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Howard Stern's Obscenity Fine: Leno's Problem Now?

Howard Stern, Jay LenoJimmy Fallon Coen Brothers Quentin Tarantino, Pink | 'Kill Bill' Review

Howard Stern's Obscenity Fine: Leno's Problem Now?

On Friday, the FCC — quite outrageously, I think — fined Clear Channel Communications nearly $500,000 over a Howard Stern broadcast. Clear Channel then permanently — also quite outrageously — dumped Stern from all of its radio stations.

But here's the punch line. The broadcast that caused all this trouble featured graphic sex talk between Stern and guess who? Jay Leno's new sidekick, John Melendez — formerly know as  "Stuttering John." 

Melendez is the successor to Edd Hall, who started with Leno, and of course, Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson's No. 2.

While it's still not clear how, or why, Leno chose Melendez to be his announcer, one thing's for certain. NBC won't be allowing them to have the sort of conversation Melendez and Stern were used to dabbling in.

According to The Smoking Gun Web site, the transcript of the Stern show in question — which aired on April 9, 2003 — included a thorough description of Melendez's sex life with his wife, which included preferred positions and their mutual liking of flatulence. (That's as far as I can go, sorry.)

The big question now is whether the FCC — which seems to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of cultural intolerance — will go after Melendez, or whether NBC — in this new climate — will have anything to say about Melendez appearing on Leno's wholesome nighttime talk-fest.

Jimmy Fallon: Exit 'Saturday Night Live'

Last year around this time, I said Jimmy Fallon was leaving "Saturday Night Live" — and he didn't. Oh well, that was the plan.

Now I will tell you again: When the season ends in May, Jimmy is history. He's done yeoman service for Lorne Michaels, but now it's time to supercharge the film career he's already launched. He will be sorely missed on the weekly show.

Jimmy just finished "Taxi" with Queen Latifah, and is looking at some new projects as we speak. But he won't be making the English version of the French farce "The Closet."

Apparently, writer-director Francis Veber thinks he's too young. Nonsense, I say! Sacré bleu! Veber should be so lucky. I think they should give it another go.

In other "SNL" news, Janet Jackson proved to be a game and talented guest star in sketches this weekend (particular when she played Condi Rice), but her lip-synching music numbers didn't win her any new fans.

The second one, "Strawberry Bounce," was especially embarrassing, but luckily, it was almost impossible to make out the lyrics: "I did a tease/To bring you to yo' knees baby/Now you know that pimpin' ain't easy/Then you said/'Fine mutha-----, I like it, I like it/Lose control."

Cole Porter couldn't have put it better himself.

Strike Three for the Coens: 'Ladykillers,' R.I.P

The weekend did not bring good news for Tom Hanks, Disney, or Joel and Ethan Coen. "The Ladykillers" is now officially a big dud, falling out of the Top 10 after two weeks.

Its tepid box-office return is an all-time low for Hanks. For the Coens, it's their third strike following "The Man Who Wasn't There" and the supreme disaster "Intolerable Cruelty." The $50 million-plus flick is tanking with just about $30 million in the till.

Karma is no laughing matter, and the Coens' (and Disney's) recent treatment of the press during "The Ladykillers" launch should send them to Tibet House for rehabilitation. But where else have they gone wrong?

After so many clever and memorable films — "Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink," and "Fargo" — they really headed in the wrong direction. And while "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" turned a profit, in the long run the Grammy-winning soundtrack was the bait.

It's time, as someone once put it, to get that "Barton Fink" feeling again. And forget about studio films with big stars. The Coens need to get back to $20-million-and-under budgets ASAP. If Disney needs to throw away $50 million on a film, believe me, they have plenty of experts at their disposal who are quite adept at just that.

'Kill Bill' Part 3; Plus, Janis Joplin in the Pink

The wire services were full of the headline over the weekend that Quentin Tarantino was planning a third "Kill Bill." Of course, readers of this column knew this already, didn't you? We had it back in early January, when Tarantino told me the exact same story — for the first time — at the New York Film Critics Circle awards.

So Pink is going to play Janis Joplin in a movie directed by Penelope Spheeris. During Oscar weekend, the producers of this movie were showing clips of Pink's screen test to anyone who'd see it at the American Film Market in Santa Monica. They were looking for financing.

When I asked producer Greg Johnson about this then, he begged me not to write about it. I acquiesced, just to show what a good guy I was. Hmmm. A lot of good that did me!

Anyway, Pink performed "Me and Bobby McGee" at the NARAS Music Cares dinner for Bono in February 2003 in New York, if you recall, and stole the whole show from every other performer. That was the beginning of her Joplin quest. This project, by the way, is sanctioned by Joplin's sister, Laura, which is a good thing and a bad thing. In any case, the result should be a pretty good film.

Tarantino Makes 'Kill Bill Vol. 2' a Tour de Force

Fans of the first "Kill Bill," myself included, probably thought "Vol. 2" would be more of what was in "Vol. 1" — comic violence, sparse dialogue, and lots of groovy choreography and cinematography. It turns out that "Vol. 1" was merely a tasty appetizer for a gourmet main course.

You may recall that in "Vol. 1" we learned that The Bride (Uma Thurman) abandoned her group of mercenary killers and, pregnant, was about to marry. The killers' leader, Bill (David Carradine), was so incensed that he ordered The Bride and her wedding party killed at the altar.

But the Bride lived, and vowed vengeance. Ultimately, she killed two of the murdering group (played by Lucy Liu and Vivica A. Fox, with two more (Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen) to go. And of course, Bill himself. We also knew that the baby she was carrying at the time of the massacre lived. That was the end of "Vol. 1."

While "Vol. 1" was a tribute to the kung fu movies of the Shaw Brothers and Sonny Chiba, "Vol. 2" turns out to be quite different. In this episode, Tarantino also sends up spaghetti Westerns and Mexican adventures, with just enough kung fu to satisfy the most ardent fans. But what Tarantino does in "Vol. 2" is flesh out the characters, the plot, and the dialogue, actually explaining the story as it goes along and making us care about these people in a new way.

The result is a cool and brilliant movie that stands on its own but will also work well with "Vol. 1" when they're shown together. But "Vol. 2" is so good it could even get its own Oscar nominations, specifically for Thurman, who really commands this movie as an actress and not just a martial artist, and for Carradine, who gets the kind of star treatment here that John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson received in "Pulp Fiction."

There are also terrific supporting and cameo appearances by Jackson (with a nod to late R&B great Rufus Thomas), Michael Parks (in a different role than he played in "Vol. 1"), and Hannah. There's also a completely mad and wonderful appearance by Gordon Liu as Pai Mei, who turns out to be the Yoda to all these nutty sword-happy samurais.

Now, all this praise doesn't mean I've recanted my feelings for "Vol. 1." That film was a visual explosion, with so much style and energy I could have seen it over and over. But I do think Tarantino responded to critics who missed his crazy dialogue and had trouble liking the mostly unlikable characters.

He might have just ignored the reviews and continued down a similar road. Thank goodness he didn't do that. Instead, in "Vol. 2" he crosses all the T's, dots the I's, and makes the audience smile even while the violence rains down.

The difference, this time, is that it's much wittier and fresher. There are some sequences, like one in which Hannah loses an eye, that are so brilliant they will never be forgotten. There are also some great lines and Tarantino-esque riffs ("When Will I See You Again?" by the Three Degrees gets a reference) and banter among the characters that was missing in "Vol. 1." In the end, without giving too much away, it turns out "Kill Bill" is about not samurais and bloodshed but about motherhood. I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised.

"Vol. 2" finishes, by the way, with end credits for both movies, which is a little weird since they include information for "Vol. 1" not seen in this episode. I guess this was done for the eventual DVD or a theatrical release of both films together.

All the titles in "Vol. 2" look much more professional and hip than in "Vol. 1" as well. The music is just as good, too, with a wonderful reworked version of The Zombies' hit "She's Not There" that could be a hit single.