Thursday, May 26, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Bob's Burgers, "Best Burger"

The cast and crew of Bob's Burgers celebrated the show's 100th episode with a cake that was cut by the perfect person to be seen handling such a ceremony: samurai movie fan Louise Belcher, a.k.a. Kristen Schaal. (Photo source: The Hollywood Reporter)

The complete fifth season of Bob's Burgers--a show that wrapped up its sixth season on Fox earlier this week with the airing of its 100th episode, a story that entertainingly revisits what has to be the core of Bob's Burgers, Bob's love for his family, in spite of how they frequently get in the way of his attempts at notoriety as a chef--finally became streamable on Netflix on April 1. From December 5, 2014, here's a repost of my discussion of one of my favorite fifth-season Bob's Burgers episodes, "Best Burger," an episode that centers on both the aforementioned core of Bob's Burgers and the making of one of Bob's titular burgers. Speaking of the art of making burgers, at about the same time as Netflix's addition of the fifth season, Universe Publishing finally released The Bob's Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers, a cookbook by Cole Bowden, a chef and Bob's Burgers fan I mentioned in my "Best Burger" discussion. The new book is co-written by Bob's Burgers creator Loren Bouchard and is a compilation of recipes Bowden posted on his blog The Bob's Burger Experiment.

Of all the fictional restaurants I wish would exist, I would probably most want to sample a burger made by the titular restaurant on Bob's Burgers--nominated this week, by the way, for two Annie Animation Awards, including Best Series--because of the creativity Bob brings to the Burgers of the Day that he lists on his restaurant chalkboard. I'd be most interested in the Roquefort Files Burger--awesome pun--or the Bruschetta-bout It Burger, a rare burger that actually wasn't on Bob's chalkboard.

I'm not the only one who wishes Bob's Burgers were a real restaurant: several viewers have become inspired by the show and have posted their attempts to make the show's gourmet burgers, with the most notable example being Cole Bowden of The Bob's Burger Experiment. In "Best Burger," Bob introduces the Bet It All on Black Garlic Burger while competing in a local food festival's burger-tasting contest--by the way, Bowden posted that he's now working on the recipe for that one--and even though I'm not exactly a fan of garlic (and no, I'm not a vampire), I'm dying to try the black garlic burger, based on how much enjoyment the animators clearly had in animating and at one point, slo-moing the scenes where Bob and Linda prepare the meal on-stage.

This Bob's Burgers episode is a good example of how we long for not just the Belchers' restaurant to be real--we also want the food community within the show's unnamed East Coast seaside town to exist as well. In the funniest sequence during "Best Burger," Gene--whose ADHD can be detrimental to others like his dad, especially when he has to win a burger contest he drunkenly signed up for--attempts to make up for all his preceding screw-ups in "Best Burger" by delivering to Bob the missing bulb of black garlic he needs for his contest entry, and he's forced to ignore one food festival temptation after another in order to make it to Bob on time. An agonized Gene must race past free cupcake-flavored ice cream served on a waffle, as well as 10-for-$1 pizza tacos, "robot cake" and the ultimate culinary temptation, a hot fudge car wash, which sounds like an Urban Dictionary sex act. Fuck Brigadoon. Any food community that's got a hot fudge car wash is a more enticing spot than Brigadoon.

Written by Mike Benner, "Best Burger" is a solid Bob/Gene story and acts as sort of a companion piece to both "Beefsquatch," in which Bob seethed over an ape-masked Gene taking attention away from his cooking segments on TV, and "O.T. the Outside Toilet," which entertainingly intertwined sweetness with absurdity when Bob related to Gene the difficulty of looking after either a kid or a pet ("When you were a baby and I was watching you, you ate a fern, and you could have died, but you didn't"). Gene's most endearing quality is his attachment to his Casio keyboard and its wacky sound FX, something series creator Loren Bouchard lifted from his own childhood. That's probably about it in terms of endearing qualities for Gene. He's often the show's most obnoxious character--his shoutiness and attention-seeking childishness both sort of make me understand why some Bob's Burgers haters can't get past his (or Louise's) shoutiness to fully embrace the show--but "Best Burger" gives the character a chance to redeem himself via the aforementioned race against both time and hot fudge car washes.

However, this Gene episode is stolen by Kumail Nanjiani as affable Pakistani celebrity chef Skip Marooch and Thomas Lennon at his Ryan Seacrest-iest as smooth-talking local TV personality Chuck Charles, who emcees the contest and is still bitter over losing his morning talk show due to the Belchers' on-air antics in "Beefsquatch." He keeps blaming Bob for getting him fired and forgets that Linda's boob flash on live TV (in order to stop Bob and Gene from fighting) was what actually got him fired. I suspect Chuck doesn't blame Linda because he got to see her tits.

Like Bill Cosby's TV career, Bob's black garlic has suddenly disappeared.

Chuck's appeared twice before on Bob's Burgers, but in the scenes where Chuck doesn't even bother to hide his disdain for Bob and barely listens to anything he says, Lennon--even more so than in his other guest shots as Chuck--really nails the smugness of these local news personalities who think they're hot shit in their mid-sized TV markets and who care more about how they look on camera than about doing any actual research or being a competent journalist. We've most recently seen that type of not-very-bright local news personality in the viral clip of an awkward Denver morning show interview with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (who, interestingly, reprises his role as Wonder Wharf worker--and now pedicab driver--Mickey in "Best Burger"). While promoting the release of their Sundance hit The Skeleton Twins from a press junket room in another city, the two SNL alums collapsed into laughter because their interviewer referred to what he mistakenly thought was a nude scene Wiig did in The Skeleton Twins, which led to the interviewer admitting that he never saw the film. Way to do your research, Denver.

Bound-to-be-viral local TV fails that bring to mind Wiig and Hader's incompetent interviewer are a form of shtick Bob's Burgers does well, in addition to the usual puns and accidental double entendres. "Best Burger" is full of moments about how sexual a lot of descriptions of either the act of eating food or the act of cooking often sound. One of my favorite of these double entendres is Chuck ending the contest with "Time's up! Hands off your meat, chefs." But what I like most about "Best Burger" is the little win Bob gets despite losing the contest. Think of it as the antithesis of "Family Fracas," which many Bob's Burgers fans hated because of how badly Bob got screwed over by his enemies in that episode. An even more affecting moment than Bob trying to tell Gene that "I love you and I love who you are" (which, of course, gets interrupted by Gene's ADHD) is Skip standing in line with a bunch of other curious foodies outside Bob's Burgers and wanting to try out Bob's black garlic burger, even though his Pomegranate and Green Chili Chutney Burger defeated Bob's burger in the contest.

It's affecting because Bob doesn't get to win so often on the show, not even during a competition that's totally in his wheelhouse, like the burger contest, and the sight of this competitor--who's also a chef he respects--suddenly wanting to sample one of his creations is somehow a greater victory than any trophy he could receive, whether it's the contest's burger-shaped trophy or outside the universe of the show, the two Annie Awards that Bob's Burgers is now up for. Sometimes, a trophy is just a trophy.

This also looks like the end of the Chappelle's Show 'Piss on You' video.

Other memorable quotes:
* Skip, referring to his grandmother: "She always told me, 'Put spice on everything!' She also said, 'I hate Mondays.' But she never got credit for that."
Chuck: "[Laughs with Skip.] I would love to meet her."
Skip: "Aw... too late."
Chuck: "Ooh."

* Bob: "It's made with black garlic. Uh, it's a fermented garlic. It comes from Korea."
Chuck: "Don't blame Korea for your stupid burger, Bob. Not fair to them or burgers."
Bob: "Uh, I'm not blaming them--"
Chuck: "The Stupid Black Garlic Burger! Put it up on screen."

* "A no is just a yes upside down."

* "Never trust a boy with a skateboard. They're too fast."

* "This has exquisite mouth feel." The animation for the burger judge's tongue as he wraps that tongue around the words "mouth feel" is hilariously creepy. Mike Benner tweeted that the creepy judge was voiced by Andy Daly. The star of the very funny Comedy Central show Review with Forrest MacNeil also voiced the Belcher kid-hating specialty food store owner, whose bulb of black garlic gets stolen by Louise to replace the one Gene accidentally smushed. (By the way, if you haven't watched the first season of Review yet, stream it immediately. Review is as addictive as the coke Daly's title character gets himself hooked on in the first episode.)

* Bob: "You want to try my burger?"
Skip: "Yeah, I smelt it, and now I want you to dealt it, into my mouth."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Accidental Star Trek Cosplay is my new Tumblr about the fascinating subject of people who unintentionally dress like Star Trek characters

The Star Wars franchise had quite an artistic comeback last winter. Not everyone was over the moon of Yavin about The Force Awakens, but when even my former colleague Richard von Busack--the Metro Newspapers film critic who prefers the Bond movies and Alexander Salkind's Superman movies over the Star Wars franchise as '70s and '80s tentpole entertainment and has found the Star Wars flicks to be too much like bad '70s Sid and Marty Krofft kids' shows--considered parts of The Force Awakens to be genuinely moving and more akin to something like Robin and Marian rather than a Krofft show, you know it's an above-average Star Wars installment.

I found The Force Awakens to be satisfying as well, even though the film totally wasted Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones reduced her screen time as Brienne of Tarth last season for this, a role where she never says anything memorable and never takes off her helmet?) and Raid stars Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais. You don't hire Mad Dog and Rama to just stand around and become people-shaped snacks for a giant space monster two minutes later. You hire them to smash people's noggins in with their knees and break motherfuckers' legs with their bare hands.

Now it's Star Trek's turn to experience an artistic comeback as a sci-fi multimedia franchise after a major low point, and the timing for its potential comeback is perfect because 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek's premiere on NBC. I don't know why Paramount doesn't acknowledge 1964 as Star Trek's birth year: that was when Lucille Ball, who was breaking ground as the female head of an indie TV studio, took a chance on Star Trek, and Ball's Desilu studio, writer/producer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Butler began filming "The Cage," the first of two pilot episodes for Star Trek. So Star Trek is actually 52 years old, but who's counting--aside from Poindexter in a basement somewhere in Yonkers, who claims to be the world's only expert on the exact time and date when Roddenberry first started typing up the "Cage" writer's bible about "Captain Robert M. April"?

Paramount has two major Star Trek projects on the horizon: Justin Lin's Star Trek Beyond in July and an hour-long Star Trek anthology show from Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller for the CBS All Access streaming service in 2017. I'm a fan of the episodes Lin directed for Community and the Lin movies Better Luck Tomorrow and Fast Five, so I have some faith that Star Trek Beyond won't be atrocious, especially when--in addition to a director who grew up watching the original Star Trek on KCOP and isn't going to turn Trek into godawful 9/11 truther propaganda--the threequel is co-written by cast member Simon Pegg, whose past writing credits include the terrific Cornetto trilogy. The current J.J. Abrams-produced Trek movies appear to be echoing the path of the Mission: Impossible movies: the first one is a highly entertaining action flick, unless you're a hardcore fan of the source material who can't stand the changes that have been made to the material; the totally dumbed-down second one sucks ass; and the threequel appears to be a soft reboot after nobody--not even a lot of the more casual fans of the franchise--would admit to liking the second one, despite the second one making a shitload of money.

Star Trek Beyond (Photo source: Wired)

But I'm more enthusiastic about Trek's return to TV--the medium where Trek can be as cerebral as it wants to be and it doesn't have to dumb itself down in order to satisfy international audiences, who have always been indifferent to Trek movies--because Nicholas Meyer, the director of two of the best Trek flicks, The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, is attached to the project. Also, Fuller--who wrote for both Deep Space Nine and Voyager before going on to create several short-lived and weird but enjoyable shows and envisioning, as he was working on those cult favorites, a nicely progressive take on Trek in which Angela Bassett would get to be the captain and Rosario Dawson would be her first officer--is the perfect person to be at the helm.

I like three of the seven Star Wars movies and Genndy Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars animated shorts, but my heart belongs to Trek because at its best, Trek has a lot more on its mind than just action sequences and space battles, and it cast Asian actors in major, non-stereotypical roles, long before Star Wars did the same this year when it cast newcomer Kelly Marie Tran in a leading role for the eighth installment. Though I like Trek slightly more than Wars, I don't believe in pitting these two sci-fi franchises--or any other pair of sci-fi franchises--against each other as if they're Drake and Meek Mill, which is why I've rolled my eyes when Scrubs star Donald Faison, a Wars nerd, publicly bashes Trek to create beef between the Wars contingent and the Trek heads, or when Kevin Church, a writer who runs They Boldly Went, a Tumblr about the '60s Trek, uses his Tumblr to bash Doctor Who. A person can like both Wars and Trek at the same time (or Trek and Who at the same time), just like how someone doesn't have to be a Nas person or a Jay Z person. Can't a motherfucker be both? Nas and Hov are about the same quality-wise. They've both had the same amount of above-average material and lousy material. The same is true about Wars and Trek.

That being said, Trek, its first three spinoffs and nine of its first 10 films are also home to some of the ugliest futuristic clothes ever stitched together in Hollywood (the outlier out of the 10 films is First Contact, which marked the first time when, thanks to Deborah Everton, the costume designer for The Craft, Trek's ideas of futuristic attire looked sensible and GQ-ish for a change and they didn't suck). Trek costume designer William Ware Theiss' offbeat work on the '60s show isn't totally ugly. I'm a red-blooded male--I like looking at the female guest stars slinking around in skin-baring costumes created by Theiss. Those costumes are the highlights of Theiss' work. But the uniform tops Theiss designed for Starfleet, especially the male officers, don't look like uniform tops made for a futuristic space Navy. They look more like softball ringer T-shirts. I keep expecting to see Spock run out a bunt. The brightly colored Starfleet uniforms were intended to capitalize on the rise of color TV and showcase NBC's visual advances as the self-proclaimed "Full Color Network," but in 2016, the cartoony and cheap-looking velour shirts just look strange and can occasionally take attention away from the drama during a dead-serious, non-campy and exemplary episode like "Balance of Terror."

At least the '60s uniforms aren't as hideous as costume designer Robert Fletcher's Starfleet uniform redesigns in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Sure, it's great that female officers finally got to wear pants again, 13 years after "The Corbomite Maneuver" threw away their pants and required them to wear only miniskirts, but otherwise, the Star Trek: TMP outfits are the ugliest clothes in all of Trek. Entertainment Weekly's Darren Franich, who's been reassessing each of the Trek movies because of the franchise's 50th anniversary, came up with a great description for the epic fail that was the TMP revamp of both the uniforms and the Enterprise set design color schemes: the beige, gray, light brown and off-white clothes look like furniture, and the furniture looks like clothes.

Enterprise engineer Ron Burgundy clearly isn't enjoying the shit out of this meeting.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rest in power, the Minority Militant, a.k.a. Keon Enoy Munedouang

Keon Enoy Munedouang (1980-2016)

NOTE: A few more remembrances of the Minority Militant have surfaced online, in addition to the remembrances I linked to in my post below. One of his three sisters says goodbye to him and writes that "You lived your life through your convictions and didn't care what anyone thought of you. I had no idea, the extent in which your writing impacted the Asian American community." Slant Eye for the Round Eye's Adam Chau, who once made a guest appearance on this blog, has posted substantial excerpts from the best of the Minority Militant's cordoned-off Blogspot blog. Over at Reappropriate, Jenn Fang points out that though "TMM occupied a corner of the Asian American blogosphere that had little overlap with my own" and "we may not know one another offline," the Asian American blogosphere is close-knit, and his passing affects everyone in our community.

If you regularly read several blogs written by Asian American authors or you're active in the Asian American blogosphere, you're going to be hearing a lot in the next few days about a reclusive political blogger who wrote under the alias of the Minority Militant. From 2008 to 2010, the Chicago-based Keon Enoy Munedouang, a Laotian American military vet who was found dead last week in Montrose Harbor at the way-too-young age of 35, was one of my favorite Asian American bloggers, whether he was criticizing self-hating Asians who stupidly undergo plastic surgery to look more white, describing right-wing moron Michelle Malkin as a pundit who is "so far right she fell off the edge of a stoop and landed in a pile of jizz after a conservative gangbang convention" or mocking old Vietnamese American Republicans who supported the presidential campaign of Arizona senator John McCain, who had no qualms about continuing to refer to the Vietnamese in public as "gooks" due to the torture he experienced as a Vietnam War P.O.W.

While Phil Yu over at the much more popular blog Angry Asian Man was trying to make "That's racist!" a thing, Keon's favorite catchphrase over at TMM had him consigning the likes of Malkin, or as I like to call her, Uncle Ruckus, and extremely corny Iron Chef America host Mark Dacascos to "the chicken coop." Ken Jeong and former Entourage regular Rex Lee would have wanted to put a foot in Keon's ass for the negative things he wrote on his blog about the comedic (and sometimes controversial in Asian American circles) characters they've played. Jo Koy, a favorite stand-up of Keon's who agreed to a selfie with Keon after one of his shows, clearly didn't know what to make of Keon and ran as far the fuck away from Keon as he could when he requested to do an interview with him for his blog. Keon's drunken appearance at a panel for a 2009 Asian American blogger conference known as BANANA, an embryonic version of the annual L.A. digital media conference that's known today as V3con, alienated some of the other panelists and people in the USC campus audience who weren't familiar with his blog.

Keon's writing wasn't for everybody. It was highly opinionated and outspoken writing (he once wrote, "I am relentless about racism. I cuss like a foul-mouthed sailor"), and he was much more outspoken than Phil, who--while there's no disputing that Phil's a legend in the Asian American blogosphere who has done a lot of good in terms of Asian American representation, speaking out against Asian-bashing and promoting the work of other Asian American authors--has never really been as enjoyably scathing or as in-depth a writer as Keon (or someone like Emily Yoshida over at The Verge or my current favorite Asian American blogger, playwright Philip W. Chung over at YOMYOMF).

I never got to meet Keon face-to-face. All of our brief conversations took place only in comments sections and via e-mail. But I was a regular part of Keon's blog. I drew and designed the header that appeared every day at the top of his posts, back when I was in the middle of an ultimately unsuccessful phase in which I attempted to become a cartoonist and graphic designer. Keon was my only graphic design client.

The logo Keon commissioned me to draw for his blog

Keon was a fan of the webcomic I drew and posted for a couple of years over on this blog. In fact, he was the only fan of the webcomic. Not even I'm a fan of my own webcomic. In fact, I've been considering deleting almost all of the webcomic's installments from my blog. They're that embarrassing. But Keon was the only person--other than my parents and an online friend of mine, current DC Comics letterer Janice Chiang--who believed in my artwork at the time, and I'll always be grateful for that. While some asshole from the discontinued Asian American Movement blog was bashing some of my Minority Militant artwork over in some now-forgotten comments section somewhere, Keon always stood by my artwork.

I never agreed with Keon's choice for his blog header though. He wanted me to draw him wearing a hoodie emblazoned with "TMM," and out of all the header options I designed for him, he liked the one with him in a hoodie the most, but I never really cared for that one. I made Keon look too much like a Jules Feiffer cartoon. A header he rejected, in which I inserted a photo of a bruised and beaten Uncle Sam, was, to me, much more effective at reflecting the pugnaciousness and candidness of Keon's writing than the header he picked.

An unused header for Keon's blog

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Other than whitewashed Asian characters, my least favorite thing lately is people omitting my middle initial even though I've included my middle initial in my name 88,000 times

Natalie Morales and Natalie Morales, who would both probably have a less aggravating time on social media if one of them just added her middle initial to her name

In 2014, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof made a big deal about removing the "D." from his byline. He explained that "I don't think it buys any clarity. As far as I know there isn't a single other Nicholas Kristof anywhere in the world, so I'm unlikely to be confused with Nicholas G. Kristof or Nicholas S. Kristof III." Kristof then added, "I think in the Internet age, the middle initial conveys a formality that is a bit of a barrier to our audience. It feels a bit ostentatious, even priggish."

Sure, a middle initial is a bit stuffy-looking and Thurston Howell-esque, but while Kristof scrapped his, and another Gray Lady writer, Bruce Feiler, concurred with Kristof and implored John Q. Public to "K.O. the Q.," I went in the opposite direction and chose to add my middle initial right after my first and, so far, only published work of fiction, the short story "Sampler," came out in 2009 within the pages of the New Press graphic novel Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology. I knew, shortly before the short story was published, that the story was going to bring some extra attention to my byline, which it did do briefly in 2009, and that readers would confuse me with other Filipinos or Italians named "Jimmy Aquino," so I took a cue from William H. Macy and Michael J. Fox, who included their middle initials to differentiate themselves from other Screen Actors Guild members with the same names (in the case of the Canadian-born Fox, SAG already had an actor in America named Michael Fox). But it was too late for me to get the New Press to tack on my middle initial, so I slapped it onto my byline everywhere else when the graphic novel came out.

And I'll have to continue to include my middle initial everywhere, even in Twitter header images (but not in conversation because that would be douchey), because "Jimmy Aquino" continues to be a common Filipino name and people occasionally confuse me online with other people with the same name. People (after 2009) who always omit my middle initial whenever you mention me online, you're not fucking helping. I feel like you folks who are weirdly allergic to middle initials think I'm trying to be bougie.

My addition of my middle initial is not a bougie thing like the "J." Donald Drumpf includes in his name because he's a cartoon character like Wile E. Coyote. I need the middle initial to differentiate myself in Google searches from other folks with the same name. Unlike Kristof, I need it because it does increase clarity.

Adding a middle initial would likely reduce the amount of bizarre tweets that Natalie Morales from The Grinder encounters on Twitter because people over there confuse her all the time with soon-to-be-former Today Show host Natalie Morales. But the Grinder cast member and former Middleman star has actually been having too much fun on Twitter mocking idiots who write mean (or pervy) tweets to her and think she's Natalie Morales from NBC News.

So because too many people never stop to mind their surroundings like Liam Neeson was often fond of saying in Batman Begins and do some research about whoever they're trying to talk to, I also go by my DJing name of DJ AFOS if "Jimmy J. Aquino" is too much of a head-scratcher for their weird-ass brains. But in pieces of long-form writing like my most popular article on Twitter, a piece about Edgar Wright's The World's End, my byline isn't "DJ AFOS" because no one's going to take seriously a film and TV writer when he's named "DJ AFOS."

I once thought about changing my first name to "Carter," as both a reference to my parents naming me after Jimmy Carter (because he was the president when I was born), and a shout-out to Jay Z. At the time, I was going through a phase where Hov was one of my favorite MCs, but that was before he made Kingdom Come and Magna Carta Holy Grail, and, well, I haven't liked Shawn Carter as much since those two albums (and when Carter is the first name of the most boring DC Comics superhero who's not Aquaman, I'll just stick to being Jim for now).

So please, don't sleep on my middle initial. Or I will have to change my first name to Carter, and nobody wants that.

Friday, May 6, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans, now streaming on Showtime Anytime, careens down the twisted path of a racing film that’s like no other

From November 20, 2015, here's a repost of my discussion of the 1971 film Le Mans, the subject of Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans, an intriguing 2015 documentary that premiered on Showtime on March 18 and can currently be streamed by Showtime subscribers on Showtime Anytime.

With Le Mans, Steve McQueen, an auto racing enthusiast, set out to make as authentic an auto racing film as possible. The result, which was credited to a director from network TV, frequent '60s Mission: Impossible episode director Lee H. Katzin, was an unconventional, existentialist and documentary-style sports flick that baffled film critics in 1971--they wanted way more melodrama than the scant amount the film preferred to give them--and was ahead of its time. The story of an introverted man who doesn't know how to do anything else, except drive fast, was essentially a Michael Mann movie long before such a thing existed. And what are most Mann movies about? Introverted men who don't know how to do anything else, except break into vaults or track down criminals.

Le Mans isn't the best auto racing film ever made--that spot belongs to the offbeat Talladega Nights ("I like to think of Jesus as a figure skater who wears like a white outfit and he does interpretive ice dances of my life's journey"). But as an auto racing film, Le Mans is more powerful and rewatchable than either the soapy and overstuffed Grand Prix--if John Frankenheimer pared that film down to just the excellently shot racing sequences, it would have been an action masterpiece--or Quentin Tarantino's favorite racing film, the similarly soapy Days of Thunder, Don Simpson's 107-minute love letter to his own coke-fueled self. The power and rewatchability of Le Mans are mostly because of what Le Mans doesn't show and what it doesn't have the characters say.

McQueen looks like an astronaut checking out the planet Poonanny. Shout to the late Warren Thomas for the 'planet Poonanny' term.

The subplot about Michael Delaney, McQueen's racer character, and his tentative friendship with the widow (Elga Andersen) of a racing rival who died during one of Delaney's racing accidents barely qualifies as a love story, but the minimal dialogue between McQueen and Andersen and the details their scenes leave out (did Delaney and the widow sleep together in his trailer?) automatically cause their subplot to be far more intriguing as off-the-race-track material than any of the off-the-track Grand Prix scenes that don't feature a hot Françoise Hardy or an equally hot Jessica Walter. I love how all the exposition in Le Mans is delivered by a barely audible PA announcer and the film--several decades before the invention of the closed captioning option on Blu-rays and DVDs would have made it easier--deliberately makes the audience work hard to understand what the announcer's saying.

I don't even like auto racing, yet Le Mans somehow comes up with many effective ways to make me give a shit about it, whether it's keeping the dialogue to a minimum, staging the racing sequences so that they're not the "disorienting, incoherent blur of mindless action" Nathan Rabin complained about in his Dissolve reassessment of Days of Thunder or capturing remarkable footage of either the actual 24-hour Le Mans race or the onlookers that would be impossible to capture today, perhaps for insurance reasons or simply because it's not 1970. It's hard to dislike a sports flick that comes up with a shot of a spectator like my favorite shot: a young lady is too passed out from drinking to bother to pay attention to Delaney's pit crew springing into action and assisting Delaney out of his Porsche at the end of his latest shift behind the wheel.

She did the same thing while trying to sit through the movie Pan at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Behind the scenes, Le Mans was such a difficult film to make: it started filming without a script; the enigmatic McQueen was at his worst behavior and was at odds with everyone from studio execs to Le Mans' original director, John Sturges, who directed McQueen in The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape; McQueen and his then-wife were cheating on each other; and a stunt driver had to have his leg amputated after an actual car crash on the set. The Le Mans shoot's endless troubles have been the subject of both a 1999 book (Michael Keyser's A French Kiss with Death) and now a documentary, Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans.

The Daily Beast calls directors Gabriel Clarke and John McKenna's new McQueen doc "a warts-and-all portrait of a man at an unstable time in his life" and is appreciative of how the doc "doesn't look away from the people who were hurt by McQueen's actions." But the Beast isn't as enamored with the doc's overexplanatory nature, in comparison to Le Mans' not-so-explanatory nature ("We don't need to hear someone tell us that McQueen cared about where the camera was, or what shots he was going to be in, because to look at scenes from Le Mans is to immediately understand the artist's curiosity to capture action in images").

The best thing to come out of Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans has taken place outside the movie. That would be the bonus tracks on the Varèse Sarabande release of Jim Copperthwaite's ultra-solemn score to Clarke and McKenna's doc. The bonuses are highlights from Michel Legrand's occasionally treacly but otherwise vibrant and effective jazz score to Le Mans.

In 2007, Legrand's Le Mans score--it's basically Legrand in froufrou Thomas Crown Affair mode--was reissued with additional tracks by Universal France, but Varèse's treatment of the Le Mans cues isn't too shabby either. Fortunately, in this incarnation, the Le Mans cues are without the Le Mans race track sound FX that were edited into the music on the 1971 Columbia Records LP release of the Le Mans soundtrack (and then were mostly omitted by Universal France, to the delight of film score music fans who don't like hearing sound clips from movies during those movies' score albums).

"The Race, Final Laps" was cut out of the 1971 film, but it's the best and most energetic of the cues Legrand wrote for Le Mans and Varèse added to the Man & Le Mans album. It best captures Delaney's intense drive to get his team to the top, even when he himself isn't in first place, as well as the very subject of The Man & Le Mans: McQueen's ambition and desperation to make Le Mans the way he wanted, even at the cost of several friendships, a marriage, a guy's leg and perhaps his own sanity.