It's curtains for a critical projectionist

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A Memphis projectionist working for the Malco Theatre chain has lost his job after writing an unauthorized early review of 20th Century Fox's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" for the Web site Ain't It Cool News.

The projectionist, Jesse Morrison, claims that Fox was behind Malco's decision to suspend him for an undetermined period. The studio denied the charge.

While studios and filmmakers have endured early reviews of their movies — both negative and positive — on Web sites since the early days of the Internet, the incident might mark the first time someone working in the entertainment industry has lost a job for voicing an early opinion online.

On Saturday, www.AintItCool.com posted a negative review by Morrison (writing under his online moniker Memflix) under the headline "Memflix crushes all hope for 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.' "

A 29-year-old film, video and journalism major at the University of Memphis, Morrison worked for $7 an hour at the Ridgeway Four, next door to Malco's home office. He picked up further compensation by readying movie prints for exhibitor and press screenings, which allowed him during the past year to write reviews of such movies as "Disturbia," "Vacancy" and "Spider-Man 3" for Ain't It Cool. He also wrote reviews for Malco's movie blog and a circular distributed at the theater.

On Monday, two days after his "Silver Surfer" pan appeared, Morrison was called into a meeting with Malco senior vp Jimmy Tashie and, according to Morrison, was "suspended until further notice," with the suggestion that he would not be asked to return.

Morrison said Tashie pointed out that "20th Century Fox called them that morning and threatened to take away the press and trade screenings because of this whole thing. They were upset."

Asked if Fox had any role in the suspension, Tashie said: "Absolutely none." The exec said his company received a call from Fox that said "there's somebody there working for (Malco) who is writing reviews in advance. That's all they said. No one asked us to do anything. We have been in business 95 years, and this is the first time anything like this happened. And this boy knew what he was doing was the wrong thing. … He was in a position of trust and he violated that trust."

Drew McWeeney, known as "Moriarty" on the Ain't It Cool site, picked up Morrison's cause. Amid two positive reviews for the new movie, he championed Morrison's right to free speech and wrote: "He's written many reviews for us before, but when he wrote one for 'Fantastic Four,' Fox went into hypersensitive overdrive. They tracked him down and had him fired, threatening to pull their business from the entire chain over that review."

Sources inside Fox denied the studio's involvement, saying that the disciplinary action was beyond their reach and was the theater chain's decision.

Some entertainment companies, including film productions, do ask workers to sign confidentiality agreements, agreeing not to disclose information. Morrison said he had never been asked to sign such an agreement, though he would have if asked.

"If they had sat me down and told me that this has caused such a stink and that we would like you to sign some waiver, I probably would have signed it," Morrison said. "In my opinion, they used strong-arm tactics. I don't regret going on my Web site or Ain't It Cool at all. I just wish it hadn't come to this, but I don't really believe I did anything wrong."

Tashie said: "In the future, anybody in that position will sign something."

A number of Ain't It Cool readers have rallied to Morrison's cause, some even offering him jobs like a cameraman gig in Mexico.

Morrison said he is weighing his options. "I'm hoping to get a job as a professional movie reviewer, but I don't know what's going to happen with that. I guess you could say I'm at some kind of crossroads right now."
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