Indie Spotlight: ‘Life of a King,’ ‘Like Father, Like Son,’ ‘Maidentrip’

Cuba Gooding Jr. and Malcolm Mays star in "The Life of a King." Credit: Millenium Entertainment
Cuba Gooding Jr. and Malcolm Mays star in “The Life of a King.”
Credit: Millenium Entertainment

‘Life of a King’
Director: Jake Goldberger
Stars: Cuba Gooding Jr., Lisa Gay Hamilton
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Cuba Gooding, Jr. has made a Hallmark or Hallmark-y TV movie in his time, along with the reasonably notorious attempted feel-good picture “Radio.” By all rights, “Life of a King” should be another. It’s the real-life tale of Eugene Brown, an aging ex-con who started up a chess program for at-risk inner city youths. But if it hits a lot of the expected notes, it does it from a slightly skewed angle. Director Jake Goldberger eases back on the saccharine, downplaying the mechanics of the story and only cranking up the music when an appreciably obscure soul tune takes over the soundtrack.

While a lot of underdog stories want to be “Rocky,” they really end up with the actually triumphant ending to “Rocky” sequels. This actually does the almost-but-close-enough original “Rocky” capper, one cliche that could be used by more knee-jerk weepies. The presence of Gooding might raise alarm bells, but he’s getting better with age. Few Oscar winners have had the dire post-win career he’s had, but he’s the most low-key thing about the film, rocking a weariness that can’t be faked, and visibly fighting not to be merely pitied. Between this and his hilarious scene-stealing fits in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” Gooding may be back.

"Like Father, Like Son" considers what happens when families discover their children were switched at birth. Credit: IFC Films
“Like Father, Like Son” considers what happens when families discover their children were switched at birth.
Credit: IFC Films

‘Like Father, Like Son’
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Stars: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono
Rating: NR
3 (out of 5) Globes

 Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda is one of the gentlest, least judgmental forces in the business, which makes him ideal for exploring, without the need for hard answers, subjects like death (“After Life”), family dynamics (“Still Walking”) and childhood (“Nobody Knows,” “I Wish”). That makes him a perfect fit to tackle an issue without an easy solution: what to do after it’s discovered two children have been switched at birth. Two families — one middle-class business types; the other more hippie small business owners — discover that their sons have been mismatched, and spend the rest of the film wondering what to do: switch them back, keep each kid with the family who’ve raised them or some third option.

There’s a sort of end point in mind from the beginning, but Koreeda remains more interested in the ever-shifting relations between the very different families. Issues of class come into it, with the more well-off family struggling to deal with their snobbery and misconceptions relating to the people with whom they’ve been forced into knowing. But even with a tighter story structure than he’s used to, the ever-curious side of Koreeda wins out.

"Maidentrip" presents the journey of Laura Dekker, a teen who sailed around the world. Credit: First Run Features
“Maidentrip” presents the journey of Laura Dekker, a teen who sailed around the world.
Credit: First Run Features

‘Maidentrip’
Director: Jillian Schlessinger
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR
3 (out of 5) Globes

New Zealand-born Danish teenager Laura Dekker made headlines when she announced a few years back that she wanted to become the youngest person to circumnavigate globe by herself. Few events cry out more for a documentary, and luckily “Maidentrip” is a grounded one — neither sensational nor unduly dramatic. In fact, it’s disarmingly light, much like its teenager. No “All Is Lost” tale here: Despite being on a swank-ish boat all by herself for a year and a half — albeit with plenty of pitstops, sightseeing and chances for her to hang it with documentarian Jillian Schlessinger’s film crew — she faces few hardships and only transitory bouts of loneliness. The film doesn’t push an agenda or anything, much really, not even making generational generalizations, despite Dekker having shot much of the footage by herself.

In fact, its most revelatory aspect is entirely tacit: that Dekker is the perfect age at the most perfect time in history to attempt a globe-trot without succumbing to madness or death. The film could stand to be longer, to have a few more longeurs that take in scenery and clear the mind. (It moves faster than most screwballs.) But doing that might have been to impose something on the material that simply was never there.


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