Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

IN THIS ISSUE:
MUSIC REVIEW ~ Keep Me Singing by Van Morrison
MUSIC NEWS   ~ Links to Interesting Articles
MUSIC QUOTES
SONG OF THE WEEK ~ His Name Shall Be by Matt Redman

Keep Me Singing - Van MorrisonMusic Review:
Keep Me Singing – Van Morrison
****

This is the 71-year old Morrison’s 36th studio album and his first for Caroline Records. He produces the album, his first of new material since 2012’s Born to Sing: No Plan B, which I really enjoyed. The album includes 12 new original songs, as well as a cover of the blues song “Share Your Love with Me”. Many of the songs show him in a reflective mood, looking back at his life. The musicianship is excellent and Van’s one of a kind voice sounds great here.  I really enjoyed this album and you can tell that Van loves making music. Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the album, one of my favorites of the year:

Let it Rhyme – The opening song has an easygoing tempo. It features some light horns, drums, piano, organ, backing vocals and excellent harmonica.  He sings that in time, you’ll be mine.

Every Time I See a River – This song has Morrison collaborating with lyricist Don Black. Every time he sees a river, hears a train or a sad song, it reminds him of a past love and he feels like he is back in love again. There are good horns and nice guitar and organ solos here. Van delivers a great vocal.

Keep Me Singing – This song is about his joy in singing. He references a few Sam Cooke songs. He wants to be singing when the day is done. He’s doing just what he knows what to do. The song features a nice harmonica solo.

Out in the Cold Again – This song features piano, strings, light percussion, and a nice guitar solo. He was “Mr. Nice Guy” for too long, playing the losing role. Now he’s standing all alone, out in a cold black night in this “dog eat dog world”. The focus is on Van’s expressive vocal.

Memory Lane – This song features strings, light guitar and percussion as Van is looking back at his past. He’s stuck here back again on memory lane, where it’s getting dark. He’s back with questions and answers standing in the pouring rain.

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword – This blues songs is driven by guitar (including a nice solo), organ, light drums, some good backing vocals and Van’s strong lead vocal. Van’s vocal reminded me somewhat of Dylan from his Slow Training Coming album. He can’t tell you what you’re supposed to do, but he’s gotta live by his pen because it’s mightier than the sword.

Holy Guardian Angel – This song features strings, light drums, good backing vocals, and nice piano and guitar solos. He was born in the midnight hour.  He quotes the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” – nobody knows the trouble he’s seen. Nobody knows his sorrow, nobody but him. He prays to his holy guardian angel in the witching hour (midnight to 2:00 am), long before the break of day. Van gives a strong vocal in this song that has a gospel sound.

Share Your Love with Me – This is a cover, and a tribute to Bobby Bland, who did the original recording of the song. The song was made popular by Aretha Franklin in 1970. It features a nice organ solo, light horns and drums. It features a great vocal from Van as he stretches his voice here more than on most of the songs on the album. It’s a shame if you don’t wanna share your love with me.

In Tiburon – The fog is lifting and he’s in Tiburon, a town across the bay, just north of San Francisco. Over piano, he sings about memories of places and people he likes there, including a place that Chet Baker used to play his horn. He wants to go back to Frisco. They need each other more than ever to lean on.  Features a nice sax solo.

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

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CHRISTIAN LIVING:

  • Navigating Family Tensions at the Holidays. Russell Moore writes “Here are a few quick thoughts on what followers of Jesus ought to remember, especially if you’ve got a difficult extended family situation.”
  • A Conversation with Rosaria Butterfield. In this episode of his Signposts podcast, Russell Moore sits down with professor and author Rosaria Butterfield to talk about her conversion to Christ, her previous life in the LGBT community, and what Christians need to remember when reaching out to the world around them.
  • Talking Tough Topics with Scott Sauls. Collin Hansen interviews on the Gospel Coalition podcast as they talk about angry emails, challenging friends, tough topics, the spirituality of the church, and more.
  • Glennon Doyle Melton’s Gospel of Self-Fulfillment. Jen Pollock Michel writes “To be sure, in this life we painfully persist in contradiction, doing what we hate and failing what we love. Our hearts aren’t fully given to God. But our “integrity” and “freedom” do not lie, as Melton suggests, in abandoning the discomfort of God’s revealed truth for self-soothing versions that placate the conscience and tickle our fancy.”
  • Why Christian Kids Leave the Faith. Tim Challies shares four prominent reasons that Tom Bisset has identified that people raised in Christian homes eventually leave Christianity behind.
  • Parents: It’s Time to Wake Up About Pornography, Sexting, and Your Children. Randy Alcorn writes “This is a battle for our children, with their lives and futures at stake. May Christian parents answer the Lord’s call to protect their children, and train them in the joys of purity.”
  • Covenant Student Athletes Take A Knee During National Anthem. I was disappointed to read that on November 15, 2016, some members of the Covenant College men’s and women’s basketball teams chose to take a knee during the singing of the national anthem before the start of their home basketball games.
  • The Difference Between Being Judgmental and Exercising Discernment. Watch this brief video from the 2014 Ligonier National Conference in which C. Sproul reminds us that Christians are called to make judgments regarding what is righteous and what is unrighteous.

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My Review of ‘Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years’ on DVD

eight-days-a-weekEight Days a Week: The Touring Years
****

Although I’ve seen Paul McCartney in concert twelve times, including this year at Milwaukee’s Summerfest (see my review here), George Harrison on his only U.S. tour in St. Louis in 1974, and Ringo Starr with his All-Starr Band in 2014 (see my review here),  I, unlike one of my aunts (who saw them at Comiskey Park in Chicago), never saw the Beatles in concert, as they had stopped touring the day before I turned 10 years old. Clips from that August 29, 1966 concert, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, are shown in this documentary from Oscar winning director Ron Howard and writer Mark Monroe, which focuses on the Beatles’ incredible touring years 1963-1966. Paul McCartney would return to Candlestick Park to play a final event at the stadium almost 48 years later on August 14, 2014, before the stadium was demolished in 2015.

In the film we hear the Beatles legendary producer Sir George Martin say that the Beatles would release a new single every three months and a new album every six months during the early stages of this period, an incredible creative pace. Martin’s son Giles was the music producer for the film and the remastered album Live at the Hollywood Bowl, which is considered to be the essential companion to the film. Read my review of the album here.

Howard, shows us (through photos, video and interviews), what the Beatles touring years of 1963 through 1966 were like when the band toured 15 countries. Though he focuses on the band on the road (concerts, press conferences, hotel rooms, appearances on television programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show), he does address important issues along the way, such as the Beatles refusing to play a Jacksonville, Florida concert if the audience was to be segregated, and John Lennon’s controversial 1966 comment that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus” at the time. What Howard shows us is what was referred to as “Beatlemania”, specifically the young females in their concerts screaming (you can also hear this on the Live at the Hollywood Bowl album).

Howard tells the story chronologically, using current interviews with the two surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as historical interview footage from John Lennon and George Harrison. McCartney states “By the end, it became quite complicated. But at the beginning, things were really simple.” Howard also includes interviews with people such as Whoopi Goldberg, who was one of the more than 56,000 who attended the 1965 concert at Shea Stadium, where the band’s sound came from tinny stadium speakers; Sigourney Weaver, who we see in historical black and white footage attending an early Beatles concert; and Miami radio station journalist Larry Kane, who travelled with the Beatles on their 1964 U.S. tour.

The film tells us that the Beatles had a poor record deal financially, and so made most of their money at this time touring. Unfortunately, due to the screaming, they could barely hear what they were playing. As they moved into 1966, they were more interested in experimenting in the studio with such songs as John Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” than they were playing on the road. As they finished their show at Candlestick Park, they all agreed that would be the end of their touring. Howard finishes the film with their last live performance, a January 30, 1969 rooftop concert that was recorded for their Let it Be film.

As a Beatles fan, I loved this film. I saw a lot of video that I had not seen before. For younger readers not too familiar with the Beatles, check out this film to get a glimpse of what Beatlemania was like.


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting ArticlesRethinking Work

  • Serving Image-Bearers On and Off the Farm. Abigail Murrish interviews Nathan Jaeger, currently director of beef, equine, hay and forage, meat, goat, and sheep divisions for the Alabama Farmers Federation, about how he integrates his faith and work.
  • Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence with Us in Our Professions. Russell Gehrlein writes “Having a good understanding of what it means to be a co-worker with God as He works through us to meet the needs of our customers, fellow employees, subordinates, and supervisors, makes all the difference in how we approach our jobs every day, no matter what job we currently have.”
  • Five Concepts for Taking a Long-Term View of Calling. Hugh Whelchel writes “What is our role as we seek to be faithful to God in all that we do? How can we not only contribute, but truly play a leadership role in bringing about flourishing in our communities, our cities, our nation, and our world?”
  • The Perilous Sunday to Monday Gap. Watch this message that Tom Nelson delivered at a recent pastor’s lunch on the importance of connecting Sunday faith and Monday work.
  • The Glory of Obscure Work. Matt Rusten writes “The Bible is not shy about motivating us to do our daily work unto the Lord with the promise of future rewards.”
  • 3 Benefits of Trust [When Leading]. Eric Geiger writes “Trust is a prerequisite for leadership.”
  • Visioneering, Part 2. In this month’s Andy Stanley Leadership podcast, Stanley concludes a conversation around the building blocks of a compelling vision. Download our Application Guide for this podcast below for key takeaways, questions for reflection and/or discussion, and resources mentioned in the podcast.
  • Time Management. In this “Minute with Maxwell”, John Maxwell states that you can’t manage time, but you can make the best use of time. You can’t manage time, but you can manage yourself and your priorities.
  • 4 Ways to Recapture the Lost Art of Making People Feel They Matter. Dan Rockwell writes “On a scale of 1-10, how do you rank yourself on making others feel they matter? ‘10’ means people always feel they matter – heard and understood – when you listen to them, ‘1’ means almost never. This isn’t about your intention to make people feel they matter. It’s about actual behaviors.”
  • Redefining Work-Life Balance. Skip Prichard writes “Achieving balance will make you more productive in and out of the workplace.  It will enrich your relationships and allow you to achieve greater satisfaction in life.”
  • 7 Scheduling Tips Guaranteed to Increase Productivity and Enhance Fulfillment. Dan Rockwell writes “Productivity is about being effective with your time, energy, resources, and talent.”
  • Ex-Convicts Need Second Chances Too. Abby Perry writes “As we remember the One who drew near to us, walked alongside us, and won redemption for us—even when our sin had left a crimson stain—may we be agents of reconciliation in our organizations and companies, bridging the gap between inherently dignified workers and inherently dignified work.”

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

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NOW THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION!

  • What Is a Christian’s Responsibility to Government? C. Sproul writes “When the government is no longer acting justly and no longer protecting life—sanctioning abortions, for example—then it is the task of the church to be the prophetic voice, to call the state to task and tell the state to repent and do what God commands it to do.”
  • Why Does Anyone Become a Christian? Tim Keller writes “The early church surely looked like it was on the “wrong side of history,” but instead it changed history with a dogged adherence to the biblical gospel. That should be our aspiration as well.”
  • What Does It Mean to Be One with Christ? Tony Reinke interviews Sinclair Ferguson, author of the wonderful new book Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (my top book of the year), on the topic of union with Christ. Reinke writes that Ferguson “has been talking about union with Christ for a long time and is as good a teacher as any on this vital subject.”

IN THE NEWS:

  • Cliff Barrows 1923-2016. Justin Taylor writes “Cliff Barrows has gone to be with the Lord to whom he so often sang. A longtime associate of Billy Graham as his evangelistic choir director, Mr. Barrows was 93.”
  • Our Desperate Need for Unity. Scotty Smith prays “Heavenly Father, the swell of divisiveness, rancor, and protest in our country is quite disconcerting.”
  • Duck Dynasty Draws to a Close. After five years and 130 episodes, the Robertsons told fans that this season will be their last. New episodes will run through Jan. 18. The show will take a break and the final seven episodes will air March 1 to April 12.
  • Box of Lies with Megyn Kelly. Watch Megyn Kelly play Box of Lies with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show.
Courtesy of World Magazine

Courtesy of World Magazine

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Prepare to Celebrate the Christ of Christmas with these Three Wonderful New Books

Over the past year three of my favorite authors – Tim Keller, Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg – have written wonderful books about the true meaning of Christmas. Enjoy my reviews of these books below – better yet read these books! – as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Hidden Christmas, The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Tim KellerHidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller. Viking. 154 pages. 2016
****

Tim Keller states that the ideas expressed in this short book were forged not in writing but in preaching. Each chapter represents at least 10 or so meditations and sermons on each biblical text that he delivered in Christmas services across the decades.

He tells us that Christmas is a Christian holy day that is also a major secular holiday, resulting in two different celebrations, each observed by millions of people, which brings some discomfort on both sides. His fear is that the true roots of Christmas will become more and more hidden to most of the population. In this book he aims to make the truths of Christmas less hidden. He looks at some passages of the Bible that are popular because they are read each Christmas.

In the first chapters of the book, looking at the Gospel of Matthew, we learn about the gifts God gave us at Christmas. In the following chapters, looking at the Gospel of Luke, we consider how we can welcome and receive those gifts.

Through the Christmas story, Keller tells us about the Gospel. This is a book that I recommend you read and discuss with others, which I am doing with friends in a book club at work. Keller says many things about Christmas and the Gospel that I appreciated. A few of them are:

  • To accept the true Christmas gift, you have to admit you’re a sinner. You need to be saved by grace.
  • Christmas is not simply about a birth but about a coming.
  • Christmas shows us that Christianity is not good advice. It is good news.
  • Christmas means that God is working out his purposes. He will fulfill his promises.
  • Christmas tells us that despite appearances to the contrary, God is in control of history, and that someday he will put everything right.
  • Christmas means that for those that are believers in Christ, there is all the hope in the world.
  • The doctrine of Christmas, of the incarnation, is that Jesus was truly and fully God and truly and fully human.
  • No one is really neutral about whether Christmas is true. If the Son of God was really born in a manger, then we have lost the right to be in charge of our lives.
  • Christmas means that the King has come into the world. But the Bible tells us that Jesus comes as King twice, not once.
  • Christmas means that race, pedigree, wealth, and status do not ultimately matter.
  • Christmas means illumination and spiritual light from God; it means reconciliation and peace with God by grace; it means God taking on a human nature.
  • Christmas means the increase of peace, both with God and between people.
  • The manger at Christmas means that, if you live like Jesus, there won’t be room for you in a lot of inns.
  • Christmas means that salvation is by grace.
  • Christmas means you can have fellowship with God.
  • Christmas and the incarnation mean that God went to infinite lengths to make himself one whom we can know personally.
  • The incarnation, Christmas, means that God is not content to be a concept or just someone you know from a distance.
  • The joy that Christmas brings, the assurance of God’s love and care will always reinvigorate you no matter the circumstances of your life.

Child in the MangerChild in the Manger: The True Meaning of Christmas by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 216 pages. 2015 
****

This book was published just before Christmas 2015. Sinclair Ferguson is one of our day’s best Reformed theologians. I have read many of his books and heard him speak many times at the Ligonier National Conference. He has been a pastor and seminary professor in numerous churches and seminaries throughout the world, and is also a Ligonier Teaching Fellow. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed and was blessed by this new book.
Dr. Ferguson writes that this book sets out to explore the question of the real meaning of Christmas. He tells us that when we find the answer we realize that it isn’t only for the Christmas season. He states that at the center of history stands the person of Jesus Christ. He does so because he is at the center of God’s story. Christ who is the creator of all things has entered his own creation in order to become our Savior. That is what gives Christmas meaning. It is what gives history and our lives meaning too.
He writes that the heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger, who is destined to be bound again later in life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary. He tells us that the meaning of Christmas is this: the Light of the world has come into the darkness of the world, in order to bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and to illuminate them with the grace of forgiveness. He tells us that Christmas is not coming, but it has already come. The Word already has been made flesh. He already has lived, bled, died, and risen again for us. Now all that remains is to receive him. For Jesus is the meaning of Christmas.
He tells us that Philippians 2:5-11, which he calls a bold, even a daring passage, tells the inside story of Christmas. As we mature as Christians, we begin to count others as more significant than ourselves. This is what the Christmas gospel does. Or to state it differently, this is what the Christ of Christmas does. But he does so only when we discover the true meaning of Christmas.
The author tells us that the New Testament does not obligate Christians to celebrate Christmas. However, he writes, the wisdom of the church throughout the ages suggests that if we do not celebrate the incarnation of Christ deliberately at some point in the year we may be in danger of doing it all too rarely, perhaps not at all.
In his writing and speaking, Dr. Ferguson has a wonderful way with words. Here is an example as he writes of the birth narrative: “The one who populated the forests with trees lies within the bark of one. The one who has always been face to face with his Father now stares into the face of his teenage mother. The one whom the heavens cannot contain is contained within a stable. He who cradles the universe is himself cradled in an animal’s feeding trough.”
Today, most people in the United States celebrate Christmas. The author states that they love to hear Christmas music, even to sing the familiar Christmas carols. But, he tells us, their hearts seem to go cold when they hear about the true meaning of Christmas, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The response is then, whether they say it or not, “Let’s sings the songs, but don’t talk to us about being saved from sin!” Let us enjoy Christmas without Christ!”
Finally, Dr. Ferguson tells us that the true meaning of Christmas is seeking, finding, trusting, and worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ.
I so enjoyed reading this book just a few weeks before we celebrate the birth of the One who came to save us from our sins. Ferguson writes about Jesus, “The heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger who is destined to be bound again in later life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary.”

Christmas Playlist, Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas – Alistair BeggChristmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas by Alistair Begg. The Good Book Company. 80 pages. 2016
****

This new book is about Christmas songs, but not necessarily Christmas songs you might have anticipated. Alistair Begg, Senior Pastor for 33 years at Parkside Church in Cleveland, looks at four songs of the first Christmas, which were heard before, during and after the birth of the baby who lies at the heart of the real Christmas.  This is a “playlist” that helps us to prepare for Christmas properly, and to celebrate Christmas joyfully.

In this short book which reads like an extended sermon, he looks at the following four songs:

  • Mary’s Song. This is a song inspired by her role in the events of the first Christmas, but in which she doesn’t sing about herself, but about God. The author writes that it is the first Christmas song in history.
  • Zechariah’s Song. The author writes that Zechariah is singing about the truth that God has turned up. And he has turned up to redeem us—to pay the price, bear the cost of freeing us and restoring us so that we can know him and live with him again, forever.
  • The Angel’s Song. The angel’s choir declares what this baby will achieve: “On earth peace.” The peace of God that invades a life is based on the discovery of peace with God.
  • Simeon’s Song. Simeon was a devout believer in God who was patiently waiting for the promises God had made to be fulfilled. The Holy Spirit had told him that he wouldn’t die until he saw these promises begin to unfold. About his song the author writes “And this is why the wooden food trough led to the wooden cross, and why you will never get to the heart of Christmas if you don’t grasp the meaning of Easter. Christianity is not good advice about what we should do. It is the good news of what Christ has done. Christianity does not proclaim that you are worth saving or able to save yourself. It announces that God is mighty to save.” He goes on to write that between the events of the first Christmas Eve and the first Easter Sunday, Simeon’s words had come true.

This is a book about four songs that tell about the gift of redemption through faith in Jesus, the Son of God. The author writes that Christmas provokes a decision. At that first Christmas, Jesus came to you. Now you must decide whether you will come to him.  This would be an excellent book to give a non-believer to read and discuss together.


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My Review of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’

fantastic-beastsFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, rated PG-13
*** ½

Five years after the final Harry Potter film (Deathly Hallows: Part 2), comes this film that is adapted by J.K. Rowling, in her first turn at writing the screenplay for a film, adapted from her 128 page 2001 book.  This is the first of five planned films to be based on Rowling’s short book, which is now available in a new screenplay edition.  Rowling has stated that the film is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was published in 1927, became a massive bestseller as well as an approved textbook at Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s school of witchcraft and wizardry.

The film is directed by David Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter films, and has an estimated budget of $180 million. Oscar nominee Steve Kloves returns form the Potter films as producer.

The film takes place in New York in 1926. Shy and quirky British magizoologist Newt Scamander is played by two time Oscar nominee and Best Actor winner for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne, who had auditioned for the role of Tom Riddle in 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but was turned down after reading one line.  Newt travels the world collecting endangered magical creatures and arrives in the city looking for new additions. He has all kinds of these creatures in his worn brown leather suitcase.

There are witches and wizards in the city, but they mostly stay out of sight of the No-Majs, short for no magic, as humans are called in America (as opposed to Muggles in Britain).  There is a Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA), the American version of the British Ministry of Magic.  When Newt accidently exchanges his suitcase with a No-Maj baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) the effect is that a number of the creatures in the suitcase are unleashed into the streets of the city, leading to a frantic search to find  them. When Newt is spotted by Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, (Katherine Waterston), an investigator who for some reason is on thin ice in her job with MACUSA, she hauls him in for questioning.

We see something evil and dangerous in the city. It has been occasionally destroying buildings, throwing vehicles, etc. It is referred to as Obscurus, a massive magical force that swirls around in a destructive black cloud.

The film also shows us magic-fearing protesters, led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) who takes children from the magic families she exposes. One of those, the bullied and abused Credence Barebone (Ezra Miler), has secret meetings with the powerful and power-hungry Percival Graves (Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell) who works for Madame President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo from Selma).

Tina and Newt will eventually become good friends, and with Jacob and Tina’s sister, the mind-reading Queenie (Alison Sudol), will work together to try to prevent Mary Lou and Percival from exposing the magical world to the No-Majs.

We are told of a powerful dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, who has gone missing. Readers of the Harry Potter books will recall Grindelwald (here played by Johnny Depp) as an older man. Grindelwald will play a major role in the future films in this series.

Parents who were concerned with the magic and wizards in the Harry Potter books and films will have the same concerns here. The film also contains some violence, primarily as a result of the mysterious Obscurus.

What did I like about the film? A lot! The cast was excellent, especially Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Fogler as Jacob Kowalski. They had great chemistry, and I enjoyed their partnership with Waterston’s Tina. The 1926 New York City sets and costumes were excellent and the beasts were, dare I say, fantastic? In addition, the magical effects were at times incredible.

What could have been better? Some of the dialogue could have been better. At times the film moved slowly. Although there is really a lot going on in this first film, perhaps the film could have been edited down from its 133 minutes. In addition, the destruction caused by Obscurus goes on too long, as it does in some Marvel films.

Note: Some critics have written of Rowling using the film as an anti-fascist political allegory (Fascism definition: a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government). Perhaps that is in here if you are looking for it. I saw it more as the wizarding world trying to stay out of sight from the No-Majs.