Liz Smith: Big Box Office of The “Apes” — And Deservedly So. (It’s Great!)

James Franco shines in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

And more from our Liz: “Dirty Dancing” tangos again … Call me old-fashioned, but spare me the iPad

“WHILE THE rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats,” said Mark Twain.

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THE OTHER day I mentioned that no matter how often I see that famous last scene in the first “Planet of the Apes” movie — Charlton Heston discovering the ruined, half-buried Statue of Liberty — I cry right along with him. It is a powerful moment, still.

Nothing else in the “Apes” franchise ever came close to the original, although almost all the films had some merit —“Beneath the Planet of the Apes”… “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” … “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” and “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.” There were two TV series (one animated) and Tim Burton’s unfortunate 2001 remake of the original, starring Mark Wahlberg.

With original ideas in short supply, it seemed a given in this era of the “re-boot” that the “Apes” franchise would be revived. And indeed it has been, with Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” The surprise is — it is terrific!

It’s the tale of how the apes were genetically engineered in the first place, how they became such clever (and vengeful) little monkeys. I won’t give anything away. The film’s human stars are James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Tom Felton and Brian Cox. They all perform their tricks admirably. The atmosphere is tense and ominous — well, we know what’s coming. It’s not campy, the grown-up and very much irritated apes are not cute or eye-rollingly over-the-top.

And why is that? Because director Wyatt made the brilliant decision to create the apes via the technology of CGI. Many “Apes” purists were wary. Humans in ape makeup were de rigueur. But let me assure you, these CGI creatures are fantastic — every expression, every movement. If things keep up at this rate, we might have to consider adding “Best CGI Actor” at the Oscars. (This year’s winner would have to be Caesar, the big man in the laboratory, who learns much more than the human scientists could ever imagine.)

Even if you’ve never seen a “Planet of the Apes” movie — if that is, ah, humanly possible — this is a fabulous summer sci-fi thriller. And die-hard fans of the franchise can’t help but be pleased.

Of course, if you insist on Mr. Heston in his loincloth, screaming, “Take your paws off me you damn dirty apes!”— that’s what DVD is for.

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SPEAKING of remakes and lack of imagination, Kenny Ortega, who choreographed 1987’s “Dirty Dancing” has signed on to direct a remake of that movie. Not like the 2004 prequel, “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.” Nope, this one will take us right back to the Catskills in the 1960s where good girl “Baby” becomes infatuated with the resort’s dancing instructor, Johnny Castle.

Having just been quite pleasantly surprised by the “Apes” re-imagining, I don’t want to get down on this before the first foot of film is shot, or anybody has been cast, but —come on, who on earth will have the chemistry of Patrick Swayze at his sizzling peak, and Jennifer Grey at her most vulnerable and adorable? Not to mention the invaluable contribution of the late Jerry Orbach as Baby’s father.

I recall attending an early screening of “Dirty Dancing.” When the lights came up, every woman — and a number of men — looked flushed, vaguely guilty, and all were wickedly smiling. One PR woman — not given to flowery excess — passed me on the way out and declared, “This is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. Patrick Swayze is a god!”

We’ll see what Mr. Ortega dreams up for the new “Dirty Dancing.” Zac Efron, maybe? Efron has been a favorite of Kenny’s since their Disney “High School Musical” days.  In fact, when Ortega was attached to the coming remake of “Footloose,” he very much wanted Zac in the Kevin Bacon role. But all that fell through.

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A FEW NIGHTS ago I saw a commercial for the iPad. It was a well-done spot, about how we will all continue to read books and newspapers and magazines, share and save photographs and movies, teach children, find out where to eat and where to play and how to get here from there, but “the way we do it will never be the same.”

I don’t know. It kind of gave me a chill. I don’t want to live my life with my head bent, looking into my hand. And I consider myself a modern woman with a youthful outlook who keeps on top of news and trends. The iPad is just one trend too many.

I was reminded of inevitably changing times when I received a newsletter from the wonderful Carole Stuart of Barricade Books. She writes that because of the ease of ordering on Amazon, “Bookstores are ordering very cautiously.  But books that you can hold in your hand remain a vital part of our business. What sells a book is still the same old word of mouth. If you hear about, read about it, a friend tells you about a good book, you are more likely to buy it. Whatever the format, as long as people are buying books, we’ll be supplying them.”

Carole adds that her company, Barricade, has plunged into the world of e-books, to be read online or on Kindle.

I get it. But still — as long as they supply books made of paper, with proper pages to turn, I’ll stay old-fashioned in that way.


3 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Gina Catone says:

    Homework Time With Charlie by Gina Catone is a great back to school book for the kids in your life.  Order your copy on Amazon.

  2. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    Those of us who just loved the original probably won’t give a remake any chance. So whoever is cast in a “new” Dirty Dancing, oh well.
    I resisted getting a Kindle for about a year and then got one as a gift and even though I still read regular books, I cannot get along without my Kindle. It is so easy to use and no matter where I am, I can download a book. It slips into a handbag easily, weighs nothing and for travel and waiting rooms is just perfect. I will say though, it will never replace that wonderful smell of the page.

  3. avatar Richard Bassett says:

                                  I can envision a world using an iPad, and I usually do not give into technology that easily. God, to me…a cell phone was a major purchase but used not only as a phone, it can be a watch too. In the past, work related or school related matters were the only need I had for it. Now, I’ve been calling people to let them know that I will be late, for whatever reason…even if it is 5 minutes late. It has taken a lot of anxiety away. But nothing like the high school and college girls who seem to have endless conversations….you’d think that they hadn’t seen each other in ten years when, in reality, they are on their way to meet the person that they are having the conversation with. I never listen to the subject matter, even when they are screaming it in my ear. I just think that these people are really ignorant, have nothing to say, must use up spear time and technology perpetuates it. Yes, people play games with the same intensity as taking the Bar examine, they are reading their e-mails over and over again. They may be answering them but are they getting such a bundle of e-mails lasting from dusk to dawn? They HAVE to be the same ones. They could be listening to the news, entertainment news…but I doubt they have the attention span for that. They listen to music (I can understand that) and the list goes on and on. To me, these contraptions are made to make time on the subway/ public transportation more bearable. I could never be walking around doing errands while participating in these conversations. Enough is enough. But the iPad, I see a productive use for. It is a book that that you need not change the page. Just scroll. Book stores will have to accept the new technology. They’ve had a good run. You can even listen to a book on a CD. The first one I listened to was: “Liz Smith: A Natural Blond” with her narrating the book. I listened with the same enthusiasm that I would if I was watching a good movie. But, these days….I’ll read a book from the book, read on an iPad, or listen on CD. I use them all interchangeably with many factors involved. Reading a book on an iPad keeps one quiet, there is the anonymity of the book and easy to get accustomed too. One must keep track of their subway stop.
                               In my opinion, Patrick Swayze is “Dirty Dancing”, a signature role that is still contemporary. Maybe in 75 years a new one can be create. He is in the same category as Kevin Bacon in “Footloose” and John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. Zac Efron is still a boy. And like Rob Lowe, will be a boy for a very long time. Patrick Swayze was a man and needed to carry the film. This is just my opinion. He quickly grew into the role of Leading Man. He captures the screen so there is no doubt about it. His testosterone flies out from the movie screen.
                                        And “Planet of the Ape”…entertaining in 1968, when I was 11 is not so thrilled to see a group of men in monkey suits today. And in 1968, when we discover they were on Earth all along, it is a pivotal point the lead all the “Ape” movies. Good cinema.  I suppose mindless entertainment is needed now and then, and mindless entertainment is going to be marked in big red letters on the script of a sequel (or whatever you want to call it) of, “Planet of the Apes” (I think that ‘King Kong’ took the thrilled away from me). I see the men in ape suits now and all I can see are men robbing a bank.