Tag Archives: JRR Tolkien

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Ian Holm Performances

Ian Holm was one of those impossibly talented, incredibly adaptable, classically Shakespearean trained thespians who stood out and rocked any role given to him with wit, grace, nobility and utmost class. He had a comprehensive command over dialogue and never *ever* just repeated what the script said flatly or histrionically but always gave it flair, flourish, deep meaning and always gave the viewer the impression that what he’s saying is organic, urgent and full of life. He has passed away now at age 88 but he had a legendary run in Hollywood across many genres, working with countless prolific directors on very very special films where he was always a ray of light and talent each time. Here are my personal top ten of his performances!

10. Napoleon Bonaparte in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits

Ian played Napoleon multiple times in his career but the loopy, verbosely Gallic take on the legendary conquerer here has to be my top pick. He’s off the wall, a little crazy and power drunk from just winning a war, and spends most of his appearance bellowing loudly, swilling wine and abruptly falling asleep, it’s a tongue in cheek sendup of history that he has a lot of fun with.

9. Mr. Kurtzman in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil

It’s a small role as the main character’s boss but he nails the manic satire of bureaucratic institutions perfectly. Kurtzman is the kind of under qualified, good natured nitwit who has not a clue what his role or responsibilities are really about and skips his way through the workday with cheerful indifference.

8. Terry Rapson in Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow

The obligatory ‘disaster movie scientist who no one listens to but of course is correct in his calculations,’ Ian makes Terry a convincing meteorological guru who gravely (but not without humour) heralds the incoming weather cataclysm with gravity and believable sincerity.

7. Skinner in Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille

I can picture Ian jumping, hopping and running amok in the voiceover recording booth for this insanely exuberant villain role as the nasty, pretentious hack head chef of a prestigious Paris restaurant who makes trouble for everybody. His French accent is a beauteous, stylistically bonkers creation and the sheer verve and piss-ant tenacity he puts forth into the performance is commendable.

6. Pod Clock in BBC’s The Borrowers

This lovely television adaptation of Mary Norton’s beloved book series will always have a special place in my heart. Holm gives wonderful work playing the patriarch of the pint sized Clock family, tiny humans who live secretly amongst us and scavenge our everyday objects to survive. One particular moment stands out as he gives a heartfelt monologue to his daughter Arietty (Rebecca Callard) about a pet beetle he once had when he was young to console her during a sad time.

5. Liam Casey in Sydney Lumet’s Night Falls On Manhattan

Ian isn’t the obvious choice to play an NYC police detective but Lumet’s supremely underrated crime saga sees him spectacularly portray a very conflicted officer and father who finds himself deep in a morally complex web of corruption. You get the sense that this really is a man who set out with the best intentions, for himself, his son (Andy Garcia) and his longtime partner (James Gandolfini) and you can really feel the hurt, deep regret and profound conflict resonating from his performance. Plus he rocks the Brooklyn accent like nobody’s business.

4. Sir William Gull in The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell

I can’t really nail this blurb without wading into spoilers so be warned past this point! Ian brings a deliciously delicate, elegantly malevolent energy to Gull, an aristocratic medical practitioner who, yes, is in fact infamous serial killer Jack The Ripper himself as well. When the final act rolls in his eyes literally go all black like a shark’s and he proclaims with deadly soft spoken maliciousness: “One day men will look back and say that I gave birth to the Twentieth Century.” It’s enough to get us shaking in our boots and a terrifyingly intense villainous turn.

3. Ash in Ridley Scott’s Alien

The ultimate android with an ulterior motive, Ash is a quiet, observant and ruthlessly pragmatic creature by design. He holds the company’s interests above all and when his treachery leads to his end he ironically wishes his crew mates good luck before checking out. It’s perhaps his most iconic role and certainly one of his best.

2. Vito Cornelius in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element

He brings a wonderful, theatrical physicality and exuberance to the role here, a priest of an ancient order tasked with literally helping to save the world. There’s a realistic familial dynamic between him, his twitchy assistant (Charlie Creed Miles), Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich that makes for one of the most engaging, winning troupe of protagonists in film.

1. Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit

This is the treasured, cherished favourite for me. He brings such warmth, haunting complexity and kindhearted humour to Bilbo that I couldn’t imagine any other actor in the role, and even Martin Freeman, although terrific, didn’t hold a candle to the essence Ian brought to this classic Tolkien character. I can quote every line verbatim, picture every mannerism in my head and often find myself walking or biking somewhere and I’ll softly sing “The Road Goes Ever On” in my head and imagine Ian’s Bilbo joining in with me. The road does go ever on and Ian has taken it over the hill and past the horizon into his next great adventure. Thank you for Bilbo and Godspeed on your journey Sir.

-Nate Hill

Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

The middle chapter in any trilogy has the unfortunate luck of being an oasis interlude that by definition can’t have an opening or a conclusion, because a hunk of story came before it and, naturally, there’s more to come after. However in the case of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, it adapts and adjusts that malady by finding it’s own groove with a surging forward momentum that is removed from the episodic nature of both Fellowship and Return Of The King. It’s not my personal favourite of the three (Fellowship holds that trophy on sheer potent nostalgia alone) but to me it’s the most unique in the sense that *because* it has no bookend on either side of its narrative, it ironically feels like the most independent chapter.

There’s a restless surge of movement from every side of the action here; Frodo and Sam are uneasily led by Gollum through a haunted, labyrinthine marsh ever closer to the acrid peaks of Mordor. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli furiously race to save the entire population of Rohan from devastation at the hands of Saruman, the good wizard who went about as bad as you can go, and his manipulative lackey Wormtongue. Merry and Pippin are whisked away on the shoulders of Ent elder Treebeard on an endless hike through Fangorn Forest, and eventually Isengard itself. Even Gandalf doesn’t get a sit-down or a smoke break, propelled on a dizzying battle with the Balrog and thrown right back into the struggle for Middle Earth with Tim for nought but a wardrobe update and hair dye. It’s that movement, the ever forward rhythm that sets this one apart and emphasizes what a truly massive journey this whole story is. Fellowship had dreamy interludes in Rivendell, whimsical leisure time spent in The Shire and near constant time to reflect and sit down for these characters, and Return had… six different endings that broke the pace. Two Towers begins with fiery chaos in Moria, holds that note throughout and finishes literal moments after the thunderclap battle of Helms Deep, which is still just an incredible piece of large scale filmmaking.

This one also introduced two of my absolute favourite characters in the whole trilogy, Theoden king of Rohan and his warrior niece Eowyn. Played by Bernard Hill and Miranda Otto, these two performances just sing through the whole film, drawing sympathies not just for Rohan but the entire human race, it’s struggle and earning every cheer out loud moment. The whole conflict with Rohan, despite again not being the inciting event in the war for Middle Earth or even the final battle, feels very immediate and important thanks to Hill, Otto, everyone involved and the monumental special effects involved in bringing the terrifying Uruk Hai army to life. There’s a tactile use of CGI that’s almost subtle enough to blend in with the real world elements, and despite being made like almost two decades ago, they still hold up and eclipse other similar efforts in more recent years, especially with the battle, Treebeard and poor Gollum who still looks fantastic. The stuff with Frodo is less compelling, or at least to me, I’ve always found in the latter two films that his trajectory gets increasingly dark, horrific and suffocating and find myself counting down the seconds until we rejoin the others. I suppose that’s the point as he is carrying that terrible Ring, but nevertheless, always tough to make palatable.

The climactic battle that goes on for nearly fifteen minutes, the incredibly cathartic siege of the trees on Isengard, the hair raising Warg attack, Gandalf’s final boss battle with the Balrog, Eomer (Karl Urban, a study in badassery) and his company massacring the Uruk war party, all are standout moments and fantastic pieces of cinema. But there are a few moments that are always present and important in my mind when watching this film: As a small village in Rohan is plundered by marauding orcs, a desperate mother sends her two (Robyn Malcolm) sends her two children ahead of her on horseback, and nothing is more heartbreaking or immediate than this parting. Later on, Theoden stands by the grace of his son and weeps against a twilit sky while Gandalf looks on in sorrow and utters words of comfort. Elsewhere, Frodo, despite being under the malicious influence of the Ring, takes pity on Gollum and treats him with compassion even though the creature has a track record of nasty behaviour. It’s the little moments like these that ground the story in emotion, create a stirring palette for the characters to interact in and make the battle scenes count for something.

-Nate Hill