Towelhead (Nothing is Private) (2007)

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Released 19-Feb-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Black Comedy/Drama Main Menu Audio-Monotone collage, plus score.
Theatrical Trailer-The Square (1:32)
Theatrical Trailer-Defiance (1:53)
Theatrical Trailer-Gran Torino (2:24)
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 111:31
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (57:40) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alan Ball
Studio
Distributor
Indian Paintbrush
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Aaron Eckhart
Summer Bishil
Toni Collette
Chris Messina
Carrie Preston
Maria Bello
Eugene Jones III
Peter Macdissi
Gemmenne de la Peña
Robert Baker
Eamonn Roche
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Thomas Newman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Only main title at beginning. Dialogue is instant.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     SUBVERSIVE ! SHOCKING ! CONFRONTING! So screams the slick for the Roadshow release of 2007's Towelhead, and I totally agree. It is also an excellent movie and a provocative account of present day society and its suburban values. Towelhead, originally titled Nothing Is Private, comes from the writer/director/producer Alan Ball, the creative force who has given us American Beauty, Six Feet Under and True Blood. It certainly seems that Ball has a fascination, if not fetish, for blood and/or death. Here the bloody focus is on the v***** of the central character, and the camera dwells on blood stained panties, tampons and fingers. Prepare to be shocked or offended.

     America is embroiled in the Gulf war. "Towelhead" is a derisive term for a person of Arabian descent. Maybe the term is also used is here in Australia, but thankfully I have never heard it. I am not totally comfortable with the term "black comedy" for this film, my reaction to it being as ambivalent as the characters involved. The protagonist of this often darkly comic film is a thirteen year old, Arab-American girl, Jasira, who is living with her divorced mother, Gail (Maria Bello), and Gail's boyfriend Barry (Chris Messina). The subject is Jasira's sexual awakening and her sexual responses to those around her, mainly adults. There are obvious similarities to Lolita, but here there is an open frankness that is at times jaw-dropping. In the opening moments of the film Barry, unknown to Gail, is preparing to assist young Jasira to shave her pubic hair. Later Gail finds hairy evidence in the bathroom, and, instead of kicking out Barry, she despatches Jasira to live temporarily with her father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi). Rifat is a strict father with traditional values and punishments for his daughter. His home is in a typical modern suburban estate, rather like the setting of Edward Scissorhands but minus the candy-mint hues. Under the same roof as her father, Jasira's burgeoning sexuality receives little or no toleration as we see her in contact with their neighbours and at school. Of the neighbours there are the Vuoso’s, hunky army-reservist Travis (Aaron Eckhart) and Evelyn (Carrie Preston), whose son, a few years younger than Jasira, offers baby-sitting opportunities for the girl. At the same time, Travis offers girlie magazines - reading for her to masturbate by - and an aggressively friendly hand to the sexually inexperienced sitter. Then there are Melina (Toni Collette) and Gil (Matt Letscher) Hines. Melina is very pregnant, and offers her living room as a refuge where the father dominated girl is free to sit and read her sex manual, a birthday gift from Melina. Jasira has much free time to herself as Daddy has a beautiful girlfriend who keeps him happily occupied elsewhere. Away from these adults who "help" the girl, there is the handsome young black student, Thomas (Eugene Jones III), who becomes the object of Rifat's racist attitudes, and the lustful envy of window-peeking Travis. Thomas takes on Barry's old razor duties, masturbates in front of Jasira and finally consummates their relationship. The movie compels you to watch, eyes riveted to the troubled and troubling images. Confrontations boil, passions surge, taboos are broken and these suburbanites head for a climax that has the potential for tragedy.

     This is a totally satisfying film. Ball's screenplay, based on the original novel by Alicia Erian, raises questions but very few are resolved or indeed answered. Characters are grey rather than black or white. Rifat is a strict, at times cruel, father, but he can also be loving and compassionate. What are Melina and her husband all about? She seems to have underlying issues with Travis. These two cannot be tied up neatly in a box. Jasira's mother, Gail, is certainly less than the ideal mother. It is Travis, though, who descends deepest into a personal hell, but we understand, if not empathise with, his surrender to the passion driving him. Performances are faultless. Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking) has never been better or rawer than in this incredibly brave performance. Peter Macdiss (The Losers) sensitively conveys the myriad of conflicts within his struggling alienated parent. Toni Collette (United States of Tara) is excellent, if doing nothing we haven't seen her do before.Carrie Preston (True Blood), Maria Bello (The Company Men), Chris Messina (Greenberg) and unknown Matt Letscher are all faultless. Also outstanding is Eugene Jones III, who creates an honest and attractive picture of the adolescent male. Pivotal, of course, is the performance of Summer Bishil as Jasira - is she ever off screen? Mostly quietly understated, no doubt with expert direction, she is pitch perfect from beginning to end. Forgive this young actress for the truly dreadful The Last Airbender and see what she is capable of.

     Technically Ball has produced an exceptional film. The colour palette begins rather sombrely and subdued, dark and lacking vibrancy. Gradually more and more colour creeps into the scenes until by the conclusion the screen is quite vibrantly alive. Director of photography Newtom Thomas Sigel (Superman Returns / Valkyrie) commands his camera brilliantly, bringing life and vitality to the mostly interior, and intimate, scenes. The CinemaScope ratio framing of every scene is a cinematic joy. The music of Thomas Newman (The Adjustment Bureau) is perfect, beautifully complementing the mood and action on the screen. From the film’s first seconds Newman's music firmly establishes that we are in the iconoclastic world of Alan Ball. The audio itself is also first rate, with more surround activity than you would expect from such an interior film.

     This film is definitely not for everyone. I don't think I have ever seen another film with the potential to shock and alienate so many people. But this is an intelligent and honest film which explores burgeoning teenage sexuality with an unflinching camera. This is exceptional cinema, beautifully written and executed - but you will undoubtedly have some very uncomfortable moments.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Roadshow have provided a disc with a first rate rendering of this movie. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, and gives a wonderful reproduction of the widescreen image. There is more visual excitement in this movie than most so called "thrillers".

     The transfer is basically sharp and clear, although this is a film which plays with the colour palette and focussing of the camera. Colours begin very subdued, earthily orange and brown. Gradually an increasing amount of colour creeps into the image. There is a moderate amount of grain, and overall a wonderfully cinematic feel to the visual experience. Detail is fine, both in the brightly lit scenes and the at times murky interiors. There is no low level noise and an absence of any artefacts.

     This is a dual layer disc, with the layer change at 57:40. There is a slight freeze of action at the change.

     There are Descriptive Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired, which were sampled and found to be excellent.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are three audio streams on this disc : English Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kbps, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded at 192 Kbps; and Descriptive Narration for the Vision Impaired : English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded at 192 Kbps. The descriptive Narrative stream was briefly sampled and found to be accurate. I also sampled the 2.0 stream, which was OK, but lacked the dynamism that comes with the six track option. The entire film was then watched with the 5.1 stream.

     This basically domestic film has a soundtrack loaded with punch and activity. No opportunity is missed, whether its airport noises, radios off screen, traffic noises or general suburban ambience. This is an excellent audio experience, with not an explosion or car crash to be heard.

     Dialogue was clear and always easy to understand, and sync was flawless. Dialogue was front and centred, though there was plenty of left and right action whenever the opportunity arose. The surrounds were mainly used for ambience and music, but at times shocked with the urgency of a doorknock coming unexpectedly from the rear. This is a lesson in dynamic and sensitive use of the rear channels, and, surprisingly, the subwoofer.

     Thomas Newton Howard's score impresses from the outset, brilliantly punctuating the at times quirky happening on screen.

     This is a marvellous soundtrack, sharp, wittily appropriate and stimulating.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Sadly there are no extras pertaining to this title. I am reviewing a sample disc, so perhaps the retail product does rectify this. There are three theatrical trailers, presented as one continuous chapter, which begin automatically when the disc is inserted. Presented in 16x9 transfers, the trailers are The Square (1:32), Defiance (1:53) and Gran Torino (2:24).

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Our Region 4 release misses out on a feature I would very much like to have seen and heard: A Communal Discussion. Director/screenwriter Alan Ball hosts two panels, one with Summer Bishel and Peter Macdissa, and the other with author Alicia Arian. The Region 1 release also has a French language option, plus English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Summary

     Towelhead is possibly the most confronting film I've ever seen. There is certainly black comedy in the at times delirious actions unfolding in this conservative suburban environment, but there is also the germ of possible tragedy. Writing, direction and technical know-how combine with at times cruelly honest performances to create a film that I will never forget. The full "CinemScope" image and unusually dynamic audio deliver the experience with a wallop. Sadly my review copy contained no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Monday, March 21, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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