FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM: I’m thinking that this fantasy is part of the Harry Potter universe in the same way that the upcoming ROGUE ONE is a STAR WARS “story”. The J.K. Rowling connection is definitely present since the author of her 2001 book makes her screenwriting debut that follows a British “magizoologist” (Eddie Redmayne) to 1926 New York City where his title creatures escape from his suitcase causing all kinds of urban mischief. The entertaining and overly padded plot then teams Redmayne’s (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) Newt Scamander with a wannabe baker (Dan Fogler), a Magical Congress worker (Katherine Waterston) and her mind-reading sister (Alison Sudol) to investigate a series of calamities threatening to expose wizards and witches to “NoMajs” a.k.a. regular people. Technically, BEASTS is an outstanding movie with eye-popping production and set design from Stuart Craig while James Newton Howard’s musical score sets a proper tone throughout the film. Philippe Rousselot’s camerawork helps to keep the pace moving along to compensate for a screenplay that’s prone to occasionally wander. Toward the final sequences, the visual effects tend to overwhelm the movie’s narrative which could have used more editing. Like a number of film fantasies before it, BEASTS possesses a subtle underlying subplot which in this instance appears focused on the “scapegoating” of persons who are different or imbued with special abilities. Whether one picks up on this or doesn’t won’t change the entertainment quotient for the work which is pretty consistent as the story continues to unfold. The ensemble cast is likeable and the mysteriously menacing villains (Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller) contribute just the right amount of darkness to the proceedings. It’s not Hogwarts and isn’t supposed to be. But it’s still more than sufficient to be drawn back into Rowling’s imaginative world. CRITIC’S GRADE: B

CLOSING CREDITS: Nothing reminds entertainment writers of their own mortality like the deaths of entertainers. I became reacquainted with this notion when I heard about the passing of Florence Henderson a.k.a. Carol Brady of “The Brady Bunch”. Any number of posts reacting to the news on social media were bemoaning the loss of “another part of my childhood”. That’s because many of us who enjoyed that show when it was on from 1968-74 are now on the “back nine” of our lives and have either buried our real-life parents or face the prospect of having to do so in the not too distant future. I don’t write this as an elegy for lost youth since the alternative isn’t all that desireable to me right now. I choose to see it as a means of acknowledging the wonderful impact that pop culture has on us along with the connection made with the artists who entertain us. It’s while I’ll always cringe in laughter at the memory of the Brady’s AstroTurf lawn and why I would still have the “hots” for Maureen “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” McCormick.