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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Alan Ball
Cast:
Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello, Summer Bishil, Peter Macdissi, Eugene Jones
Writing Credits:
Alan Ball, Alicia Erian (novel)

Tagline:
How Can You Find Yourself If No One Can See You?

Synopsis:
"Who are you?" Jasira Maroun's strict, Lebanese-born father asks. Jasira isn't sure. She's a typical 13 year old. And an Arab-American who's anything but typical to folks in her Houston suburbs. She's drawn to a boy at school. And to a hunky, married Army Reservist neighbor. She's curious about sex. And clueless about relationships. Then all these who are yous collide in a series of fateful, emotional, frequently funny events, and Jasira's life changes forever. Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmaker Alan Ball and a fine cast headed by Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello and newcomer Summer Bishil combine talents in a fresh, honest coming of age story. Who is Jasira? The answer - and answers - may surprise you.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$52.823 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$367.638 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 12/30/2008

Bonus:
• “Towelhead: A Community Discussion” Featurettes
• Previews


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Towelhead (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December29, 2008)

Not too many movies use racial slurs as their titles. That means we expect something controversial from 2008’s Towelhead, though we may not get the kind of tale we anticipate. Set around 1990, the film focuses on 13-year-old Jasira Maroun (Summer Bishil), a girl who deals with issues related to her burgeoning sexuality.

That fact creates changes in Jasira’s life. When her mother’s boyfriend Barry (Chris Messina) crosses a sexual line, Jasira’s mom (Maria Bello) blames the girl and ships her off to Houston to live with her dad Rifat (Peter MacDissi). The film follows her adaptation to the new town as well as her relationships with others. In particular, we follow her fling with her married neighbor Travis Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), her more normal connection with classmate Thomas (Eugene Jones), and her general attempts to cope with puberty and life.

At the start of this review, I alluded to potentially scandalous elements of Towelhead. The film wastes no time with controversial bits, as its first scene shows a grown man who helps shave Jasira’s excess pubic hair. That’s a definite “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment, and plenty more follow.

For the most part, Jasira’s ethnicity doesn’t play a major role in the tale. Sure, it’s an aspect of her identity crisis, and the film takes on racism in a minor way, but I think the film could’ve been about a white girl and still worked in much the same manner. Writer/director Alan Ball wrote American Beauty, and Towelhead places him on similar ground.

Indeed, Towelhead often feels like a chapter in the same book – albeit a creepier chapter. A much, much creepier chapter, as Towlhead revels in all the seediness and nastiness. Indeed, there’s too much seediness and nastiness, in my opinion, as the film concentrates on that side of things to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Too much of Towelhead seems engineered to shock and upset the audience. I get the feeling the film only bothers to make Jasira Lebanese for the cheap racial taunts that this factor allows. As I mentioned, I don’t think that Jasira’s ethnicity plays a crucial role in the story, so I see that choice as just another method to create controversy and conflict.

When racial slurs become the least upsetting part of a movie, though, that’s when I know we’re in trouble. With the possible exception of Jasira, virtually every character is deeply flawed. Her mom is a needy narcissist who chooses her sleazy boyfriend over her daughter, and her dad cares about little more than social appearances and his girlfriend. Any actual parenting that occurs seems incidental.

The other adults also tend to view Jasira more as a commodity than as a person, and her peers don’t treat her much better. I suppose Thomas is the nicest of the bunch, though he leads Jasira down plenty of creepy paths himself. (He also seems about five years too old for Thomas, and I wonder why he appears to wear eyeliner.)

Not that he needs help, as the movie finds more than a few uncomfortable elements to explore without Thomas’s help. Towelhead wants to be a rich character study and an exploration of suburban life, but instead it simply revels in its seediness. The film feels like nearly two hours of creepy sequences linked together by a loose character thread.

I could delve into more specifics, but if I listed all the shudder inducing scenes, I think it’d max out my computer’s memory. The film launches from one creepy sequence to another, and we hit critical mass very early in the proceedings. Seriously, almost nothing happens here beyond these awkward, troubling bits. There’s very little story, and the characters are generally one-dimensional.

Even Jasira herself doesn’t have much depth. She tends to be something of a cipher. Indeed, she’s almost a MacGuffin, in that she motivates the actions of others but does little herself. Jasira inspires the behavior of others but doesn’t have much personality.

All of this leaves me with nothing more than a desire to take a shower and forget this creepy piece of work. Towelhead substitutes controversy for plot and character. Drop all of the uncomfortable bits and you end up with a whole lot of nothing in this vapid program.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Towelhead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not strong, the transfer seemed more than acceptable.

Sharpness usually worked fine. A few shots tended to be a little iffy, but those didn’t crop up frequently. The majority of the movie delivered good definition. I saw no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement remained minimal. No source flaws showed up through this clean presentation.

In terms of colors, the movie went with a slightly oversaturated palette. It featured a warm, almost orange tone much of the time. Within those parameters, the hues looked fine. They almost veered into the realm of runniness, but that didn’t occur, as they stayed tight. Blacks were dark and dense, and shadows seemed acceptable. Some low-light shots became a bit too thick, but those instances remained minor. Overall, this was a fairly positive presentation.

With its character-based focus, Towelhead went with a low-key Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Don’t expect anything memorable from the soundfield. Music demonstrated good stereo imaging, and general environmental effects cropped up throughout the movie. Those gave the flick a decent feeling of place, but that was about it. The track used the speakers in a minor way.

I found no problems with the quality of the audio. Speech remained natural and concise; no edginess or other issues materialized. Though effects didn’t have much to do, they seemed reasonably accurate and tight. Music sounded clear and full in its subdued way. There wasn’t enough at work here for a grade above a “B-“, but I thought the track fit the film.

In terms of extras, we find two components under A Community Discussion. These show panel chats about the film. The first runs 30 minutes, 29 seconds and includes writer/director Alan Ball, actors Peter MacDissi and Summer Bishil, and Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The second “Discussion” goes for 50 minutes, four seconds and features Ball, author Alicia Erian and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund legal director Rajdeep Singh Jolly.

For the first segment, Ayloush dominates. He discusses his objections to the title and how he thinks it impacts upon the community. Ball, MacDissi and Bishil throw in their two cents as well, but the program mostly acts to give Ayloush a chance to offer his feelings.

As for the second, longer chat, it follows a similar path, with Jolly in the same role Ayloush filled in the first piece. However, we get more depth here. Jolly gives us a brief history of Sikhs, and he also seems a bit more forceful in his opinions. Not that Ayloush was a shrinking violet, but this discussion becomes more animated.

Both do mostly focus on the controversial aspects of the title. The second chat works better partially due to Jolly’s comments, but the presence of Erian also helps since she can offer the viewpoint of the project’s originator. I like both chats and think they give us a good take on the subject matter. It’s too bad the DVD doesn’t include any standard “making of” material or a commentary, but these discussions remain intriguing.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Snow Angels, the Tomb Raider: Underworld videogame, Where the #$&% Is Santa? and Blu-Ray Disc. No trailer for Towelhead appears here.

Although Towelhead wants desperately to offer some form of insightful commentary, instead it just consists of one uncomfortable scene after another. There’s virtually no depth or meaning to this; it just leaves us feeling icky. The DVD provides perfectly acceptable picture and audio along with some interesting discussions of racism and language. This is a decent release, but the movie itself offer empty provocation and doesn’t coalesce into anything more than tawdriness for its own sake.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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