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“All Man: The International Male Story” – Male order [MOVIE REVIEWS]

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“All Man: The International Male Story” – Male order [MOVIE REVIEWS]

Peter Jones, an Emmy Award-winning writer, has constructed a lovely, fluffy biography of the mail order catalog that swept the 70s and 80s and changed the face (and body) of mens’ fashion and fashion photography. Directed and edited by Bryan Darling at a breezy pace, “All Man: The International Male Story” tells the origin story of the racy male counterpart to “Victoria’s Secret” long before Victoria had something to hide. 

Staff of International Male. Photo courtesy of Peter Jones Productions.

Gene Burkhard, a gay man recently discharged from the Army, had stayed in Europe as a sales rep, traveling throughout the continent in his sports car and making his calls. But he was tired and was on his back to San Diego, his new home, when he made a stop in London. Walking through Soho, Burkhard was startled and intrigued by something he saw in the window of a medical supply shop. Looking curiously like a skimpy jockstrap, he bought one. Certainly the original design was medical support for down under but he was fascinated by the simplicity and comfort of this g-string for men. American designs for mens’ underwear came in two shapes – boxers and tighty whities; European design added the bikini line but that was it in a nutshell (yes, I meant that). You could say that it all started with the “jock sock” and you wouldn’t be wrong. In 1972, Burkhard set up shop in San Diego, redesigned his “jock sock” and commenced producing them.

Mainstream publications refused to run Burkhard’s “jock sock” ads but, in a stroke of genius, he started placing them in “Playboy” magazine and his design took off like a rocket. And from this ad was born the mail order catalog “International Male.” 

What started off as just Burkhard and his secretary Gloria Tomita filling orders for the sock, soon blossomed into a genuine business with photographers, buyers, sales reps and more. Buyers searched the world over for designs they could feature, designs that were far outside the norms set by American retail stores and their associated catalogs. Until “International Male,” American men weren’t wearing rope knit sweaters or skimpy bathing suits. Hawaiian shirts were for Hawaii and velvet vests were too Carnaby Street. And the glorification of the body! Oh my! “International Male” arrived on the scene as  “PlayGirl” magazine was taking off.

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But even more than the outré fashions were the barechested, pumped male models wearing, or rather barely wearing the clothes on display. Demographically speaking, it was often women buying the fashions for their previously blandly dressed partners but it was an entirely different demographic who was cradling the catalog/magazine and cutting out the pinups. The models were pedestaled and objects of desire. More than anything, “International Male” was selling fantasy. But, gay or straight, they also sold a lot of clothes. Those orders didn’t just come from major metropolitan areas but also from Kansas and Iowa and North Dakota, etc.

From the first issue of International Male. Photo courtesy of Bethany Radloff/Peter Jones Productions.

Shortly after launching the first issue of the catalog, they opened two stores, one in San Diego, Burkhard’s home, and the other in West Hollywood, a bastion of gay pride and hospitality. The company expanded greatly, even designing and producing their own fashions when other sellers couldn’t provide enough merchandise. Product flew off the shelves and catalog sales skyrocketed. Even Burkhard was surprised by his success and had the good fortune to turn over the accounts to a professional who reversed what was fast becoming a financial disaster despite the huge sales, into a success. Who was buying? As previously mentioned, young women were buying for their boyfriends and husbands. I have to admit that I bought a few things for my husband during the catalog heyday, but I’d have to say that it was a case of “win some, lose some.” He took to the bathing suits, not so much to the rope sweaters, and definitely nothing in velvet. But women, like gay men, looked forward to those catalogs that had something for everyone.

Success attracts attention and soon the offers were pouring in for Burkhard to sell. The highest bidder was Horn and Hardart, famous for the automat but also a leader in catalog sales, who soon changed their company name to Hanover Direct. Burkhard and Tomita, now his Vice President of Sales, retired in 1986 hoping their longtime staff would remain intact. Alas, no. By 1988, Hanover decided that “International Male” was “too gay” and it needed to be straightened. Most of the staff was laid off and the straightening process began. Adding women as accessories was a bandaid on a problem that was never a problem to begin with. Still, with some key staff remaining, the catalog was able to attract the top male models and continue its position as a fashion leader and successful mail order catalog. Burkhard’s original concept of using highly masculine men in outfits that didn’t fit the traditional concept of male attire was a novel and successful approach. The sexualization of the body and clothing that originated in “International Male” was copied to great effect by others,  primarily the reincarnation of “Abercrombie and Fitch.” Burkhard’s creation was influential beyond his wildest dreams and changed the way women and men thought about men’s fashion. They put a straight face on outrageous designs and were satirized for it, only increasing awareness of the brand. Take, for example, the puffy shirt episode of “Seinfeld.” The original puffy shirt was part of the “International Male” catalog featuring their “pirate” motif. Hilariously, it served to highlight how what you see on a model with a perfect body and striking demeanor might not be the perfect fit for the Joe Average that is the rest of us.

But, alas, there’s no happily ever after for “International Male,” although it’s not a sad ending. American male fashion finally caught up and what you could find on their pages eventually became available in retail stores. The last issue of “International Male” came out in 2007. Not a bad run, though, all things considered, although had they waited a bit longer for the tsunami of online sales, they might be still going, giving us all easy access to the soft-core porn that they championed with open shirts, low cut pants, and, never forget, the jock sock.

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Chhaya Kadam: Earlier my name wouldn’t even be written in film reviews, now I have a Grand Prix winning film at Cannes

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Chhaya Kadam: Earlier my name wouldn’t even be written in film reviews, now I have a Grand Prix winning film at Cannes

This is clearly the year of Chhaya Kadam! After a great run with the actor’s earlier releases, Laapataa Ladies and Madgaon Express, her film All That We Imagine As Light became the first Indian film to win the Grand Prix at the recently concluded 77th Cannes Film Festival. One of her other films, Sister Midnight, was also screened at Directors Fortnight. Talking to us after the Grand Prix ceremony, Kadam exclaims, “It was the first Indian film to be screened at the main competition in 30 years, and we directly won an award! We had a story rooted in our motherland about women like us. For a subject like that to get selected here… I have no words.”

Actor Chhaya Kadam

Acknowledging her great run this year, she says, “People in Cannes also recognised me as Manju Mai (from Laapataa Ladies); they would say, ‘hey Manju Mai, Chhaya Kadam’.”

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Kadam’s tryst with acting began in 2006, then she went on to star in Marathi films such as Fandry (2013), Sairat (2016) and Nude (2018). “Earlier, my struggle was to get work; now it is for good work,” she shares, adding that it doesn’t end there. While she’s enjoying the fame now, there was a time when the actor’s work wasn’t recognised. “Earlier, film reviews would miss out on mentioning my name, even if my character was important. Bura toh bahut lagta tha. But then I thought I should work so hard that people are compelled to mention my name in their reviews,” she ends with a chuckle.

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Ezra (2024) – Movie Review

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Ezra (2024) – Movie Review

Ezra, 2024.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn.
Starring Bobby Cannavale, William A. Fitzgerald, Robert De Niro, Rose Byrne, Vera Farmiga, Whoopi Goldberg, Rainn Wilson, Tony Goldwyn, Jackson Frazer, Greer Barnes, Tess Goldwyn, Ella Ayberk, Lois Robbins, Alex Plank, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Matilda Lawler, Joe Pacheco, Amy Sheehan, Barzin Akhavan, Donna Vivino, Jacqueline Nwabueze, John Donovan Wilson, Joshua Hinck, Sophie Mulligan, Thomas Duverné, Guillermo Rodriguez, and Jimmy Kimmel.

SYNOPSIS:

Comedian Max co-parents autistic son Ezra with ex-wife Jenna. Faced with crucial decisions about Ezra’s future, Max and Ezra go on a life-changing cross-country road trip.

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Undeniably made with good intentions, Ezra wants to tell a story about a young autistic boy and his father struggling to accept that uniqueness (lamenting that his son will never be “normal”) due to some personal baggage related to his rocky upbringing. Ezra is also a film that consistently gets sidetracked or finds itself telling that story in a broad, mawkish manner with outlandish plot beats that continuously sink the few elements that work. That’s also surprising considering screenwriter Tony Spiridakis (who had been working on the script for roughly 15 years) is basing that father-son relationship on his experience raising an autistic child. Why turn such personal material into… this?

A film about the challenges of parenting an autistic child and ensuring that everything from school to public behavior is going well has enough realistic, stressful drama to be relatable to anyone who has ever been in a similar situation. The dynamic that parents Max (Bobby Cannavale) and Jenna (Rose Byrne) are divorced (the actors are married with children in real life) adds another layer of domestic intrigue.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn, the film seems to have no awareness of when to stop manufacturing more drama or when it begins to feel like piling on for the sake of telling a story that quickly begins to feel false. It becomes less of an earnest look at autistic childhood and more of a far-fetched road trip flick where the logic for certain characters is nonexistent, and the narrative rapidly transitions to do something that could only exist in the movies, something that is counterproductive to why this film was made.

This is frustrating since there are touching flourishes whenever Max interacts with the titular Ezra (William A. Fitzgerald, a delight to watch and autistic). Despite getting expelled from school, Ezra is a kind soul with various stimulation triggers (such as hugs or sensitivity to eating with forks), who often speaks in famous quotes and takes everything literally to such a degree that when he overhears Jenna’s new partner jokingly talking about murdering Max, he frantically runs out of the house to warn his loving father. This leads to Ezra making the choice to run into the middle of the street while scared and avoiding a barking dog on the sidewalk, nearly getting hit by a car, with doctors under the impression that it was a suicide attempt, dealing with the incident by forcing the parents to put the boy into a special needs school and take antipsychotic medication.

That’s only the beginning of this exaggerated story, which then sees Max kidnapping his son from Jenna, believing that she has lost hope in fighting for his rights and is too comfortable listening to professional advice. He doesn’t like that the medication zombifies his son (understandably so) and appears to believe that allowing the boy to go to a special needs school means he is accepting that there is something wrong. Many of his hangups with accepting his son’s autism come from a tumultuous relationship with his father, Stan (Robert De Niro), a former chef who gave up his dreams to provide for Max after his mother left. This grandfather also has trouble acknowledging his grandson’s autism, uncomfortable uttering the term. Both of these men, in a sense, are hiding and running from reality.

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Perhaps a more skilled filmmaking team could make something out of that, but Ezra also has to contend with baffling subplots such as Max’s aspiring standup comedian career and his relative closeness to securing a spot performing for Jimmy Kimmel. There is also a road trip aspect that sees Max heading West with Ezra, coming across several old friends for the sake of convenience. In one sequence, the film makes the case that there will be kids (even girls) who accept Ezra and those who will bully him, doing so in a confused way, unsure if it wants to sanitize itself. It’s also accompanied by sappy music.

At a certain point, Ezra is officially reported as kidnapped with warnings and notices throughout the 24-hour news cycle. Max is aware of this, yet confoundingly still thinks showing up to audition for Jimmy Kimmel will end well. The occasional tender moments between father and son are continuously undercut by this stupidity and overblown narrative decisions. At least it follows suit, ending in a fittingly melodramatic cringe.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

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Movie Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road” Now Playing at Boone Regal

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Movie Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road” Now Playing at Boone Regal
May 27, 2024 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” was one of the most critically-lauded action movies not just of its year, not just of its decade, but of all time. I will forever curse “Pitch Perfect 2” for opening the same weekend and doing better at the box office, thus keeping me from reviewing “Fury Road” (for the record, I would have given it an enthusiastic B). While Tom Hardy’s Max was an important presence in that movie, audiences seemed to find themselves drawn to another character, one that had an even more commanding screen presence, did more to make the film instantly iconic, and more than warranted an expensive prequel. Alas, we’ll have to keep waiting for that origin story for the guitar-playing Doof Warrior. In the meantime, we have this movie about another beloved “Fury Road” character, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa.  Read more
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