Tim Grierson on the Indie Gem “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon”

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

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Summer movie season is host to lots of big movies. Whether it’s the gigantic blockbusters like “The Avengers” or serious award-contending indies like “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the films that come out during this time of year all feel a little more momentous. So it’s easy for a relatively small, low-budget affair to slip through the cracks, its pleasures lost amidst a crowded marketplace. Which is why I want to recommend you seek out “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” while you have the chance.

The warring-siblings comedy is the latest from brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, who earlier this year released the surprisingly poignant “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” But in fact, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is an older film from them — it was completed after 2008’s “Baghead” and before the brothers’ transition to more polished, mainstream indies like “Cyrus.” As a result, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” almost feels like an outtake or side project from the Duplasses, a fun scribble that shouldn’t be taken too seriously but is nonetheless a must-see for the directors’ fans. But unlike a lot of side projects, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” isn’t overly self-indulgent. It’s actually quite a good little film.

The movie features two adult brothers, Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly), who essentially stopped speaking to one another in their teens. The reason for their falling-out was the Do-Deca-Pentathlon, a 25-event competition they concocted in high school whose winner would be deemed the superior brother. The competition included everything from push-ups to arm-wrestling to holding your breath underwater, but the contest ended in a disputed tie, leaving no one the winner and forever driving a wedge between them. Years later, Mark and his family are visiting his mom when Jeremy shows up unannounced, in part because he wants to stage a new Do-Deca-Pentathlon. Mark’s wife (Jennifer Lafleur) forbids her husband to do it — he has to worry about stress — but Mark’s old competitive streak with his brother won’t go away. And so the contest begins anew.

With a running time of about 75 minutes, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is deceptively slight and boasts a rather obvious moral: Even as grownups, men sure act like children. But as the Duplass brothers have demonstrated throughout their career — which began with their terrific 2005 debut, “The Puffy Chair” — they’re quite skillful at taking a catchy premise and exploring it as deeply as they can, finding some unguarded emotion and unexpected truth beneath the obvious laughs. Much of that has to do with the brothers’ heavily improvisational style with their actors, which creates a loose, rough quality to their films that sometimes can feel amateurish but often results in some wonderfully lived-in moments between the characters. (“They don’t always look beautiful, they don’t always sound beautiful,” Mark Duplass recently said about his and Jay’s films, “but if we try to keep an organic performance that’s kind of truthful and funny and sad, then people tend to connect to it.”) With its zooming handheld camera and cheapo production values, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” feels thrown together, but its careful examination of male discontent is strung together so precisely that the movie’s a small little marvel of concise storytelling.

Which isn’t to say that “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” isn’t also very funny. On one level, this comedy is simply about two overgrown kids whose childhood competitiveness has stunted their emotional development. Zissis as the conflicted family man and Kelly as the cocky poker-playing bachelor are portraying easily identifiable male types, and both actors do an excellent job exuding all the clichés of their particular type. But the secret to the success of “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is that neither the actors nor the filmmakers hint at the fact that they know that Mark and Jeremy are behaving ridiculously. Rather, the characters’ silly competition is treated pretty seriously, which makes their struggle funnier but also sadder. In the films that the Duplasses have made since “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” — “Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” — they have further satirized male rivalry, but neither of those movies are as cutting as this one in showing how competitiveness fuels men but also corrodes them. You get the sense that the Duplass brothers know in their hearts that their characters are hopelessly immature. But you also get the sense that the filmmakers understand their characters in a way that probably makes even them uncomfortable.

“The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” opened in limited released on July 6 and will be expanding from there. But even if you can’t see it in a theater, it’s currently available on demand through some cable companies and iTunes. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t recommend watching a film at home if you can see it on the big screen, but with its lo-fi vibe, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” has an intimacy that should translate just fine to your home theater. Plus, if you end up identifying a little too strongly with Mark and Jeremy’s plight, it might be better to experience that harsh realization from the safety of your own couch.


Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.

10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.

9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.

8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.

7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.

6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.

5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.

4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.

3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.

2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”

1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

Mark Duplass talks the impact of his films, trying new genres and “Game of Thrones”

Mark Duplass in Safety Not Guaranteed

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It’s hard to think that the same man who co-wrote and directed “The Puffy Chair,” “Baghead” and “Cyrus” is also the same guy who plays leading man Pete in FX’s hit fantasy football comedy “The League.” But upon first meeting at a “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” DVD/Blu-Ray release party in Santa Monica, it’s clear to see where Mark Duplass‘s two worlds collide.

The world is Duplass’s metaphorical oyster — or sandbox, as he later refers to it — but right now he and brother Jay are just doing what makes them happy. We chatted about the response to “Jeff,” his work on “The League” and where he wants to go next with his filmmaking career over glasses of 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, admitting that we were both “punching above our weight” at this point in time.

IFC: It must be so rewarding for you to see how well received “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” has been.

MARK DUPLASS: My whole career has sort of felt like that. Jay and I were these two kids who were making these movies about what we perceived as very small, personal things. I guess the way we describe it is we like to explore the epically small, and that hopefully in somebody’s quest for wood glue, you can extrapolate some grander machinations of the universe and its inner workings. But I honestly never thought, genuinely, that we would get this far. That we would be able to make the movies that we like making, which are so small and personal, and have a company like Paramount not only put the film out but also give us free food and beer to talk about it, and $75 fucking whiskey, man. We’re punching above our weight here.

IFC: “Jeff” is this intimate little story that has really reached a wide audience, but it doesn’t sound like you planned for it to be something that could affect everyone.

MD: I discovered something in my 20s with Jay which was we spent quite a few years making really shitty movies that no one will ever see, thank god, and they were very derivative of other people. We tried to be the Coen brothers and you’re not going to be the Coen brothers without being the Coen brothers. And one day we made this little short film completely by accident that was improvised, shot with out parents’ video camera with terrible lighting and terrible sound, but it was about something that we experienced that we thought was sad and funny, which was why do we have an emotional breakdown every time we try to record the out-going greeting of our answering machine. Why is it that you have to keep rerecording it to present yourself so directly to the world? So we shot a 20 minute take about someone trying to perfect their personal greeting of their answering machine and cut it down to 8 minutes and that was our first movie that got into Sundance. And from that moment, we’ve never really strayed from this belief that like, if it’s funny and sweet and sad to us, we just need to take that and present it to the world through our eyes, and hopefully they’ll find something in it too.

So while a stoner living in his basement who’s obsessed with the movie “Signs” isn’t someone that people can immediately connect with, the core of him as this guy who wants more for his life and believes that there’s something great out there for him, I guess there’s a sweetness and a comedy to that that I think, I guess I’ve learned, do connect broader than just the specificity of his character.

IFC: You managed to bring these great performances out of Ed Helms and Jason Segel that no one has really seen before. Do you find that more actors are coming to you now and saying that they want to work with you?

MD: We are now in that position, which is huge. To speak to the business end of that, the fact that name actors want to work with us means that like, if there’s any tenure to be had in this business, that’s our tenure is that we make movies cheaply and, luckily enough, movie stars want to work with us, so we are able to play in our little corner of the sandbox and do what do, and I’m just hopeful we can keep making them.

IFC: Would you ever want to explore any more of that metaphorical sandbox?

MD: We like to expand our movies a little bit every time we do one so we’re not just repeating ourselves. In a lot of ways, “Jeff” was kind of an adventure quest movie. If we made a movie like “Battleship,” it would be about all the guys on the ship and maybe some homoerotic behavior and people getting their feelings hurt. That’s what that movie would be. I want to see Spider-Man stub his toe and get sad. That would be my thing. So I don’t know, we are interested in genre films and, as long as there’s a way to tell a really personal small story in there, I think that’s what we would be good at. I do believe we would be terrible at directing a Marvel film. We would just make a shitty movie, so I’m not going to do that any time soon.

IFC: What sort of genres would you want to try?

MD: If you look at our movies at the DNA, they are all relationship movies, and they’re all personal, but “The Puffy Chair” follows the form of a road movie, and “Baghead” follows the form of a horror film, and”‘The Do-Deca-Pentathalon” coming up is a sports movie, and this is kind of a quest movie, and “Cyrus” is a love triangle film. But they’re all very odd versions of that genre. So I am actually interested in making a science fiction movie in space that is a little more relationship oriented. I mean, that’s fascinating to me. To a certain degree, I think “Eternal Sunshine” did that a little bit with like taking this science fiction genre and making a more personal take on it. So it’s hard to predict where we’re going to go, but we’re definitely interested in branching out so we’re not just repeating ourselves.

IFC: Jay teased earlier that you guys have some other projects coming up. Can you talk a little bit about any of those?

MD: There’s a couple of things going on. I have my acting career and I have a lot of things I’m doing with that. We’re writing a bunch of things. Some of them are personal projects that we’ll direct, some of them are studio projects. And we are kind of tossing around this idea of kind of getting involved in television. So we’ve got a bunch of little irons in the fire.

IFC: And “The League” has really found such an audience.

MD: “The League’s” fun. It has a very rabid little fanbase. It’s cool.

IFC: Has working on that show changed your perception of the television industry at all?

MD: I never thought I could do TV because I’m a filmmaker. I was like, I can’t go beyond the office because I can’t be gone nine months of the year. But “The League” is a three month commitment, so cable TV as a shorter commitment really works.

IFC: So what you’re telling me is you want to direct the next “Game of Thrones” episode.

MD: Fuck yeah, man. Just get weird up in there. Just super weird.

IFC: It would be like that Rian Johnson episode of “Breaking Bad.”

MD: I love Rian. I love Rian so much. It’s a weird meeting of worlds.

IFC: [Jay and Judy Greer] were joking early that you guys should direct a live action “Archer” episode.

MD: That would be [awesome]. I fucking love “Archer,” man. I love me some Judes.

“Jeff, Who Lives At Home” comes out on DVD on June 19.

Would you like to see the Duplass brothers expand into different genres? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Mark and Jay Duplass and Judy Greer talk life after “Jeff, Who Lives At Home”

Judy Greer in Jeff, Who Lives at Home

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“Jeff, Who Lives At Home” may be a studio film, but it still feels as small and personal as any Duplass brothers project. The movie was praised for drawing new performances out of its leads – Jason Segel and Ed Helms — by placing them in roles that were twists on the characters that they have become known for.

In the months since “Jeff” hit theaters in limited release, it’s found a niche audience and earned a positive response from critics. At an event in Los Angeles promoting the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the movie, Jay Duplass admitted that he was surprised at the divided interpretations its drawn those who have seen the movie.

“A lot of my friends have called, and … a lot of people will be like, ‘Yeah man, you made a beautiful movie about the reality of the universe and that destiny is real and that everything is interconnected, and I’m glad that you did that,’ and then I have my other friends that are like, ‘Dude, you made the funniest fucking movie about those idiots that think everything is connected in the universe. It’s like, yeah, you keep holding on to anything for long enough, it’ll eventually come true,'” he said. “Everyone thinks that their own conception is like what we intended or created or whatever. It’s been really wild. I never know what people are going to say about it.”

The party was held at the appropriately titled Basement Tavern in Santa Monica, and if he had been there, Jeff would approve. Some of his insights were scribbled up on the wall in chalk, Buffalo Trace bourbon was the well whisky and “Signs” was playing on one of the bar’s television screens. Even wood glue was passed out at the end of the night so that the attendees could complete the journey that Jeff embarked on in the movie.

The logline of the film– a slacker stoner gets sent to buy wood glue for his mother but ends up discovering his destiny while spending the day with his jerk brother — might not seem like its something that would appeal to all audiences, but the deeper messages of the movie and intimate way it is told make it something that can connect with many people. Duplass said that it is a goal of his and his creative partner Mark Duplass‘s to tell stories that are very personal to them.

“It’s about issues that are near and dear to us,” he explained. “We’re obsessed with family, we’re obsessed with like just the whole concept of believing in something big and how hard do you have to work to get it, should you force it or you should you let it come to you?”

Mark, also present at the party, agreed with those sentiments. “While a stoner living in his basement who’s obsessed with the movie ‘Signs’ isn’t someone that people can immediately connect with, the core of him as this guy who wants more for his life and believes that there’s something great out there for him, I guess there’s a sweetness and a comedy to that that I think, I guess I’ve learned, do connect broader than just the specificity of his character,” he said.

Judy Greer, who plays the potentially adulterous wife of Helms’s character, said that this is a project she’s been attached to since the get-go. She’s been happy with the success it’s seen, and is always pleased to promote it to anyone she can talk to.

“I have been enjoying all the people who go see it who genuinely love the movie,” she said. “It’s so easy for me to tell people to go see it because I’m so proud of it, and I rarely really pitch my own work because it just doesn’t feel right to do, I feel like other people should do it, but with this movie I just love talking about, I love telling people to go see it.”

Her greatest moment following the film’s release came when she heard it mentioned on Sirius XM radio.

“I listen to Sirius XM New in my car obsessively, and I love like this moment when they were playing our song that fucking Beck made for our movie, which is bananas, so then my first thought is like, ‘Oh my god, Beck has seen me in a movie! How cool is that?’ Beck knows my work. That was the first thing. And then the DJ was like, ‘That’s the song for “Jeff, Who Lives At Home,” it’s so awesome, really awesome movie, you guys should go check it out,’ and I was like, ‘I’m in that movie!'” she said enthusiastically. “I wanted to call in.”

Judging by the chemistry and good relationship present between Greer and the Duplass brothers, it clear that they enjoyed working with each other on “Jeff, Who Lives At Home.” And with the Duplass’s movie “The Do-Deca-Pentathalon” coming out on July 6, they now have time to look forward at future projects. Jay said that he and Mark had been talking to Greer about teaming up on another movie as recently as that night.

“I can’t tease anything yet [points at Greer], but there are some definite things in the works,” he said.

It will likely be a change of pace from their typical films, as well. Apparently after some prodding from their wives, the Duplass brothers have decided it’s time to make a movie with a female lead.

“We’re early in our careers and we’re two dudes who are desperate, so we’ve been making movies about that lately,” Jay explained. “Our wives are kind of like, ‘Enough with it. Enough with it. Let’s make some movies about some people who don’t have balls.'”

“Jeff, Who Lives At Home” comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 19.

Has Jeff’s story stayed with you since “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” was released? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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