October 2, 2010
Text and photos by Ted Regencia
SKOKIE, Ill — Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips met with movie fans in Skokie on Wednesday to share his thoughts on movies, actors and film reviews.
From Alfred Hitchcock to Clint Eastwood and Spencer Tracy to Kate Winslet, Phillips regaled his audience with a wide-ranging discussion mixed with humor and authority.
“Half the movies we’ve seen in our lives are somewhere between inspiration and disaster,” said Phillips, who co-hosted the final year of the syndicated TV series At The Movies along with his New York Times counterpart, A.O. Scott.
Still, Phillips underscored the appeal of moviegoing saying, “there’s something about the communal experience” of watching a film on the big screen.
He said his foremost responsibility is to give readers an “informed” and “specific” opinion that educates them. He bemoaned the emergence of fly-by-night online movie critics who “love everything.”
“The hype is so noisy and there’s so many opinions coming at you every second,” Phillips said.
“The job is not only about expressing your love for something. It has to start and end there, because the critic is really slowly dying if they don’t truly love what they are writing about,” he added.
In his appearance at the Skokie Public Library, Phillips engaged his audience of almost 200 in a back-and-forth discussion about movie topics.
On theater and film actor Spencer Tracy, Phillips said that “there’s no American actor that great British actors admire more” than the two-time Oscar winner.
“The ease with which Tracy, just sort of, slips into the roles…is wonderful,” he said. “It’s the kind of ease and lack of strain and artifice” that British actors try to replicate.
While acknowledging he is not a fan of Westerns, Phillips said he admires Clint Eastwood’s mastery in acting and directing. He said it takes talent to adapt a “horrible” book, The Bridges of Madison County, into a successful movie with Meryl Streep.
Phillips, who now hosts a weekly radio program on WGN-AM, also said he “loves” Kate Winslet, whom he had conducted “an embarrassingly distracted interview” with three years ago.
“I think she is probably the best British actress of her generation,” he said. Phillips said Winslet delivered in The Reader–a movie he “completely resisted” and found “offensive.”
During the two-hour event, Phillips also showed a clip from Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest, which he said illustrates the director’s “very methodical” way of presenting a thriller scene, but which might be “unthinkable” to younger audience.
He said many contemporary directors try to force as much action sequences in one scene, while neglecting the delivery of the story and resulting to “visual chaos.”
“Now, I am not in the camp of like ‘fast is bad,’ ” the movie critic said, citing his fondness of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, but he said there’s so much to learn from Hitchcock about pacing of a story.
When asked about his opinion on 3-D movies, Phillips said the public has “been a little misled” by some film producers trying to make money. He said the reformatted 3-D versions of Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans were “hucksterism.”
Later in an interview, Phillips told Skokie Patch he appreciates the opportunity to talk about films with the moviegoing public in person.
“This was actually one of the most entertaining talks I’ve ever given,” he said. “People here are just great, curious, involved moviegoers. And that’s what you want.
“The pleasure of the conversation really ends up teaching you a lot, and making you kinda question your own assumptions about why you like a certain film, or why you resist a certain kind of film,” Phillips said.
“There’s too much isolation in what I do for a living, not to come out and want to talk to my fellow moviegoers,” the journalist added.
Merle Glickman of Skokie said she’s impressed by Phillips extensive knowledge about movies.
“I think he is as good a platform personality as he is a television personality, because his relaxation with his subject put him at ease to take whatever” questions we ask, Glickman said.
Elaine Wolf, a longtime Skokie resident, said she learned of the event from a local publication and decided to check it out.
Phillips urged movie fans “to partake heartily” of the upcoming Chicago International Film Festival, which runs from Oct. 7-21 at the AMC River East 21 at 322 E. Illinois St.
“You’re getting a lot of pictures that were the talk of the Cannes Festival, Venice, Toronto,” he said, adding it is a chance for the public to see international films otherwise not shown in commercial cinemas. “That’s what people should do.”
The Wednesday event was organized by the Skokie Public Library, with the help of Diana Hunter, president of the library’s board of trustees.