5 Questions with...Tribune's Michael Phillips

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5 Questions with...Tribune's Michael Phillips

Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city's most popular personalities on the spot with everyone's favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled "5 Questions with..."

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, it's our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This week's guest, one of the most respected film critics in the nation whose no-holds-barred movie reviews have become a must-read for Chicago Tribune readers from coast to coast, the next few months will definitely keep this guy occupied to say the least with a busy holiday film schedule on tap, not to mention Oscar season right is around the corner, without further adieu, here are "5 Questions with...MICHAEL PHILLIPS!"

BIO: Michael Phillips is the film critic of the Chicago Tribune and was co-host of the long-running nationally syndicated TV show "At the Movies" in its final season after filling in for Roger Ebert off-and-on since 2006. He covers movies for CLTV and can be heard most Fridays on WGN-AM. This summer he guest hosted the popular filmspotting.net podcast (broadcast on WBEZ-FM) and has been a guest on everything from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "Entourage," "The View," "Charlie Rose," BBC radio, MSNBC and locally on ABC 7.

In his former life as a theater critic, he wrote for the Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Dallas Times-Herald. He has chaired the Pulitzer Prize drama jury and is a three-time Pulitzer drama juror. Born in Kenosha, Wis., raised in Racine, Wis., Phillips is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and lives on Chicago's Northwest Side with his wife and son and two dogs. One of the dogs is a good dog. The other one's improving.

1) CSNChicago.com: Michael, thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to spend a few minutes with us. Lets get right to it ... as of this moment, from the movies youve seen so far in 2010, who do you consider to be the Oscar front-runners for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Picture?

Phillips: Screw it, who cares about the Oscars?

No, I kid. Im kidding. I care deeply about the Oscars, though not as much as I care about The Oscar (1966), which is one of the paragons of terrible melodrama. Its the one in which Stephen Boyd plays the unscrupulous weasel willing to do nearly anything to win an Academy Award. You should see it sometime if you havent.

Now, back to the real world:

With the Best Picture nomination list reconfigured last year to include 10 films, instead of five, the Oscars have made plenty of room for profitable mediocrities, along with films of actual quality. The Social Network and The Kings Speech are the front-runners and, whatever happens, both films will likely dominate the nominations in major categories. Theyre both good, too, which is nice.

Best Actress: I loved The Kids Are All Right, so Id be heartened to see both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore nominated. Natalie Portmans gripping in Black Swan. And I suspect Jennifer Lawrence from Winters Bone will get a nomination.

Best Actor: Colin Firth, The Kings Speech. Jesse Eisenberg will likely get (and deserve) a nod for The Social Network, but itll be Firth.

Its important to remember that the Oscars are simply trivia, which doesnt mean theyre not entertaining. The awards show is just the company picnic for an industry in flux. But I will say that the notion of marginalizing the honorary Oscars portion of the event, so that the Old People dont clutter up the telecast, makes me a little crazy.

2) CSNChicago.com: What would you say is your biggest film(s) disappointment so far this year and what films did you go into with somewhat low expectations and ended up truly enjoying?

Phillips: My biggest film disappointment so far this year? How about the entire summers worth of meh sequels (Iron Man 2), gargantuan headaches (Knight and Day) and 80s retreads (The A-Team)? No wonder Inception made waves, as well as making money, especially with younger audiences: at least its mind-games had some real movie-making going for them.

On the other hand: Nice to see a DreamWorks animated feature like How to Train Your Dragon make a virtue out of the 3-D format, in a year when so many films lazily repurposed for 3-D (The Last Airbender, etc.) did not.

And mainstream indies along the lines of Winters Bone and Get Low gave mainstream indies a very good name indeed.

3) CSNChicago.com: This debate will go on forever (especially in our office), but since we have you here, the question has to be asked. Name your top 5 favorite sports-themed movies of all-time.

Phillips: The Set-Up (1949). Great boxing drama with Robert Ryan.

Bull Durham (1988). Ron Shelton knows both comedy and sports, and its his best film.

Sugar (2008). Too few people know about this fantastic slice-of-life about a Dominican baseball players introduction to America. Its beautiful -- sad, but full of life, and truth.

Hoop Dreams (1994). A true Chicago story, and a documentary that forces the viewer to reckon with the good, the bad and the bittersweet in-between that comes from any pursuit of sports excellence.

Boxing Gym (2010). I guarantee you have not heard of Frederick Wisemans documentary, entirely free of narration or title cards or the usual trappings. But its a beaut.

4) CSNChicago.com: If you werent a journalist, what profession do you feel you would excel at the most?

Phillips: Im a critic, which is a form of journalist, but I have as much in common with a good metro reporter as I do with a brain surgeon or a chef. I dont know, maybe ... psychologist? Professor? The great thing about being a film critic is youre both, to varying degrees.

5) CSNChicago.com: Our beautiful city has been captured on film in hundreds of movies over the years. What Chicago based movies stand out to you the most that truly captures the essence of this city?

Phillips: Chicagos such a marvelous camera subject! The key Chicago movies, to me, arent the ones everybody thinks of first (The Blues Brothers, Ferris Buellers Day Off).

Id vote for Underworld (1927), which wasnt filmed here and in which Chicago is never mentioned by name -- but its the seminal Chicago gangster picture, the forerunner to the great early sound era gangster classic Scarface and the film that helped cement in the public mind Chicagos image as a glorified morality play, written in blood and bullets.

Then Id vote for Call Northside 777 (1948), which WAS filmed here.

Then, two from the 60s: Mickey One (1965), strange, unsteady New Wave-inspired Arthur Penn movie starring Warren Beatty as a mobbed-up Chicago nightclub comic (great location footage of nightspots long gone), and Medium Cool (1969), in which the grim Democratic National Convention clashes of the year before become part of the film itself.

And I love how Christopher Nolan made familiar Chicago sights look eerie and new in The Dark Knight.

BONUS QUESTION CSNChicago.com: Anything you want to plug Michael? Please share it with us

Phillips: A.O. Scott and I had a ball co-hosting the final season of At the Movies. We heard from so many people, all ages, who appreciated us bringin the nerd back to film criticism. Meantime, we thrive (thank God, and our respective media organizations) as critics online and in print. And who knows what the future will bring?

Phillips LINKS:

Chicago TribuneMichael Phillips movie reviews

Michael Phillips on Facebook

Michael Phillips on Twitter

As Arrieta garners all the fanfare, Jon Lester keeps cruising along in Cubs win

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As Arrieta garners all the fanfare, Jon Lester keeps cruising along in Cubs win

Jake Arrieta is getting all the attention on the Cubs pitching staff, but don't sleep on Jon Lester.

As Arrieta defends his supernatural stat lines, Lester has looked every bit the $155 million starter this season.

The veteran left-hander turned in another gem Friday in the Cubs' 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in front of 34,007 fans at a frigid Wrigley Field.

Lester allowed only one run in seven innings, striking out 10.

He got himself into a major jam in the seventh when he gave up a single and a walk and then couldn't get a handle on a bunt (or didn't want to risk a throw to first), loading the bases with nobody out. But he struck out the next two batters and got Nick Markakis to ground out to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the threat.

For the first time in his career, Lester has notched five straight quality starts to begin a season and now has a 1.83 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2016.

Lester has gone at least seven innings and given up exactly one earned run in four of his five starts this season.

The Cubs couldn't get him a win, however, putting up just one run through seven innings against the Braves pitching staff. This just hours after talking about how this lineup is built to generate offense even in cold, miserable conditions.

But the bats came alive late when Rizzo broke the tie with an RBI single in the eighth and then Matt Szczur followed with his first career grand slam.

Pedro Strop picked up the win with a perfect eighth and Hector Rondon pitched a scoreless ninth to slam the door on the Cubs' fourth straight victory.

Cubs fans regulate on rapper Warren G for his rendition of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'

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Cubs fans regulate on rapper Warren G for his rendition of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'

Cubs fans may have witnessed one of the quickest seventh inning stretches ever performed at Wrigley Field on Friday.

Rapper Warren G, famous for his 1994 hit song "Regulate", yelled "Cubbie fans mount up!" and then sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the Cubs-Braves game. The results were ... interesting, to say the least. 

Cubs fans were not having it.

Watch the full stretch in the video above.

One year later, White Sox recall baseball's most surreal game

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One year later, White Sox recall baseball's most surreal game

BALTIMORE -- One year ago, three days of civil unrest and confusion resulted in the White Sox playing in one of the more bizarre games in major league history.

After city-wide riots in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death resulted in a city-wide curfew as well, the calling of the National Guard and two cancelled games, the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles became the first teams in Major League History to play a contest that was closed to the public.

No fans were allowed inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which provided a surreal backdrop that Wednesday afternoon as the Orioles crushed the White Sox 8-2.

Whether it was the lack of background noise, the audible cheers of a group of several dozen fans outside the park or the idea that baseball was played in a city where so much remained uncertain, with armed guardsmen stationed just outside the park, players involved have very distinct memories of what would have normally been a nondescript contest.

“You could hear everything,” said pitcher Carlos Rodon, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning in only the second appearance of his big league career. “I remember listening to Adam Jones out in the outfield, just like calling his own game out there like he was the umpire.

“Just real quiet. Almost like backyard baseball.”

White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton remembers he felt conflicted about playing. The White Sox had arrived in town late Sunday night, only a day after unrest outside the ballpark resulted in a smashed window at one of the venue’s restaurants.

While the area around the ballpark and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor had quieted down by Monday morning, events began to reignite that afternoon about 4-5 miles from Camden Yards.

By the time players hit the field for stretch and batting practice, police helicopters could be seen hovering in the background, sirens blared everywhere and Eaton remembers he could smell smoke from some of the fires that had been set. Monday’s game was quickly cancelled and players were ushered back to their hotel by security personnel.

Stuck in their hotel, players remember seeing from their rooms the orange glow of some of the more than 200 fires set to structures and vehicles. They awoke the next morning to the arrival Maryland Army National Guard trucks, whose armed troops lined the Inner Harbor and key points around the city.

By early Tuesday, officials from both teams tried to determine what to do. Whereas most games’ start times are determined by either the home team, umpires or MLB, this time the White Sox were also included in the process. The teams considered several options, including moving the series to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Various start times and scenarios were also also considered for the game’s start to avoid playing after the 10 p.m. EST curfew was put in place.

“We kind of looked if we wanted to play in Chicago, play here and if there was a way to avoid coming back and doing another trip,” White Sox traveling secretary Ed Cassin said. “This was kind of a special case. There was a lot of people involved.”

Manager Robin Ventura was involved in the process so he could give his players an idea of what to expect. What stands out to Ventura is how nobody made their way to the ballpark on Tuesday to check into the clubhouse or workout, etc.

Instead, players stayed in their hotel rooms and watched movies or played video games, just waiting on word of the next step.

“As a major league player or staff, you never go that many days without getting on the field, especially during the season,” Ventura said. “You didn’t do anything. You kind of just watched the news to see what was going on. That part was eerie in a way because nobody goes through that. Last time something like that was 9/11.”

Ultimately, the decision was made to play Wednesday afternoon and make up the other games in a May 29 doubleheader. While pregame activities weren’t out of the ordinary, everything changed once the game began. Players took the field for the national anthem and found the park to be empty aside from several scouts in the stands. Orioles players faked flipping balls to fans in the stands, high fiving fans and signing autographs.

But everything else was dead silent save for the crack of the bat, balls hitting the catcher’s mitt and the sound of Orioles announcer Gary Thorne booming from the announcer’s booth above when Chris Davis blasted a three-run homer in the first off Jeff Samardzija.

“We were here, it got canceled, and the next day we were like, ‘Hey we’re canceled,’” Eaton said. “Are we going to fly back tonight? Are we going to go tomorrow? What do we do? Do we play the third game?

“Not that we didn’t feel right playing, but to be honest, we didn’t feel right playing at the time because there were lives on the line and being were rioting, a lot of chaos going on in the city. But as a professional, you had to sit back and say, my job is to go out and play baseball today, and that’s what I’ve got to do in any circumstance, and that’s what we did.

“It was just super weird.”