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Tuxedoed mating rituals as old as time


Movies released during the warm-weather months are traditionally designed for escapism. It's almost impossible to become emotionally invested in the little dead girl ruining the hardwoods upstairs or the superhero who looks like an angry pile of rocks, and some people prefer it that way. But others like a little truth in their entertainment, and for fans of quality nonfiction filmmaking, this is turning into a banner summer.

The latest in the documentary boon is March of the Penguins, a nifty piece of filmmaking that basically shows how emperor penguins go about making more emperor penguins. Don't fork over your cash in anticipation of steamy penguin porn, however. French director Luc Jacquet and his crew spent over a year in Antarctica tracking the continent's only existing life form as it winds its way across an unforgiving landscape for the sole purpose of meeting, mating, and then raising fluffy babies.

Every autumn, thousands of penguins trek 70 miles inland to the place where they all were born. They find a mate, nuzzle for a while, and out pops an egg which must be quickly shifted to a place under the folds of the female's abdomen so it doesn't freeze. Then, in a mindblowing series of maneuvers, the malnourished female passes the egg to her mate so she can make the grueling trip back to the sea and feed. The males proceed to stand in one large clump for over two wintry months and incubate the eggs, despite winds up to 100 miles an hour and temperatures as low as 80 degrees below zero.

The females return within a few days after the eggs hatch and miraculously identify their mates and babies. The starving males then head for the watery buffet, making sure to imprint their squawks upon the youngsters so they will recognize their dads upon their return. And when the males come back, it's time for the females to leave again. These penguins aren't averse to abandoning their children if they get too hungry, so timing is everything.

The images on screen --- along with kindly narration by Morgan Freeman --- effectively convey the brutal conditions faced by these penguins. Despite deadly seals, pesky birds, and unimaginable cold, they go about doing what evolution has programmed them to do. The closing credits are actually one of the highlights of the film, featuring shots of the penguins curiously observing the actions of the crew, possibly in anticipation of making a documentary of their own about insane Gortex-covered creatures wielding cameras.

My sister wondered whether March is appropriate for my 6-year-old nephew, which I suspected was a shorthand way of asking about the body count. I also suspect that TV has convinced many of your kids that they want to see March, so I'll tell you what I told her: These penguins must contend with a predator or two as well as sub-sub-zero temperatures, so not everyone makes it.

March might be a tiny bit scary at times, but it's never gory. The only problem a younger child might have with March is boredom. The penguins spend a great deal of time trudging from place to place and waiting for others to show up and do their job. But who can't relate to that?

It occurred to me after I saw the bawdy and hilarious The Wedding Crashers that Hollywood isn't producing decent R-rated comedies for grownups these days. Apparently funny films with reckless swearing and jiggly nudity don't make that much money. I'm sorry, but I really enjoy raunchy farce in which adults behave like... oh, I'm just kidding. I'm not sorry at all.

John and Jeremy (laid-back Owen Wilson and manic Vince Vaughn) are wedding crashers who infiltrate the wedding of one of Treasury Secretary Cleary's (Christopher Walken) daughters. Cleary's two other daughters catch John and Jeremy's eyes, and hilarity ensues after the men get invited to the Secretary's swanky estate for the weekend.

Wilson and Vaughn are the perfect odd-couple pairing, and Vaughn in particular has never been better as a man who has finally met his match. Walken is predictably intense yet silly, and formerly wholesome Jane Seymour gamely plays his oversexed wife.

Crashers unfortunately loses a little steam in its third act when John and Jeremy try to straighten up and fly right, but then one of the goofiest men in Hollywood cameos as their mentor who wrote the rules on crashing weddings... but has now moved on to funerals. You know who I'm talking about. No, not that one --- the other one.

The March of the Penguins(G) opens Friday, July 22, at the Little Theatre and Pittsford Cinema. | TheWedding Crashers(R) is playing at Canandaigua Theatres, Culver Ridge Cinemas, Eastview 13, Geneseo Theatres, Greece Ridge 12, Henrietta 18, Pittsford Cinema, Tinseltown, Vintage Drive-In.