White Sox

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

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."