett (Jake Lacy). Kate tried to expose the evil company for what it was, but was jailed for her efforts.  Worse yet, she blames the death of her brother on Wyden’s faulty research. As a result, Kate wants to take Wyden down, and she and Davis join forces because she tells him that if he wants to save George, Wyden has the answers.

But not so fast! Enter shadowy government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who wants to stop the monsters, Davis’ and Kate’s rogue efforts, and the Wydens. He sure has his hands full.

And all three giant monsters are stomping towards Chicago, drawn there by a signal set up by Claire Wyden to bring them there so she can reclaim her research and save her company. What. A. Stupid. Plan.

Yes, everyone’s heading to Chicago, for one big climactic— rampage!

But don’t expect a horrific monstrous finale because RAMPAGE keeps things light. The best thing I can say about RAMPAGE is that it tries to have fun throughout, and for the most part, it is a fun movie.  It’s also a rather silly movie and as such doesn’t do its giant monster tale many favors.

Director Brad Peyton, who also directed Dwayne Johnson in the earthquake melodrama SAN ANDREAS (2015), keeps the action safe and tame. The best action sequence is the final one, when all three monsters converge in Chicago. Before that, there are a few okay scenes, like the hunt for the wolf, and the sequence where George wakes up on the plane, but really nothing all that spectacular.  That being said, I enjoyed RAMPAGE more than SAN ANDREAS.

The screenplay by four writers, Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel is a mixed bag. In general, it does a good job telling its monster story and moves it along nicely towards it climactic showdown in Chicago. But a lot of the dialogue is pretty bad. Most of Dwayne Johnson’s lines don’t work.  His one liners come off as “Arnold Schwarzenegger-lite.”

And the friendship story between Davis and George made me want to gag. It’s sappier than a maple tree. As such, the rampaging George is more akin to Mighty Joe Young than King Kong.

The monsters are also a mixed bag. The close-ups of George look pretty good, but the giant Wolf and Crocodile didn’t really impress me. Yet another example of underwhelming CGI effects.

Dwayne Johnson does his thing, and per usual, he’s entertaining throughout. He makes Davis a likable character who’s easy to root for. And seriously, there aren’t too many actors on the planet who could share a scene with three gigantic CGI monsters, take part in their physical rampage, and look believable doing it.

Naomie Harris, so memorable as Moneypenny in the new James Bond movies, as well as having notable roles in a bunch of other films, including MOONLIGHT (2016) and OUR KIND OF TRAITOR (2016), to name just a couple, doesn’t fare as well here in RAMPAGE. Her character, Dr. Kate Caldwell, in spite of her dramatic desire for revenge against the Wyden company, is reduced to being Dwayne Johnson’s sidekick and eventual love interest.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as government agent Harvey Russell does his best Negan shtick, the character he plays on THE WALKING DEAD, only this time he’s one of the good guys rather than the villain. Morgan gives the liveliest performance in the movie.

Malin Akerman, who co-starred with Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the dark superhero flick WATCHMEN (2009), is sufficiently ruthless as Claire Wyden, but in a strictly cartoonish way. Likewise, Jake Lacy seems to be having fun as her bumbling brother Brett. Lacy enjoyed a memorable brief bit in THEIR FINEST (2016) as the American war hero with no acting experience thrust into a lead movie role.

RAMPAGE isn’t bad. It has giant monsters, Dwayne Johnson, and some decent giant monster action sequences, but its silly script keeps things a bit too light throughout and never becomes all that engrossing. Instead, it plays out like a Saturday morning cartoon of yesteryear.

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