"When We Were Kings" (members and guests only) IFC, Dublin

"When We Were Kings" (members and guests only) IFC, Dublin

The deserved winner of this year's Oscar for best documentary feature, Leon Gast's superbly researched and assembled When We Were Kings is a highly entertaining and wholly engrossing chronicle of the heavyweight championship bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the country then known as Zaire, on October 30th, 1974. The fight originally scheduled for five weeks earlier but postponed when Foreman suffered a gash over his eye while sparring was promoted by the flamboyant Don King and staged in agreement with the military dictator of Zaire, President Mobutu, who saw it as a publicity stunt.

The star of the movie is indisputably the immensely charismatic Ali himself, whose career up to that point is succinctly synopsised and whose trademark humour is demonstrated time and again in his loquacious and witty outbursts. Moving like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, the hand some 32 year old Ali lights up the screen with his unique personality, unswerving frankness, firm self belief and magnetic charisma.

Director Gast intersperes impeccably employed archival material with present day reflections from commentators such as Spike Lee, who emphasises Ali's firm religious and political commitment - in 1967 Ali refused to serve in Vietnam because of his status as a minister of the Nation of Islam and was stripped of his title and sentenced to five years in jail, a conviction later overturned.


The movie's most articulate present day commentators are the writers Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, who were in Kinshasa for the fight and provide telling insights into his personality and tactics. In addition, there is footage from a music festival staged in Kinshasa to coincide with the fight and featuring, among others, Miriam Makeba, James Brown and B.B. King.

The first hour of the movie documents the buildup to the rumble in the jungle, as it was dubbed, and the final half hour concentrates on the fight and its aftermath with Plimpton and Mailer providing a fresh, analytical voice over commentary of the action in the ring. An effectively used still photograph vividly captures their open mouthed reaction at the outcome.

"The Fifth Element" (12) Savoy, Virgin, Omniplex, UCIs, Dublin

The lavish, hitech new movie from Luc Besson the director of Subway, The Big Blue, Nikita and Leon is The Fifth Element, a bloated and naive futuristic yarn which, following a relatively promising prologue set in Egypt in 1914, moves forward to New York City in the year 2259 as our planet is threatened by a supreme evil force. The fifth element - after earth, wind, fire and water is, in Besson's belief, life itself, but can it possibly withstand this evil force that's on the way?

Enter salvation in the truly unlikely form of a stubbly New York cab driver. Korban Dallas played by Bruce Willis, swapping his dirty Die Hard T shirt for a pristine backless orange Lycra number designed, like the rest of the wild and crazy cost times, by Jean Paul Gautier. Korban is told that he has been selected for a most important mission. "What mission?" he asks. "To save the world," he is told. And away we go.

Korban is propelled in his quest by the genetically engineered young woman (model Milla Jovovich dressed in a bandages ensemble) who just happens to land in the back of his airborne taxi. Villainy is personified by the wicked Zorg, played by a scenery chewing Gary Oldman, and the gimmicky cast also includes Ian Holm as a wise priest and the high camp Chris Tucker as a screamingly shrill vee-jay, along with Lee Evans in a sailor suit and Mathieu Kassovitz as a mugger, and trip hopper Tricky in the role of Right Arm.

The Fifth Element proffers some excellent special effects and some quite amusing futuristic asides New York's skyscraper skyline is choked by busy flying car traffic, including a floating Chinese takeaway; cute little robots clean up domestic mess; and cigarettes - incredibly, people are still smoking in 2259 - are composed almost entirely of filters. However, far too much of the movie's - futuristic stuff is rooted in the culture of the present and exhibits a real paucity of imagination.

The movie is flooded with references to other futuristic films, specifically Metropolis, Barbarella, Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Total Recall one entire sequence redundantly echoes the scene of Arnie Schwarzenegger wreaking havoc at passport control when en route to Mars in Total Recall.

The final, heavy handed message that love conquers all accompanied by Eric Serra's bombastic swelling score is as trite and simplistic an anti war message as we have seen on the screen. The confused narrative has its genesis in a story Besson started writing as a novel when he was 16, and like so many other juvenile projects - Christopher Hampton's story of Verlaine and Rimbaud in the recent Total Eclipse is another it ought to have stayed in a drawer.

Helen Meany adds:

"The Associate" (15) Virgin, Omniplex, UCIs, Dublin

It helps to be well disposed towards Whoopi Goldberg if you want to enjoy this film, in which she plays a bright, smart, funny, generous, wish all round wonderful human being who dominates almost every single frame. The Associate, is, in fact, a great deal better than some of Goldberg's many recent vehicles, but it's hard not to wish that some day she might be paid the compliment of a more intelligent script and a less indulgent director.

Donald Petrie's social comedy takes a gently satirical look at the prejudice, sexism, snobbery and conservatism of the financial world, focusing on the difficulties confronting one ambitious young trader, Laurel Ayres (Goldberg), as she tries to break the glass ceiling on Wall Street.

Despite the atmospheric use of Manhattan locations, this film could, of course, be about any large institution: hierarchical, resistant to change and reluctant to recognise talent unless it comes packaged in entirely familiar form. The role of Laurel's under valued secretary, wonderfully portrayed by Dianne Wiest, underlines the familiarity of the working relationships depicted. In frustration at her failed attempts to succeed on her own as a consultant, Laurel invents an (absent) male business partner called Cutty with an impeccably traditional CV, and plays the market in his name. When resounding success and media fame follow, life gets very complicated. Instead of owning up to her ruse, Laura impersonates Cutty, with the help of some very strange looking prosthetics, which give her a passing resemblance to Marlon Brando (late period).

By this point, it has turned into a pretty silly, mildly entertaining vain with the stereotypes becoming broader, the satire softer and Whoopi's smile ever brighter wishfulfillment fantasy triumphs over all other considerations. What's that Whoopi's saying? Wish on, sisters.