I went to the movies the other day.
There's nothing unusual about me catching a flick. I regularly review films for this paper, and during busy periods, spend a lot of evenings and even some mornings in a darkened theater at advance screenings.
However, this time was different. It was one of those times when I went to the cineplex for my own enjoyment and edification. I didn't have to take notes, think big thoughts about what was on the screen or race home to bang out a review because a deadline was looming. I just watched the movie (it happened to be a small indie called "The Spectacular Now"), sipped on a soda and nibbled on popcorn. Nibbling on popcorn is not an option when you're trying to take notes.
And I enjoyed myself -- immensely. I've loved film since I was a kid and saw "The Greatest Show on Earth" (a really bad Cecil B. DeMille-Ringling Bros. blockbuster), and going to movies is always fun. But it's one experience when you have to review and another when you just go. Having to write a review puts a certain weight on the evening. You still pass judgment on the film, of course, but it's something you share with friends, not a big audience that reads what you have to say in print and online.
Plus, you get to decide what you're going to see and when you're going to see it. "Spectacular Now" is a movie we decided not to review, given what else was coming out the week it opened. (We were probably wrong, truth be told.) Other films I got to see in my little stretch of playing cineplex catch-up were reviewed by other writers at this newspaper: "Fruitvale" (great) and "Red 2" (not so great).
Because film reviewing is not my full-time job, the joy that comes along with taking a busman's holiday is not as pronounced as it was when I moved from being a television writer to being an editor after seven years of writing about all things TV.
In truth, that was, initially, a jarring transition. I missed opining on the latest "Breaking Bad" and flinging some prime snark at the latest unfunny sitcom, bad reality show or dumb-downed drama -- and I still do. However, I did to come to realize the upside: When I turned on the television at night, I could watch anything I wanted.
No more "I watch bad TV so you don't have to." No more having to keep up with the latest on "American Idol." No more cringing when someone local is cast on "Survivor" because that means having to track their time in Panama or Africa or some isolated South Pacific island. No more thinking: "Gee, I really want to watch X but I need to watch Y because I might want to write about it later."
And best of all, I don't feel guilty if I get behind on watching a good series. I watched the final episodes of FX's "The Americans" weeks after they aired. I'm behind on this last season of "Breaking Bad." I've gotten really good at avoiding detailed recaps or spoilers, and even if I do catch the drift of what happened -- a definite occupational hazard since I regularly visit entertainment websites -- so what? I still want to see it on my DVR or VOD.
This month is the start of the fall TV season, and yes, I'll try to catch at least a glimpse of most of the new series. But it's a case of one and done, and no guilt. If a show doesn't grab me, I'm moving on.
Right now, the movie business is in one of its annual slow periods. The big summer flicks have all hit the screen; the top fall films won't start showing up until the end of this month. Reviewing will be on the back burner for a number of weeks unless we decide, for some strange reason, that we want to weigh in on the merits of "Riddick 3" with Vin Diesel.
That's fine with me. There are still a couple of movies I didn't see over the summer. I'll just pick a Sunday matinee, grab that bag of popcorn and watch the feature presentation.
For film news, Bay Area arts and entertainment news and more, follow Charlie McCollum at Twitter.com/charlie_mccollu.