1 The gripping, stylish “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” takes a flying leap off the basic premise of superhero movies and sails away in unexpected, crowd-pleasing directions. Taking its tone from the paranoid political mysteries of the 1970s, it’s a whirlwind of power struggles and deception twisty enough to keep audiences guessing. Robert Redford is superb as the spy agency’s director about to launch a new defense system designed to pre-emptively eliminate threats. Smartly self-aware, grandiose without being overblown, “The Winter Soldier” is a crackerjack summer blockbuster — three months early.
2 In this age of Shakespeare Off the Wall, director Marion McClinton trusts the intrinsic power of “Othello,” and that trust is rewarded at the Guthrie. Peter Macon’s Othello seems almost invincible — his size and voice so imposing and his manner so honorable. Stephen Yoakam’s Iago carries a steel edge — not so much a clever manipulator as he is a brilliant bully. “Othello” is a play that should strike the belly through its imagery, passion and tension. And on those terms, McClinton has crafted an old-fashioned classic. guthrietheater.org
3 If you need further evidence why Linda Ronstadt is considered one of the finest and most versatile singers in the history of modern popular music, then check out “Duets,” a compilation of 15 previously recorded duets (1974-2006) with the likes of Aaron Neville, Emmylou Harris and Frank Sinatra. On these collaborations, the now-retired Ronstadt — whose overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will take place Thursday — tackles Appalachian music, pop, country-rock, Cajun, bluegrass, standards, R&B and Disney pop. “Duets” is delightful.
4 Shy, awkward and winsome, the kids in Ellen Heck’s woodcut prints at Groveland Gallery’s Annex are refreshingly innocent and unspoiled. With her keen eye for gestures and posture, Heck captures the bony knees, swaybacked tummies, sulky pouts and dreamy gazes of real children at play. In the must-see exhibit “Girls,” the California artist works in a delicate style highly reminiscent of the prints of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt, yet there’s a fresh modernity in her charming images of young ballerinas and preteen kids enacting “A Small Production of Alice in Wonderland.” grovelandgallery.com
5 Olen Steinhauer’s latest spy novel, “The Cairo Affair,” is about Americans living abroad who end up entangled in dark, chaotic plots they don’t fully understand. One story involves a wife confessing a secret to her husband, and just as the revelation is settling in, a mysterious man storms in and shoots the husband. The rest of the book is spent trying to unravel a complicated tale of deception that touches on the CIA, a double-agent, a long-forgotten killing, the Arab Spring — and an affair, set in Cairo, of course. The good guys are elusive, and their shadowy world is blanketed in shades of gray.
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