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The Olivias

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

The wig made his scalp itch like an addiction, and the lipstick tasted of something extracted from a marine life form, but Heath looked up at the gold statuette with its mother-goddess curves and blank face and bit back a shudder of vulgar joy. He would get away with this, he thought, as he followed the media people down into the auditorium.

He had practiced with heels, but they had delivered their punishment by instalments. Walking the length of the laboratory had been one thing, but hours spent waiting to get in whilst the nominees and celebrities stood for photos and interviews with the press. He wouldn’t risk talking to one of them, although it would be quite something to ask Melissa McCarthy about playing Winifred Churchill in Her Darkest Hour or Mercedes Carrera as Connie The Barbarian.

Heath loved the cinema of this world the way God loves: from afar.

Security ushered them to their seats. Heath sat down in a way which appeared feminine but he felt awkward, already sweating under his arms and at the small of his back. There are whoops and cries from the audience, a hubbub of chatter which swells like an orchestra before the lights fall down and the presenter comes out. Something pinched the back of his ankle and he cursed the shoes he had chosen, but he wanted to fit in with the beautiful people.

It was controversial this year because a man was hosting, which made Heath chortle when he read about it, but as Michael Gyllenhaal walked towards the microphone, Heath felt a foreboding bubble in the pit of his stomach.

They were the only men in the building. He wished there weren’t restrictions on sharing his work. They enforced the department guidelines on contact and interaction with a rigour which verged on the pathological. A Latin woman, in a black suit walked down the aisle, shot Heath a look which raised gooseflesh before she moved down the aisle. Michael made a few jokes about men, and the audience cackled with a fierce glee. He was playing to the crowd, Heath thought, and good on him. Men had it tough in this parallel universe, but the politics didn’t interest him because he was here for the culture, which was always upriver of politics, anyway. His throat was dry and he rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth to generate saliva.

The first guest hosts were the stars of Bitch, Where’s My Car?, stunning despite the goofy smiles and snapback hats, heavy bracelets and midriffs carved from wood, scarred with tattoos which made Heath stir in his seat. He had taped everything back and had to take a deep breath to control his reaction. When they announced the winner as a supporting actress in Thora Gump, Heath tutted and shook his head. An elderly woman shot him a look, and when Heath uncrossed his legs, she scowled with a cautious suspicion before she returned her attention to the show. His mouth was like the skin of a baked potato and he had a headache building at his temples.

Thora Gump was awful. Heath suspected Zemeckis knew enough story structure to adapt the best parts of the book, and Hanks was subtle enough to avoid parody, which he’d been saying long before Tropic Thunder came out, but here Jodie Foster had suffered under Nora Ephron’s affectations to create a saccharine clown show which felt like a cheap satire of the original.

Heath loved the cinema of this world. For every Thora Gump, there was a Saving Private Rachel. Joan Allen was amazing as the determined school teacher and Greta Gerwig as Rachel provided an intense, but brief introduction in the last act. Their failures and successes held the same allure for Heath, but here he was indulging his appetite for novelty and risking his life to do it.

His money was on The Running Woman, Karyn Kusama had done an amazing job on the direction and Saoirse Ronan had proven a ballistic and credible lead. He rated Frances McDormand’s role as Killian the equal of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, but he couldn’t share it with them. He shook with pain as his mouth cracked and bled with thirst.

The speeches. The tearful calls for action to the faithful. He needed the bathroom but his legs had gone numb and his calves were hot coals grafted to his bones as he struggled to his feet. The old woman scowled at him and he avoided her piercing gaze as he staggered from his seat. The Latin woman looked at him with frank interest as she walked towards him.

His leg shook and he remembered the pinch on his ankle. A subtle display of tradecraft as good as anyone in the department. Culture was upriver of politics, but as he pitched forward onto his knees and watched the Latin security guard walk towards him, he marvelled how his story had turned out.

Small but capable hands lifted him to his feet.

He knew where he was going. A room outside any jurisdiction. He hadn’t come to watch The Olivias as his work, but his passion. As he focused on the blank, beautiful faces, his knees bumped against the step as they loaded him into the van and shut the door. He wanted to tell him how much he loved this world, its achievements and tragedies, how terrible and beautiful a world of women was, but they lowered the hood over his face and someone thrust a fist into his trachea before throwing him to the floor of the van as it sped away from the auditorium.

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The Value of Archetypes

(In which I rant about storytelling, immature art and editing. If this isn’t interesting, then skip it because I won’t be mad)


Anyone else feeling vaguely dissatisfied with the state of big entertainment?

A vague sense of betrayal and frustration?

Now, this goes into the weeds a little but stick the kettle on and allow me to explain.

There are structures to stories, which have existed in particular forms for thousands of years. You recognise them, not consciously unless you happen to be someone who writes and studies them, but even then, if you’ve picked up a book, watched a film or a series then you are as much a student as I am.

But these days, there are works out now which feel immature and unsatisfactory on an intuitive level. To quote Plinkett from Red Letter Media, your brain knows something is wrong.

Take, for example, season 8 of Game of Thrones, the order of the two climatic events, the way Arya kills the Night King rather than resolve the personal tension between the King and Jon Snow and how Dany turns from well intended saviour to genocide amongst others.

Things like this don’t anger me, more a benevolent literary chauvinism. It’s bastard hard at times writing, and what’s perfect in your head seldom ends up that way. Glimpses, and of course, I’m not subject to the pressures of full time professionals.

But I’m right about wanting more work which respects the archetypal forms of the story. Not the petulant, immature kinetics or melodrama we get too often.

How do you feel?

My book Until She Sings is out now.


Until She Sings


My Mailing List for announcements and news with a free short story as a thank you.

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Press F – Horror and Technology

Press F To Pay Respects – Horror and Technology –

My first article for Haunt Jaunts.

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Black Panther – Review

(Thought I’d try something a little different)

Marvel Studios introduced the character in Captain America: Civil War where T’Challa, prince of the African nation Wakanda appears as a force of relative antagonism. The movie Black Panther expands on the character, and the presence of Wakanda to tell a story which is only tangential to the ongoing consistency of the film universe.

But, Matt, you ask, do I need to harvest your nerd-infused brain meats to understand or enjoy it?

No, you don’t.

It’s a mixture of genres, but the overall look and discipline of the film is consistent and lends itself to an entertaining and exciting piece of film.

Thematically, it deals with the legacies of fathers being passed down to their offspring, the ideas of nationalism and identity, all wreathed in a knowing sense of humour, gorgeous visuals and some great performances.

Chadwick Bozeman, as T’Challa/Black Panther is charismatic, vulnerable yet heroic and carries the film alongside a great supporting cast. He has a gentle strength and nobility, alongside a physical presence which is sourced in a clear idea of the character.

I’m not precious about the adaptation of characters from one medium to another, and even my nerd Fu doesn’t tingle when films omit certain characteristics to make a film accessible to an audience outside of those who know what a long box is. Yet here we get a version who feels new and authentic.

So, why go see it?

It looks gorgeous, with a unique sense of styles, a colour palette and costumes which combine traditional African styles with a science fiction setting.

The performances are great. Notable stand outs are Michael B Jordan as the antagonist Eric Killmonger who has a wounded swagger which makes him compelling to watch. He was in The Wire, which adds to my theory of how any Wire alumni bring an extra charge to whatever film they’re in. I wasn’t in The Wire but I appropriate a similar level of awesome in my self.

He’s also an antagonist who embodies an important part of story structure, in they believe themselves a hero, and his motivation feels authentic and considered although he doesn’t get enough screen time.

Danai Gurira is fantastic, bold, distinct and carries a lot of the film’s internal plotting whilst also delivering kinetic action sequences which are balletic and evocative. Lupita Nyongo, Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett all work parallel to portray capable, beautiful characters who move the story forwards through action and intention. It’s a relief to see no characters are useful idiots and they have dialogue and action sequences which count as highlights in the movie.

Go see it, either as an interest in a film which generated some divisive publicity or because you’re a completist nerd like me who enjoys and learns from a multiple tier approach and consistency which is educational for a writer. Also it has lasers, ship battles, men with shirts off who’ve never seen a bloody carb in their lives, and armour plated rhinos.

Let me know if you like this, or want to disagree with me in the comments.

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Eilhu bore the weight of his armour with each step. He rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, the wound in his side tugging at him. He swallowed, tasting grit and the fading copper of adrenaline. It hurt to breathe, but it was a sweet pain.

He sat down, looking up at the clear blue sky, the clouds rolled in ponderous trails. It was the cleanest thing he had seen in hours and it made him smile with wonder. He loosened his sword belt with shaking fingers and put his fingers to his lips. He shut his eyes and thought of her.

Thousands dead and he had come away with a split lip, all his teeth and a small cut against his right side, where a spear head grazed against him.

‘Your highness?’

Peregrin stood there, hands by his sides, his bow slung over his right shoulder.

‘Care to join me, captain?’ Eilhu said.

Peregrin smiled and shook his head.

‘Not sure I would get up again, your highness.’

Eilhu chuckled and shook his head.

‘We’ve shed blood together, you can use my name. What do you want?’

Peregrin coughed before he spoke.

‘We found him.’


Roderick had tried to escape but Peregrin’s men had cornered him at Elder’s Pass. Eilhu extended a hand and Peregrin helped him to his feet.

‘I was thinking we should plant wheat here. I want to expand our farming.’

Peregrin nodded as Eilhu tied his sword belt and rolled his shoulders.

‘An excellent idea. It’s good earth.’

Eilhu ran his tongue over his lips, tested the cut with his tongue and looked down the hill.

‘It is. Now, let’s go discuss the terms of Young King Roderick’s surrender, shall we?’

Two soldiers held him upright. Rivulets of blood had dried on his upper lip. He showed his uneven, irregular peg teeth and the inflamed gums. His hair hung in rats tails around his face, clotted with dirt and blood. He swallowed and chuckled as Eilhu approached.

‘I can’t say I enjoyed the treatment I’ve received, Eilhu.’

Eilhu tilted his head and gazed at him.

‘It shouldn’t have ended like this, Roderick.’

Roderick grinned with a bravado which bordered on mania. He struggled against the soldiers but they held him with ease.

‘It hasn’t. One of us is still alive.’ he said.

Eilhu asked his men to release Roderick. He rubbed his arms and stretched, staring into Eilhu’s eyes with a hate past reason.

‘Stop the theatre, Roderick. It’s over.’

Roderick clenched his fists and sneered.

‘Never.’ he said.

Eilhu sighed and shook his head.

‘You’re coming back in chains to face trial. I’ve had my fill of killing today.’ he said.

Roderick hissed and spat on the ground.

‘Fuck you commoner scum and fuck your cunt queen. These lands are mine by right.’ he said.

‘I demand trial by single combat. Here. Now.’

The speed with which Eilhu made the very final decision surprised him. He unsheathed his sword and stuck it into the ground between them.

‘If you insist, you sad little boy, go right ahead.’

Eilhu picked up a shield and strapped it onto his right arm. Peregrin frowned and his hand went to the hilt of his sword but Eilhu shook his head.

‘I’m going to enjoy this.’ Roderick said.

Eilhu lowered the shield and stared into Roderick’s eyes without fear or anger.

‘Remember, you chose this.’ he said.

Roderick drew the sword from the earth, turned it in his hand.

‘I’ve never killed a man with his own blade before.’ he said.

Eilhu gave a quiet, indulgent smile.

‘I doubt it.’ he said.

Roderick snarled and lunged forwards. Eilhu stepped backwards, avoiding the arc of the blade and raised his shield.

Roderick followed him, bringing the sword over his head as he screamed with fury.

Eilhu lowered his centre of gravity and slammed the shield forward into Roderick’s chest. The impact travelled through his forearms as Roderick gave a choked cry, wheezing as he fell backwards. Eilhu brought the lip of the shield upwards, catching Roderick underneath his chin and snapping his head backwards.

He fell, the sword clattering to the ground from his fingers, clutching his throat as his heels beat a tattoo against the ground. Eilhu followed him down, slipping his forearm free of the shield and putting his boots against it. He squatted and grabbed a handful of Roderick’s hair.

‘I am proud of everything I’ve done, Roderick. Except this.’ he said.

‘I pronounce you guilty.’

He took Roderick’s head between his hands and gave it a sharp, final twist.

Eilhu got to his feet. He picked up his sword, nodded to each of the soldiers and Peregrin, then returned to his spot on the hill.

The clouds, white and pure, driven by a breeze which caressed his skin. He recalled her lips against his cheek, how she would graze his chest hair with her fingers to help her sleep and the gentle rhythm of her breath.

He sent part of his soul home to her. His body would soon follow.

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Of The Flesh


By this point, I was unsure as to whether my boldness with Asra was borne of comfort or insanity. Her stories had all pointed to a familiarity with death that leavened her beauty and, I will admit it, her sensuality. That too, added to her appeal, how she carried herself with a brazen disregard for my sensibilities.

She narrowed her eyes, noting my discomfort and sat back in her chair.

‘What is troubling you?’

My studies had consumed me, so my experience of pleasure and flesh had all been sourced in the holy rituals of marriage as it had been preached to me since childhood. Without checking my words, I knew that she had spoken frankly of intimacies with women. Casual ones. Such a thing was, if found to have occurred between men, was considered being as zinna.

‘You are frank about your… affairs of the flesh, Asra.’

She laughed.

‘Are you hungry?’

I nodded, and she called for a servant to bring us food. When he left, she pressed her palms together.

‘I shall talk about things that do not involve my prowess with spear, scimitar or poison. If I digress, or shock you, then please let me know and I shall allow you to catch up or compose yourself as you need to.’

I dipped my quill into the inkpot and hoped that I had not caused her offence.


It has been pointed out to me that my actions and predilections bring shame to my father. Let me assure you that, despite appearances, my father is more thoughtful and considered than his role might allow.

In my travels, I have met with many of the great powers. Some of them, you know of through my stories thus far, but there are others.

On the plains to the west, there are tribes who base their lives around the husbandry of a mighty beast, similar to our cattle, known as a taurusa. They live off its milk, blood and meat, use its fur to make their homes and clothes and carve weapons from its bones. I escorted a scribe, much like yourself, as my father believes that in time, they will come to power and he has always possessed a gift to see such opportunities before they bear fruit.

They recognise that sex is fluid and they refer to those who find delight in the same sex as being berache. They are treated as equals in the running of the tribe’s affairs. It was a pleasant and gratifying discovery when I was told this and that night, I was disrobed and laid atop a pile of skins and given a form of hospitality I would smile about for weeks afterwards. Lithe, supple maidens with skins the colour of tilled earth and pink, wriggling tongues.

My own heart hears a similar call. I take lovers from amongst men and women.

Does this embarrass you?

Are you sure? I follow the will of Allah as you do, and I have known the struggles of what is good versus what I know to be true in my heart.

I have studied the Quran with my father and on my own, I have not found anything there that says that who I am is fahisha. If anyone would see stones cast at me, then it is something in their heart, not the mind or heart of Allah. I might commit acts that some would see as fusuq, but my father and my god see things differently.

My brother, well, you know what happened to him.

He is beyond such judgements.

If it is not my preference, then the zealot might choose the argument of my casual approach. Each time I set out, it might be my last. Even though I would be with Allah, it would mean leaving the pleasures of the flesh behind.
I believe in Heaven but I know that it is found in the senses and the flesh. Consider the delight taken in dance, the taste of water when you are thirsty, food when you are hungry. Do you know such aches in your loins?
I do, and when I find someone whose spirit and flesh might offer an abatement of that, I would be foolish to deny myself such pleasure. Righteousness may help you sleep at night, but a lover who offers me pleasure is a more immediate reward. We live in these bodies only once, and I intend to make the best use of it whilst I am able to do so. The Quran does not prohibit exploration of the flesh, Allah punishes that which is taken by force and without consent as He did in the city of Lut.

I might be casual but I am not careless, and when the opportunity arises, I am considerate and kindly. I will risk censure for the pleasures to be found to cradle another’s face, to look into eyes luminous with want and to press my lips against flesh perfumed and made warm with desire.

Men are harder, hairier and it can be more aggressive although it is not been my experience that women are incapable of such force in the pursuit of passion and release. There is the clash, the urgency of passion. I welcome a man’s strength, the sensation of being made full and pinned beneath it, writhing in exquisite torment until such time as I am insensible and gasping with being made to surrender to his divine fury.

In turn, I take pride in opening a man up to the pleasures of his own flesh, to allow him space for his own tenderness and delight. My mouth has a knowledge as honeyed as any courtesan and there is something about having a man who might kill me with his bare hands, gasping and made languid with a careful press of my lips or the tip of my tongue against a particular spot.

There was one lover. A bold traveller, with a poet’s words and a lover’s lips. His hands were rough, and afterwards, I walked like I were crippled. With delight and surprise that he managed to get one of them inside me. The pressure became almost unbearable, but he worked with a healer’s patience and he had the most beautiful eyes. Brown, you would say at first but as we worked together, and the afternoon waned into evening then night, they took on the colours of the world around them, turning the gold of freshly harvested honey or wine as he used me for our mutual pleasure. I laid there, soaked in oils and shuddering like a newborn foal, panting with ecstasy and he leaned forward, smiled with the skill shown in the quiet acceptance of his innate will to dominate.

He whispered to me that I was his vessel that he would fuck the divine light into my soul. I laughed and then he did something with his fingers that I swear made me see the heavens as though I were at Allah’s side.

Ah, how I miss him.

Sorry, I digress. Where were we?

Women are softer. They are priestesses of a lost memory, a physicality, a tenderness of being held and touched, a perfume of the soul that once breathed, can never be forgotten.

There was a maid at an inn. Ripe like summer fruit, shy and yet she had this glint in her eye, a quiet playfulness of spirit that showed promise. Set against that was a clumsy innocence, a well scrubbed decency and a full fleshy body with skin like cream dusted with cinnamon. I happened to be there to kill a man as it happened, but I managed that and still lured her into my room. She left the inn in my company and took up blades, travelled alongside me.

Forgive me, if I do not speak of her for a while.

All my lovers hold a special place in my memory.

Some of them live in my heart.

There are two who have never left it.


I had seen her turn cold, I had seen her take delight in a demonstration of her skill in dealing out death or resolving a situation without recourse to it. For most of this recollection, I had seen her flush with pleasure and I swore that I knew what she meant by the perfume of the aroused flesh, the aroused soul and how it should be seized upon if offered.

I had not seen her express what she had when she spoke of the two lovers, rough poet and soft maid alike.

I had seen the Lady Asra grieve.

I returned the quill to the inkpot, and the three of us were quite drained.

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BOOK OF 2016:

I read a lot, and of the books I’ve read that have been released this year, there are two that I felt warranted particular mention.


I have this on audiobook and on the Kindle. Joe Hill has been a writer whose work I will always gravitate towards. He has a powerful voice, manages to combine science fiction, horror and fantasy concepts aligned to strong characterisation, a lovely tone, a wry sense of humour and an earnestness that endears me to anything he puts his name to. The Fireman was not my favourite Joe Hill, that honour probably goes to NOS4R2 but of the books in 2016, this is one that I return to, and find something different each time. In it’s lead Harper, he shows that a protagonist can have doubts and flaws, and can pursue their desire without losing their humanity or morality. The central conceit of the spore that causes spontaneous human combustion is wonderfully realised and the book moves towards a clear-eyed assessment of how people behave in a crisis, and within a group. Some of them become monstrous, whilst others show courage and hope in a situation that strains the capability to raise it. I found myself relating to John Rookwood, the fireman of the title and its a book I have returned to, throughout the year, and found new insights within it.


This is a deceptive book, it captures the ugliness of cult-related behaviour, the rebellion of teenage girls and the cumulative damage of history on the psyche. Ostensibly a retelling of the Charles Manson story from a peripheral perspective, it is a book that took my breath away. It seethes with a clear-eyed, raw honesty and the subtlety of Cline’s prose is that she takes you by the hand into some dark places and you go willingly, before realising that it’s a deeply uncomfortable book awash with ambiguities, and all the more powerful for how spare the prose gets, only to explode into washes of exquisite prose.


This serves in theme as a companion piece to THE GIRLS, although more explicit and raw than the other book. It goes deep into the tormented psyches and social rivalries of a pair of teenage girls, skipping between multiple narratives without losing track of the central themes and story. It is a charged, erotic book without feeling exploitative. It has a feral heart and was all the more beautiful for not skimping on the insights. A gut punch delivered with a kiss and certainly one that stayed with me long after I finished it.



I fell in love with the juxtaposition of the Wild West and its inherent savagery against the slightly decaying high tech amusement and corporate intrigue. The performances heightened the quality of the material, notably Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood who essayed characters of complexity and confusion. It never quite fulfilled its promise but with subsequent seasons, I hope that it develops the narrative into something complex and robust. Certainly it is beautifully shot, edited and handles nudity, sex and violence with a mature eye and a calm hand.


I’ve read several books about Pablo Escobar, and this show manages to juggle the sheer comic book scale villainy of his rise and fall with capturing the humanity of the man, much like Breaking Bad managed with a fictional protagonist. It does this through the sweaters that Pablo wears, which is a lovely visual touch. Season 1 was a touch meandering and ponderous but the second season is all pay off, and intense as anything else I have seen this year.


Oh do I have to? OK, it’s moved on past the books and it manages to work with the constraints of television to great effect. I won’t join in on the call for GRRM to finish the books, they’re massive pieces of work and also he’s not anyone’s bitch, as Neil Gaiman said to great acclaim. Still brilliant, and event television for me. Winter Is Coming, and it’s having a fine time getting there.



It’s had a hard fight getting to the screen but it revelled in it’s underdog status to become the highest grossing superhero movie of all time. Well, at least until M B BLISSETT: CYNICAL ROMANTIC ENGLISHMAN makes its debut, but until then, I loved this film. Breaking the fourth wall, consistently funny and made the use of its limitations to great effect. Ryan Reynolds has been absolved of Green Lantern related sins forever.


It’s quintessential Tarantino. Take that as you will.


A simple, claustrophobic thriller that makes the best use of darkness and a limited setting. It ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels and essays itself in a bravura performance by Stephen Lang.


I won’t spoil it for you but it was a fantastic thriller that again makes the use of a closed setting and hammers you with it.



A late and overpowering contender in 2016, it is rooted in the socially conscious, dirty soul of the 70s with swooning vocals, sensual, heady instrumentation and a boldness that grabs you by the heart and crotch at the same time. Like being stoned on heartbreak and passion, this album has demanded repeated listening.


Share your highlights in the comments below.


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Alan Rickman

It’s always the ones who go quietly that you miss the most. He was memorable in everything he did.

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The Goblin King Returns

He opened his eyes
to a ragged
Chorus of cheers
All his subjects
Looked upon him
Their ugliness alleviated
By their love for him
Still beautiful
And with each breath
‘Your highness’
‘Welcome home, we’ve
Missed you during your
Time above’
He smiles, how to explain
The mark he made
On so many mortals
Words are too inconstant
So he asks for a
Fingers against the frets
And so he

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The Hateful Eight

Tarantino is the only writer/director who would make a three hour single location western murder mystery chockful of violence,  profanity at a Shakespearean level and a cast of character actors. 

Thank god for that.

I love his movies.  He’s an auteur and even his excesses are crimes of enthusiasm rather than any lack of ability.  His missteps are, at least bold ones and that’s what I love about him.
It’s a jaw dropping movie.  Uncomfortable and leavened by bursts of coal black humour as it descends into a final act that is garotte tight in execution and still capable of genuine warmth and humanity.  It’s probably his best film.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is incredible,  playing an ugly, irredeemable woman with a low cunning and a powerful sense of herself.  She has a serpentine sensual brutality and a willingness to go for the moment that makes her riveting to watch.
Walton Goggins is superb, more than holding his own with the likes of Samuel L Jackson and Kurt Russell.
Samuel L Jackson has a monologue about halfway through that is one of the most uncomfortable and disturbing things I’ve seen and yet he still radiates an amused mastery of space and performance that makes him the de facto hero of the piece. 
Go see it. It’s important to support original film in a time of reboots and remakes because we need art that pokes us in the uncomfortable places and this film does that.