(Ratings for each film begin with a "star'' rating -- one star meaning "poor,'' four meaning "excellent'' -- followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)
"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them": It may not be "Harry Potter'' territory exactly, but author J.K. Rowling maintains a sense of magic as the screenwriter of this fanciful fantasy. Eddie Redmayne makes a fine hero as Newt Scamander, a "magizoolgist'' who loses several of his fantastic beasts in mid-1920s New York. A former investigator (Katherine Waterston) who wants her job back gets in on the hunt to retrieve them, for a variety of reasons. Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo and Colin Farrell also are among the picture's stars ... as are, expectedly, the special-effects wizards who bring the creatures to life. DVD extras: "making-of'' documentaries; deleted scenes. *** (PG-13: V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"20th Century Women": Annette Bening leads an excellent cast in writer-director Mike Mills' ("Beginners'') drama, which recently was Oscar-nominated for its screenplay. The actress plays one of several Californians in the late 1970s -- with the others portrayed by Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning -- who all take a major role in raising the Bening character's son (Lucas Jade Zumann), as the women's respective experiences come into focus as the story moves back and forth in time. Billy Crudup, Alison Elliott and Alia Shawkat also appear, but Bening is the clear standout among the performers here. *** (R: AS, N, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Silence": Celebrated director Martin Scorsese tackles historical drama again, casting Adam Driver ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens'') and Andrew Garfield ("Hacksaw Ridge'') as 17th-century clergymen and missionaries who seek their mentor (Liam Neeson) in Japan, a risky undertaking when Christianity is viewed in some parts as a crime. The would-be rescuers are eventually captured and challenged to survive, prompting them to rely very heavily on their faith. Scorsese and his co-screenwriter, former film critic Jay Cocks, adapted Shusaku Endo's novel. Ciaran Hinds appears in the largely Japanese supporting cast. *** (R: AS, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Why Him?" Bryan Cranston and James Franco both are suited ideally to their roles in this lightweight but still entertaining comedy, casting "Breaking Bad'' alum Cranston as a conservative dad who's more than a bit alarmed by his college-student daughter's (Zoey Deutch) choice of boyfriend (Franco). The beau is a wealthy iconoclast who represents many things the father is against, and as an engagement announcement looms, the parent's anxiety rises. Megan Mullally also is a welcome presence as Cranston's wife; Cedric the Entertainer, Adam Devine, Andrew Rannells, Casey Wilson and a couple of musical KISS legends appear as well. DVD extras: theatrical trailer; five "making-of'' documentaries; audio commentary by director and co-writer John Hamburg, co-writer Ian Helfer and editor William Kerr; deleted scenes; outtakes; photo gallery. *** (R: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
Also Releasing this Week:
"A Monster Calls": Indeed, a fearsome creature comes calling in this fantasy-drama based on the novel by Patrick Hess, who adapted it for the screen. A youngster (Lewis MacDougall) beset by all sorts of personal problems -- including his mother's (Felicity Jones) terminal illness -- meets the tree-like title monster (generated via a "motion-capture'' performance by Liam Neeson), which has several stories to tell him in the process of helping him deal with his circumstances. Sigourney Weaver plays the youth's no-nonsense grandmother, and Toby Kebbell and Geraldine Chaplin also co-star. *** (PG-13: AS) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Patriots Day": Though recent documentaries on the subject have had arguably bigger impacts, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is dramatized reasonably effectively by director Peter Berg. He reunites with star and producer Mark Wahlberg (also of Berg's "Deepwater Horizon''), who plays a police sergeant trying to help those injured by the blasts while he seeks evidence against the perpetrators. John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Beach (as then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick), Melissa Benoist ("Supergirl'') and Rachel Brosnahan also are featured, with baseball veteran David "Big Papi'' Ortiz appearing as himself. *** (R: AS, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Office Christmas Party" (April 4): Workers refuse to let their branch's pending closure wreck their holiday bash; Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and T.J. Miller star. (R: AS, N, P)
"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (April 4): The latest chapter of the intergalactic saga introduces Felicity Jones as a rebel involved in a counterattack on the evil Empire. (PG-13: V)
"Silicon Valley: The Complete Third Season" (April 11): Richard (Thomas Middleditch) ponders his next move after being ousted as Pied Piper's CEO. (Not rated: AS, P)
"Veep: The Complete Fifth Season" (April 11): Selina Meyer's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) bid for another round as the American president hangs in the balance. (Not rated: AS, P)
"War on Everyone" (April 11): Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena play corrupt policemen whose extortion attempts finally backfire. (R: AS, N, P, V)
"Lion" (April 11): Years after being adopted by an Australian couple, a man seeks his biological family; Oscar nominees Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman star. (PG-13: AS)
"Hawaii Five-O: The Complete Original Series" (April 18): Jack Lord stars as police-unit chief Steve McGarrett in the crime drama that had a 12-season run. (Not rated: AS, V)
Oldies But Goodies:
"Blow-Up" (1966): A Criterion Collection offering, director Michelangelo Antonioni's classic stars David Hemmings as a photographer who sees too much. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001): One of the most successful movie franchises in history started with this J.K. Rowling tale; Daniel Radcliffe stars. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
"The Kids are All Right" (2010): Annette Bening and Julianne Moore give excellent performances as partners whose children want to meet their sperm-donor father. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
TOP 10 DVD & Blu-Ray Rentals
(Week ending March 12, 2017, Courtesy of comScore)
1) "Hacksaw Ridge"
2) "The Accountant"
6) "The Girl on the Train"
8) "Manchester by the Sea"
10) "Keeping Up with the Joneses"
FAMILY VIEWING GUIDE KEY: AS, adult situations; N, nudity; P, profanity; V, violence; GV, particularly graphic violenc