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: Hallie Duesenberg
Grant park is filled with bros and girls for Lollapalooza 2014, Friday, Aug 2.

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.

Great Expectations

Critics' pick

Strawdog Theatre Company. By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Gale Childs Daly. Directed by Jason Gerace. With Mike Tepeli, Amanda Drinkall, Caleb Fullen, Mary Winn Heider, Cody Proctor, Paige Smith. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kris Vire Dickens loved deliberate repetition, so he'd surely be pleased to know Strawdog's quite deliberate Great Expectations has returned in tremendous form. Strawdog's stirring new adaptation of a Dickens you don't see everywhere this time of year, first seen this time last year before earning mentions on numerous best-of-2013 lists and a Jeff Award for director Jason Gerace, traverses Pip's semiheroic journey to gentleman and back as spryly as ever. The six-actor adaptation by Wisconsin playwright Gale Childs Daly quotes extensively and directly from Dickens in its shared-narration style, allowing it to retain remarkable fidelity to the author's style while simultaneously animating it. Daly allows you to hear directly such Dickens tics as the aforementioned repetition (she milks Uncle Pumblechook's exhortation to "be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand" for all it's worth), and the ultimate inevitability of his plotting unfolds neatly and naturally in Gerace's quick-trot staging. Four of the six cast members are new since last year (though some appeared in the show's brief Theater on the Lake remount over the summer), but the two key players in making my expectations great both return. Amanda Drin

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Strawdog Theatre Company, Lakeview Until Saturday December 20 2014

Christkindlmarket

Critics' pick

Chicago's largest open-air market is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Inspired by a Nuremberg, Germany, market that was founded in 1545, this market features iconic German items like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and beer steins, as well as hand-blown ornaments and wooden handicrafts. Authentic food (sausages, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, waffles) and drink (beer and Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine) are also available, along with assorted sweets. 

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Daley Plaza, Loop Until Wednesday December 24 2014 Free

Caroling at Cloud Gate

Critics' pick

Hundreds of singers from choral groups across the city participate in this annual holiday tradition that takes place over the course of a month. After the singing of classic carols, everyone goes ice skating at the Millennium Park McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.

Read more
Friday December 19 2014 Free

“Faith, Focus, Flight: A John H. White Retrospective”

Critics' pick

The work of legendary Chicago photographer John H. White gets the in–depth exhibit it deserves. Displayed are pictures of the ordinary and the iconic, each rendered in stark, beautiful detail. White himself speaks at the exhibit's opening reception.

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Until Saturday December 20 2014 Free

Hot Georgia Sunday

Critics' pick

Haven Theatre. By Catherine Trieschmann. Directed by Marti Lyons. With Ed Dzialo, Rob Fenton, Kay Kron, Julie Schroll, H.B. Ward, Emily Woods. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission. Theater review by Megan Powell These days, opinions pile as high as a cat’s back, as they say down South; you can’t turn to a screen of any kind without viewing reportage of everything under the sun, from significant events to what’s happened at the other end of the dinner table, from everyone under the sun. But do we get the actual story from these infinite, separate bits of analysis? Not always. Hot Georgia Sunday, despite being told from six perspectives, tells a story that feels cohesive and, in its best moments, real.Georgia native Catherine Trieschmann has created a kudzu vine of a play, comprised only of character monologues that build and intertwine and that are shared by the members and associates of a small-town, working-class, down-on-their-luck family. They blunder through love, lust, longing and a lot of Jim Beam in their small north Georgia town, one of those places that straddles rural and sprawl, with farm fields and a McDonalds and a state highway slung between them. It all starts and ends at church, where teenager Jenny longs for the touch and attention of a boy in her youth group; her sister Flora and friend Tara’s similar desires put them in pursuit of men and situations that become too hot to handle. Flora and Jenny’s father Glenn is a widower, church janitor, and a genial b

Read more
Until Sunday December 21 2014

Hotel Aphrodite

Critics' pick

Factory Theater at Prop Thtr. By Angelina Martinez. Directed by Matt Engle. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas There is nothing original about Hotel Aphrodite, there is nothing unexpected about Hotel Aphrodite, and I had a great time and it earned its four stars.Sometimes we need a fun throwback. With a big bag of silicone dicks. And the Factory Theater delivers. Angelina Martinez's new play has the sensibilities of The Birdcage inserted, with great passion, into an old-fashioned farce complete with many opening and closing doors, with shades of classic comedies like You Can’t Take it With You and maybe the smallest pinch of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.Even if no single style, character or plot point is unique, it’s an assemblage of parts that work beautifully together. The Chateau Amantius is an erotic therapeutic retreat run by famed sex therapist Linda Knudson (Allison Cain), catering to every possible need an adventurous couple may have. In the midst of its grand re-opening, the sudden deaths of two distant relatives put the majority share of the hotel in the hands of Linda's conservative cousin who’s ignorant of the hotel’s nature. Linda is assisted by her hardworking (and to Linda’s continuing dismay, virginal) daughter Cindy (Bridgette Hammond), the impeccable head of staff Mr. Bloodstone (Kevin Alves), and assorted maids, cooks, and new hires who wrangle the wayward guests while constantly teetering

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Prop Thtr, Avondale Until Saturday December 20 2014

Owls

Critics' pick

Hey, children of '90s emo, ever wondered what Cap'n Jazz would have sounded like 20 years later? Here's your answer. Original Cap'n's Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Victor Villarreal and Sam Zurick return with their post-Jazz band, Owls. These locals have spun-off an entire family tree of other projects (Joan of Arc, Owen, Make Believe, Ghosts & Vodka…) but are always at their best in their original grouping. There's a new album to celebrate, Two, which features Tim's inimitable magnet-poetry over mathy Midwestern indie. Two decades on, it's refreshing all over again.

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Subterranean, West Side Friday December 19 2014

Estelle

Critics' pick

Estelle, the R&B singer from the UK, whom has a infatuation with American Boys will be in Chicago for one night only. She vows to bring you a evening of true romance at her show. So get out of the cold and come to enjoy a night that will enhance your mind, body, and soul.

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Thalia Hall, Pilsen Friday December 19 2014

The Blue Show

Critics' pick

If you miss the adult language in the usual ComedySportz match, than this is the show for you. Especially for the 18 and over crowd, this is improv is unfiltered and the players with get dirty.

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Until Friday December 26 2014

"Juicebox"

Critics' pick

Free performances from the best music, dance and theater around the city highlight this late morning, fall cultural offering for toddlers and older. Some of this year's performers, who'll ply their wares every other Friday at Chicago Cultural Center, or every other Saturday at Garfield Park Conservatory, include Ella Jenkins, Sones de Mexico Ensemble, and the Striding Lion Performance Group.

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Until Saturday December 20 2014 Free

"Found: P.S. Page Me Later"

Critics' pick

A new exhibition assembled by This American Life reporter Davy Rothbart examines forgotten photographs, notes and audio recordings that have been unearthed in the pages of the Found zine. Rothbart started Found after finding a note meant for someone else on the windshield of his car. 13 years later, the voyeuristic publication has received more than 50,000 finds, some of which will be on display as part of the Intuit exhibit P.S. Page Me Later.

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Until Saturday December 27 2014

Baby Wants Candy

Critics' pick

The long-running masters of musical improv regularly feature rising comic talent, with alumni of the Chicago company including Aidy Bryant, Seth Meyers and Jack McBrayer. See the company create an hourlong, on-the-fly musical from an audience suggestion every Friday at the Apollo.

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Apollo Theater, Lincoln Park Until Friday December 26 2014

Windy City Rollers Season Opener

Critics' pick

During football, you watch guys running into each other every weekend, but the Windy City Rollers prove that ladies can be just as ruthless. During the season opener at the UIC Pavilion, pitting several Chicago teams against one another the in the rough and tumble sport of roller derby.

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Friday December 19 2014

Goldilocks and The Three Bears

Critics' pick

Writers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe adapt "Goldilocks & the Three Bears" into a musical about respect. The titular blonde child conducts a little B&E on the humble abode of a family of three bears who were out for the day. Porridge is eaten, to say the least.

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Apollo Theater, Lincoln Park Until Saturday January 3 2015

The Pirates of Penzance

Critics' pick

The Hypocrites' exceedingly silly, promenade-style take on Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, in which the actors double as orchestra and sunglasses and beach balls abound, has become an un-holiday holiday-season family favorite since its debut in 2010. It's joined in repertory by The Mikado, back for a third year, and newcomer H.M.S. Pinafore.

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Until Saturday February 7 2015

Redmoon's Winter Pageant

Critics' pick

Redmoon's annual Winter Pageant returns for two weekend in December, presenting a series of love stories set atop a massive glacier. The show features break dancers, aerialists, a teen choir, handmade Redmoon puppets and an original score performed by the Lonesome Organist. After each show, the audience can join the cast and crew onstage to enjoy desserts and snacks—a delicious holiday tradition.

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Redmoon Central, Chicago Until Sunday December 21 2014

The Mousetrap

Critics' pick

Northlight Theatre. By Agatha Christie. Directed by Jonathan Berry. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kris Vire Agatha Christie's stage mystery is famed for its longevity: It opened on the West End in 1952 and never closed, still running today nearly 40 years after the author's death. In Northlight's cracking new staging, directed by Jonathan Berry, you can easily see how well the play holds up. Christie's setup leans heavily on convenient coincidences, particularly in the particular collection of guests who show up for the first weekend of operation of Monkswell Manor, an inn operated by inexperienced keepers—Mollie (Cora Vander Broek), who inherited the old house, and her husband Giles (Keith Neagle)—and the snowstorm that immediately cuts them off from the outside world. The radio is buzzing with news of a woman murdered in London, and while no one else can get in or out, an intrepid police sergeant (Greg Matthew Anderson) shows up on skis, telling the guests one of them may be next—because one of them is the murderer. Berry manages the mood expertly, achieving harmony between the play's comic notes (it's much funnier than I remembered) and the real menace requisite for suspense. From the red herrings to the famous twist-ending reveal, it's all perfectly paced and marked by beautiful design elements: Jack Magaw's handsomely appointed set is as finely detailed as Izumi Inaba's period costumes. And the cast is so on point

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Until Sunday December 21 2014

A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol

Critics' pick

After a "work-in-progress" production last season, siblings GQ and JQ and their collaborators Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle deliver the finished version of their charming hip-hop holiday fable, spinning Dickens' Carol into a history of rap.

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Until Wednesday December 31 2014

ZooLights

Critics' pick

Head to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see the lights (and maybe a few animals) at this annual winter tradition. The first 1000 people through the gates each night receive special glasses to view the lights with, but everyone can enjoy nightly ice carving demonstrations, hot beverages and ice skating on the zoo's rink.

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Until Sunday January 4 2015 Free

Goofballs United

Critics' pick

The Upstairs Gallery and the comedy blog The Steamroller (edited by Time Out Chicago contributor Matt Byrne) combine to curate this monthly show at the Den Theatre, bringing together improvisers, stand-ups and sketch comedians.

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Friday December 19 2014

Morton Arboretum Holiday Lights

Critics' pick

Stoners and children of all ages alike will become kindred spirits as 50 acres of vibrant LED lights are hung on the Morton Arboretum’s vast treescape, creating a kaleidoscopic winter wonderland. The second year of Tree Lights includes lots of new activities and live music.

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Until Saturday January 3 2015

Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Gardens

Critics' pick

All aboard for the Botanic Garden's 10,000-square-foot indoor model train exhibit, which runs through some 80 itty-bitty, amazingly detailed city monuments. Head outside, too, to check out the roughly 750,000 twinkling lights that illuminate the gardens. Kids can participate in hands-on activities, including making paper snowflakes and examining snow under a microscope.

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Until Sunday January 4 2015

"David Bowie Is"

Critics' pick

Awesome. The coolest. A god. That's our answer to what David Bowie Is. This feverishly awaited collection, culled by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, gathers more than 400 pretty things including costumes, photographs, videos and other rare ephemera that demonstrate the Thin White Duke's towering influence over 20th-century pop culture. We had two members of our staff—a Bowie superfan and a nonfan—review the exhibit. RECOMMENDED: See more in our guide to "David Bowie Is" The nonfan's take: Before I went to see David Bowie Is, my boyfriend asked me honestly: “How many Bowie songs can you name?” I named exactly two—“Space Oddity” and “Under Pressure”—and then said, kind of defensively, that I had also seen Labyrinth, the 1986 movie that Bowie stars in. This is to say that I am probably the Time Out Chicago writer least interested in Bowie. But it also means that I’m coming at this show from a different perspective. Most major museum shows try to cater to a wide audience, so does David Bowie Is cater to someone who’s an art fan but who isn’t much of a Bowie fan? Answer: Sure. But unless you’re a die-hard Bowie lover, I’d probably wait until the hubbub dies down a bit. First off, the show itself is well-curated and just a cool thing to experience. You pick up headphones at the entrance, strap them on and the sound follows you through the show at your pace. It’s part of a partnership with a German audio company, and it works really well for a show that features so much

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Museum of Contemporary Art, Gold Coast Until Sunday January 4 2015

Chicago Children's Museum: Snow Much Fun

Critics' pick

The Chicago Children's Museum hosts a multitude of classic kids activities—building a snow fort, ice skating—with an indoor twist. Because who in Chicago hasn't wished for winter fun without the actual winter? Skate in your socks, throw a snowball or dress up a snowman as the polar vortex rages outside.

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Chicago Children's Museum, Streeterville Until Sunday January 4 2015

"Mark Landwehr & Sven Waschk: Prisoners Beside Me"

Critics' pick

Mark Landwehr & Sven Waschk (also known as Coarse) debut their latest selection of creative and irreverent vinyl toys in a new exhibition entitled Prisoners Beside Me. The show opens with a reception at Rotofugi on December 5 from 7pm-10pm.

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Rotofugi, Lakeview Until Sunday January 4 2015 Free

Great Expectations

Critics' pick

Strawdog Theatre Company. By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Gale Childs Daly. Directed by Jason Gerace. With Mike Tepeli, Amanda Drinkall, Caleb Fullen, Mary Winn Heider, Cody Proctor, Paige Smith. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kris Vire Dickens loved deliberate repetition, so he'd surely be pleased to know Strawdog's quite deliberate Great Expectations has returned in tremendous form. Strawdog's stirring new adaptation of a Dickens you don't see everywhere this time of year, first seen this time last year before earning mentions on numerous best-of-2013 lists and a Jeff Award for director Jason Gerace, traverses Pip's semiheroic journey to gentleman and back as spryly as ever. The six-actor adaptation by Wisconsin playwright Gale Childs Daly quotes extensively and directly from Dickens in its shared-narration style, allowing it to retain remarkable fidelity to the author's style while simultaneously animating it. Daly allows you to hear directly such Dickens tics as the aforementioned repetition (she milks Uncle Pumblechook's exhortation to "be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand" for all it's worth), and the ultimate inevitability of his plotting unfolds neatly and naturally in Gerace's quick-trot staging. Four of the six cast members are new since last year (though some appeared in the show's brief Theater on the Lake remount over the summer), but the two key players in making my expectations great both return. Amanda Drin

Read more
Strawdog Theatre Company, Lakeview Until Saturday December 20 2014

Christkindlmarket

Critics' pick

Chicago's largest open-air market is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Inspired by a Nuremberg, Germany, market that was founded in 1545, this market features iconic German items like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and beer steins, as well as hand-blown ornaments and wooden handicrafts. Authentic food (sausages, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, waffles) and drink (beer and Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine) are also available, along with assorted sweets. 

Read more
Daley Plaza, Loop Until Wednesday December 24 2014 Free

Caroling at Cloud Gate

Critics' pick

Hundreds of singers from choral groups across the city participate in this annual holiday tradition that takes place over the course of a month. After the singing of classic carols, everyone goes ice skating at the Millennium Park McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.

Read more
Millennium Park, Chase Promenade, Loop Friday December 19 2014 Free

“Faith, Focus, Flight: A John H. White Retrospective”

Critics' pick

The work of legendary Chicago photographer John H. White gets the in–depth exhibit it deserves. Displayed are pictures of the ordinary and the iconic, each rendered in stark, beautiful detail. White himself speaks at the exhibit's opening reception.

Read more
Gage Gallery at Roosevelt University, Downtown Until Saturday December 20 2014 Free

Hot Georgia Sunday

Critics' pick

Haven Theatre. By Catherine Trieschmann. Directed by Marti Lyons. With Ed Dzialo, Rob Fenton, Kay Kron, Julie Schroll, H.B. Ward, Emily Woods. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission. Theater review by Megan Powell These days, opinions pile as high as a cat’s back, as they say down South; you can’t turn to a screen of any kind without viewing reportage of everything under the sun, from significant events to what’s happened at the other end of the dinner table, from everyone under the sun. But do we get the actual story from these infinite, separate bits of analysis? Not always. Hot Georgia Sunday, despite being told from six perspectives, tells a story that feels cohesive and, in its best moments, real.Georgia native Catherine Trieschmann has created a kudzu vine of a play, comprised only of character monologues that build and intertwine and that are shared by the members and associates of a small-town, working-class, down-on-their-luck family. They blunder through love, lust, longing and a lot of Jim Beam in their small north Georgia town, one of those places that straddles rural and sprawl, with farm fields and a McDonalds and a state highway slung between them. It all starts and ends at church, where teenager Jenny longs for the touch and attention of a boy in her youth group; her sister Flora and friend Tara’s similar desires put them in pursuit of men and situations that become too hot to handle. Flora and Jenny’s father Glenn is a widower, church janitor, and a genial b

Read more
The Den Theatre, Wicker Park Until Sunday December 21 2014

Mannheim Steamroller

Critics' pick

Because it wouldn't Christmas otherwise without some Mannheim Steamroller all up in here. The musical equivalent of eggnog keeps rolling through to another successful holiday show, this time to the Rosemont Theater, and 30 years after their debut Christmas album. Put that in your Christmas pipe and smoke it.

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Rosemont Theatre, Rosemont Saturday December 20 2014

Hotel Aphrodite

Critics' pick

Factory Theater at Prop Thtr. By Angelina Martinez. Directed by Matt Engle. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas There is nothing original about Hotel Aphrodite, there is nothing unexpected about Hotel Aphrodite, and I had a great time and it earned its four stars.Sometimes we need a fun throwback. With a big bag of silicone dicks. And the Factory Theater delivers. Angelina Martinez's new play has the sensibilities of The Birdcage inserted, with great passion, into an old-fashioned farce complete with many opening and closing doors, with shades of classic comedies like You Can’t Take it With You and maybe the smallest pinch of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.Even if no single style, character or plot point is unique, it’s an assemblage of parts that work beautifully together. The Chateau Amantius is an erotic therapeutic retreat run by famed sex therapist Linda Knudson (Allison Cain), catering to every possible need an adventurous couple may have. In the midst of its grand re-opening, the sudden deaths of two distant relatives put the majority share of the hotel in the hands of Linda's conservative cousin who’s ignorant of the hotel’s nature. Linda is assisted by her hardworking (and to Linda’s continuing dismay, virginal) daughter Cindy (Bridgette Hammond), the impeccable head of staff Mr. Bloodstone (Kevin Alves), and assorted maids, cooks, and new hires who wrangle the wayward guests while constantly teetering

Read more
Prop Thtr, Avondale Until Saturday December 20 2014

Do-It-Yourself Messiah

Critics' pick

After seeing a few performances of Handel's Messiah, you might think to yourself, Hey, I can do this. Well, here's your chance to show off your inner Adele. And if you get a little pitchy, don't sweat it. There are a thousand others on hand to cover up your hollerin'.

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Harris Theater, Loop Sunday December 21 2014 - Monday December 22 2014

LEGO architects at Robie House

Critics' pick

Kids ages 6 and up can take their building ideas from floor plan to LEGO model, and have fun learning about scale, proportion and construction. Kids get to take home their plan design and a photo of their creation.

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Robie House, Hyde Park Saturday December 20 2014

Red, White & Blaine

Critics' pick

Waiting for Guffman fans rejoice! The homage to Blaine, Missouri, as featuring in Christopher Guest's 1996 comedy is coming to iO, including songs and scenes that never made it to the screen.

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iO Chris Farley Cabaret, Lincoln Park Saturday December 20 2014 - Saturday January 31 2015

Annie

A candied corporate fantasia that could only take place in Taylor Swift’s New York

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Now Showing

Wild

As a heroin addict, a cheater, a crunchy soul-searcher and a bit of a space-case, Reese Witherspoon feels miscast

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Now Showing

Penguins of Madagascar

Everything in this factory-line kiddie caper is decent enough, but nowhere in the league of the surprisingly excellent Madagascar 3

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Now Showing

Horrible Bosses 2

The main acting trio returns for this sequel to 2011’s employment comedy Horrible Bosses—fair enough, since the casting worked great the first time

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Now Showing

Foxcatcher

Arrestingly made yet oppressive, this feeble-brained sports movie focuses on a true-life crime story

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Now Showing

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