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Things to do in Chicago today

The day's best things to do in Chicago—including free and cheap activities, concerts, screenings, shows, parties and more. It's your social emergency savior.

Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka
Soak up winter at the ice skating rink in Chicago's Millennium Park.

Looking for something to do this evening? Have a friend coming into town who wants to see the sights? You're in luck, because Chicago is a city filled with attractions and things to do (including some that cost absolutely nothing). Seize the moment with our list of today's best concerts, shows, activities and more.


A smart concept is thoroughly wasted in this cute but grating DreamWorks animated comedy. It opens with an alien invasion—not one of those messy, bloodthirsty ones. Our new extraterrestrial overlords, the cheerful, squishy Boov, merely want to shift the population of Earth to a new home in Australia, renamed Happy Humans Town, so they can enjoy the rest of the planet in peace.  But it’s not long before their plans are threatened by Oh, a renegade Boov voiced tiresomely by The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons. He’s helped by a plucky young earthling sidekick, Tip, brought to life by singer Rihanna, who also provides a bland, intrusive soundtrack. Spreading its net as wide as possible, Home offers pratfalls and moral lessons for little kids, slushy pop for tweens and snappy cultural references for adults. The result is inoffensive but flavorless, crammed with familiar elements from better movies (Lilo & Stitch, Toy Story, Despicable Me) but lacking any clear identity of its own.

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What a waste of Shailene Woodley the Divergent franchise is turning out to be. As butt-kicking Tris, the Fault in Our Stars actor is the best thing about this second film of Veronica Roth’s monster-selling YA novels (basically The Hunger Games with tattoos).

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The Gunman

Watch your back, Liam Neeson. Sean Penn’s trying to steal your bad-guy-capping, getting-too-old-for-this-shit thunder. To be fair, The Gunman has loftier ambitions than the average Neeson run-and-shooter: Based on a popular French crime novel, it’s the tale of taciturn ex-assassin Jim Terrier (Penn, unnervingly ripped), who has traded in his sniper rifle for a spade and turned to digging clean-water trenches in the developing world.

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Danny Collins

Al Pacino’s done so much Acting over the last 25 years (hoo-ah), it’s disquieting to see him digging deep again—often with subtlety—into a rich role with hidden depths. Granted, the title character of Dan Fogelman’s press-the-reset-button drama isn’t exactly a wallflower: After a funny 1971 introduction in which we see a young, petrified folksinger getting interviewed for a rock magazine, we cut to present day, when paunchy Danny Collins (Pacino) is a Neil Diamond–like icon about to release his third greatest-hits collection and still crooning his big sing-along, “Hey, Baby Doll,” to an audience of screaming grandmas. The part is perfect for Pacino, a performer who, despite his genius, hasn’t been able to shake off a certain dead-eyed exhaustion lately (even when it’s uncalled for). Danny has a palatial home and a gold-digging girlfriend half his age, but he’s a zombie at his own surprise birthday party until his devoted longtime manager (Christopher Plummer, excellent) gives him a framed letter from John Lennon, who, unknown to Danny, tried to reach out to him in his youthful moment of fear (a real-life story for English songwriter Steve Tilston). Chastened, Danny sets out to rediscover his passion in a slightly cutesy plot scored to several late-period Lennon songs—though not, curiously, “Starting Over.” For most of its running time, Danny Collins settles into a suburban New Jersey Hilton. Nearby, there’s an estranged grown-up son to reconnect with (Bobby Cannavale, steal

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What We Do in the Shadows

A dryly amusing mockumentary from the Kiwis behind the similarly deadpan Eagle vs Shark and Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows unfolds like the darkest movie that Christopher Guest never made. Sponsored by the fictitious New Zealand Documentary Board (complete with a title card assuring us that each member of the crew wore a crucifix at all times), the film takes us inside the nearly windowless home of Wellington’s four most endearing vampires, and follows them as they try to stave off the loneliness that comes with being an undying nocturnal monster who needs to feast on human blood. Viago (Taika Waititi) is the gentlest of the pack, a friendly but heartbroken 379-year-old who always tries to show his meals a good time before he drinks them dry. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is a brooding dork who’s obsessed with an ancient nemesis known as “The Beast.” Deacon (Brugh) is the token ladies’ man and ex-Nazi, while Petyr (Ben Fransham) is an 8,000-year-old Nosferatu lookalike who only peeks out from his coffin when there’s a fresh chicken to disembowel. It’s all framed as the lead-up to a dance of the damned called the Unholy Masquerade, but the brunt of the overextended running time is devoted to the awkward arrival of new roommate Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a local bro who’s turned into a vampire when Petyr can’t finish him off.  Codirected by Waititi and Clement—masters of mixing high-concept with lowbrow—What We Do in the Shadows works best when it unburden

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Fifty Shades of Grey

A watered-down adaptation that’s embarrassed to be wet, Fifty Shades of Grey is a sex-positive but hopelessly soft-core erotic drama that fails to be even a fraction as titillating as the E.L. James books that inspired it. And yet, that’s exactly why it works. Fifty Shades begins with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, nuanced), a demure college senior, arriving for an interview in the office of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, stiff), Seattle’s most eligible billionaire. It isn’t long before the two are bound together like a harlequin romance novel. The virginal Anastasia, however, is in for a surprise: Christian is as kinky as he is rich. Inevitably, this telling of the tale has been neutered to the brink of recognition. Christian is an S&M fetishist, and when Anastasia is invited into her new partner’s “Red Room of Pain,” she’s confronted by a wonderland of leather, rope and repurposed circus equipment. And yet, by the time the movie ends just a few mild spankings later, Fifty Shades feels like going on a trip to Disney World and only riding the monorail.  But Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film becomes fascinating for the finesse with which she navigates the prudishness forced upon it. The director is capable of pivoting from romantic comedy to erotic drama at the whack of a flogger, her dexterity allowing the tepid sex scenes to be framed by a surprisingly sensitive story of self-discovery. Substituting heartache for handcuffs, Fifty Shades is the rare studio romance in which the c

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Still Alice

Alzheimer’s disease is a Greek tragedy: Preordained by genetics (if not the Fates themselves), the neurodegenerative disorder is an unfathomably cruel death march down a tunnel that disappears behind you and gets darker with every step. Still Alice, adapted by married couple Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland from Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel of the same name, is the rare film possessed with the courage required to shine a light into that abyss knowing full well that down is the only way out. For illustrious Columbia University linguistics professor Dr. Alice Howland (an astonishingly controlled Julianne Moore, whose career-best performance lacks so much as a hint of stagy artifice), the first symptoms are subtly ominous. Just 50 years old, Alice is too young to assume that a momentary lapse might be an early sign of dementia. And then, over the length of a single devastating close-up, Alice learns that the rest of her life will be devoted to what she later refers to as “the art of losing.” After that bombshell diagnosis, there’s only one direction in which Still Alice can go, and the film directly confronts the inevitability of its story. Profoundly moving but never exploitative, the script homes in on the mundane exchanges that form the foundation of our closest relationships—the particulars of a Pinkberry order, the shorthand of a text, the delay before a hug—and demolishes that bedrock in a series of masterfully precise explosions. Perhaps owing to the fact that Glatzer

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Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Magical realism comes to Minnesota in this sly slice of slow cinema, as a downtrodden Tokyo office worker (Rinko Kikuchi) finds a VHS tape of the Coen brothers’ Fargo hidden in a seaside cave, reads the fake based on a true story caption and sets off for America intent on unearthing the suitcase of cash hidden by Steve Buscemi’s character in the 1996 thriller.

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Maps to the Stars

Targets don’t come broader than Hollywood, but what stops David Cronenberg’s grotesque noir (written by L.A. insider Bruce Wagner) from feeling tired is that it’s deliciously odd.

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