Wordplay

In theaters.

I don't do crossword puzzles, and I've felt ashamed about that for years. As a word nerd with obsessive-compulsive tendencies and a brain full of trivia, I might have the personality for it, but crossword puzzles were always my mother's domain. A crossword puzzle fiend, the acknowledged master of all word games in my extended family, she was simply too intimidating an act to follow.

The documentary Wordplay, however, is so infectiously enthusiastic about crossword puzzles, its subject, that it made me want to get over my filial angst, pick up a pen and start filling in boxes. After all, I did beat Mom once in Scrabble — what a glorious day that was! — and as I haven't lived with my parents for years, I wouldn't have to fight her for the daily newspaper.

Manon

The American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House on Saturday, June 24.

I don't have much use for this sort of story: A beautiful, virginal young woman, seduced by an unscrupulous man, falls into disgrace and dies tragically — but beautifully, always beautifully — as penance for her sins of the flesh. It's so eye-rollingly Victorian and dull, truly dull, because the woman is inevitably a passive figure, and any story with a passive central figure is going to be dull.

But perhaps only dull from a literary or philosophic viewpoint. Manon taught me that, when it comes to choreography, a passive central figure can be just as beautiful as the Victorians would dream. I might have rolled my eyes at the dated histrionics of the story, but I held my breath at the loveliness of the dancing.

Army of Shadows

In theaters.

Everything I read about Army of Shadows said the movie is about the French Resistance, but it’s not, not really. The protagonists of the 1969 film, released for the first time in the United States this year, could be resisting virtually any repressive regime. The movie doesn’t concern itself with why these people are resisting their occupiers, how they’re doing so, or why few of their countrymen are supporting them. It doesn’t provide much in the way of back story either; we don’t know much about these people outside of their secret lives as part of the Resistance.

Army of Shadows focuses almost solely on the toll of plotting in secret and fighting in the shadows. It is about courage and loyalty and mortality. The close-ups of battered, bloodied faces keep it from becoming metaphoric — such graphic depictions of torture make the reality of physical danger inescapable — but Army of Shadows is still an extraordinarily introspective film, not a traditional war movie or a thriller by any stretch.

AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion

Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through September 4.

As anyone who has ever met me can attest, I am no fashionista: I dress not to stand out but to blend in. But once I realized that truly high-end fashion, the haute couture of runway shows, often isn't meant to be worn in any kind of real-world setting, I began to take more of an interest in fashion. Once I got past the knee-jerk, who-would-actually-wear-this-stuff? mindset and started thinking about couture as wearable art, it become much more intriguing.

The Met's special fashion exhibit, "AngloMania," is a case in point. Much of the garb on display is outrageous and completely unwearable, but it's marvelous not just despite that but also because of it. The exhibit revels in wild juxtapositions, the "tradition and transgression" of the exhibit's subtitle. Consequently, the curators have, for example, displayed one of Queen Victoria's black mourning dresses next to an Alexander McQueen dress with a ghoulish memento mori in the form of a "spine corset" (external aluminum ribs and vertebrae) designed by jeweler Shaun Leane.

An Inconvenient Truth

In theaters.

I’m not sure how to write about An Inconvenient Truth without descending into a stormy, tearful rant, but I’m going to try not to do that. First, I don’t like the cynical, bitter, occasionally paranoid side of my personality that I’ve developed over the past six years. Second, I think such a response does a disservice to the movie and its subject, Al Gore. Yes, the documentary about Gore’s effort to educate people about the danger of global warning has moments of quiet anger, but it is no diatribe. In fact, one of the most inspiring aspects of the movie is that Gore — after winning the popular vote but losing the presidency to an unprecedented, party-line Supreme Court ruling — refused to become cynical, bitter, and occasionally paranoid; he decided to do something.

Cinderella

The American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House on Friday, June 9.

Countless little girls attended the American Ballet Theatre's performance of Cinderella Friday night, and I wonder what they thought of it. For those who only know Cinderella through Disney, Sergei Prokofiev's score might be something of a shock. Prokofiev, one of the masters of the twentieth century, was not a bibbidi-bobbidi-boo sort of composer, and he certainly didn't write anything for a chorus of shrill, squeaky mice. His Cinderella is darkly shaded, with some truly eerie moments. The midnight music, marking Cinderella's punishment for breaking curfew, sounds almost menacing, not physically so — this isn't a Grimm story with amputated toes and Hitchcockian birds — but psychologically. Prokofiev understands what it would mean to have the substance of your dreams vanish at the stroke of a clock.

James Kudelka's choreography, given its New York premiere by the American Ballet Theatre, beautifully captures Prokofiev's evocative music. Following the composer's lead, Kudelka eschews both the violent Grimm telling and the syrupy Disney version. His story has a haunting sense of fantasy, letting Cinderella's dreamworld seep into her reality, recede and then re-establish itself with greater strength and new maturity.