By Lynn Venhaus

Worlds collide in a standard superhero spectacle involving the multiverse and time travel. But “The Flash” film wisely capitalizes on personalities, thus the intrigue builds in smart cameos, bounteous Easter eggs, and captivating performances both sentimental and sassy.

As DC Comics Universe superhero “The Flash,” Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) uses his super speed to change the past, but his attempt to save his family creates a world without superheroes, forcing him to rally help to save the future.

For someone whose childhood introduction to Batman was Adam West (1966-68) and Superman was George Reeves (1952-58) in the first television series of those classic comic book characters, “The Flash” feels both familiar and fresh in its use of Justice League mythology.

Flash’s first DC Comics was in 1940, and the Scarlet Speedster has smoothly transitioned to a number of film and TV series. Barry Allen’s superpower is superspeed, which occurred when he was struck by a bolt of lightning in a lab, resulting in a chemical bath.

Barry Allen and Barry ALlen

In the latest franchise reinvention, Ezra Miller first appeared in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in 2016, and subsequently in “Suicide Squad: (2016), “Justice League” (2017) and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021).

In this stand-alone, their portrayal is actually spot-on, deftly depicting the nerdy, annoying, hyperactive young guy trying to come to grips with his abilities – his insatiable appetite is a running gag – and the responsibilities of coming to the rescue. They easily transition from snarky encounters to poignant interactions with his mother before her death, and his concern for his father in jail for her murder.

The elephant in the room is that Miller, 30, has made headlines for being arrested and charged with crimes, and later, sought professional help for mental health issues. Warner Brothers and the DC powers-at-be stuck with them for the role.

As an interesting artist, they made a mark as insecure outcast Credence Barebone (Aurelius Dumbledore) in the “Fantastic Beasts” movie trilogy, and their haunting breakthrough role was in 2011 as the evil Kevin in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” following up that critical acclaim as Patrick in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

As The Flash, they are spry in scenes with superheroes and villains alike but tugs at the heartstrings in the family flashbacks to give the film some emotional depth.

Sasha Calle as Supergirl

Using his powers to go back in time and save his mother, Barry unwittingly creates a world without heroes. Oh, General Zod (Michael Shannon) has returned, ready to wreak planetary havoc. The Flash enlists a Bruce Wayne, retired as Batman, another incarnation of himself, and an imprisoned stranger to help right the world.

Inspired by DC Comics’ 2011 “Flashpoint,” co-screenwriters Christina Hodson and Joby Harold have crafted a different type of Supergirl, aka Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin. Sasha Calle is impressive as the endangered Kryptonian.

Hodson, who was behind “Birds of Prey,” has cleverly twisted some of the old-fashioned tropes.

Director Andy Muschietti, who directed “It” and its sequel, has delivered an entertaining story, giving fans reason to cheer throughout the 2-hour, 24-minute film, but it does eventually run out of steam in those climactic bombastic battles.

However, the finale’s big reveal is a good one, and there is the proverbial end-credits scene to stay for, although not as thrilling as some of Marvel’s best.

But any film with the extraordinary Michael Keaton as Batman, scene-stealer that he is, is worth the admission price.

This is a spoiler-free review, but some of those superheroes who show up briefly in the galaxy made my heart happy.

“The Flash” may be imperfect, but it’s far from the dud other franchises have unsuccessfully mounted in the past two years (u,e, “Black Adam,” “Shazam: Fury of the Gods”).

Michael Keaton as “Batman”

“The Flash” is a 2023 action-adventure-fantasy film directed by Andy Muschietti and starring Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Ron Livingston, Sasha Calle, Ben Affleck, Maribel Verdu and Michael Shannon. Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity, it runs 2 hours and 24 minutes. It opens in theaters on June 16. Lynn’s Grade: B

By Lynn Venhaus

Let’s hear it for the risk-takers. A fascinating underdog story about a game-changing move in corporate America that revolutionized celebrity endorsements is personality-driven, thanks to an all-star cast and savvy script in “Air.”

How Nike was victorious in courting then-NBA rookie Michael Jordan for a shoe campaign in 1984 is told through the eyes of Nike staffers, especially marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), advertising manager Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), shoe designer Peter Moore (Matt Maher), and co-founder and chairman Phil Knight (Ben Affleck).

Tightly constructed, Alex Convery’s first-time screenplay highlights the key elements — a growing niche footwear market; the arrival of the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan, on the professional basketball scene; a protective mother’s fierce negotiations; and a think-outside-the-box company located near Portland, Ore. This inspired-by-true-story is an energetic, entertaining film with a lasting impression — and not only for sports fans.

In his first directorial effort since 2016’s lackluster “Live by Night,” Ben Affleck is back to triple-threat greatness, shepherding this crowd-pleaser with smart moves and a keen sense of time and place. After all, his storytelling is on fine display in “Argo,” “The Town,” and “Gone Baby Gone,” too.

Ben Affleck as Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight

With considerable skill, he steeps what’s essentially a story of contract maneuvers and phone calls into a culture-defining era, from Knight zipping his purple Porsche with his personalized license plates into the Beaverton headquarters after a run, to Vaccaro buying his Wheaties in a Mary Lou Retton-Olympics box and a Sports Illustrated at the mini-mart.

The year is 1984, and the movie is drenched with a kicky ‘80s soundtrack of MTV classics that sets the mood, and quick news-and-photo montages encapsulates the Reagan years.

At the time, third-best Nike was known for its running shoes, and the upstart company viewed themselves as renegades, while entrenched Adidas and Converse were known for their basketball lines.

In 1984, Jordan left North Carolina after his junior year and was third in the NBA draft, going to the Chicago Bulls. His ability to leap and slam-dunk gave him the nickname “Air Jordan,” which Nike capitalized on as an innovator — and a lasting global brand. It’s a remarkable American ingenuity story.

As Sonny Vaccaro, Matt Damon is forceful and earnest about having a hunch about Jordan and following it through with bold aggressive moves. Sonny develops a special relationship with MJ’s Mom, Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis), that is instrumental in sealing the deal. Damon’s character is as appealing as he was in “Ford v Ferrari,” that likeable real-life guy committed to his convictions and smart enough to carry his plan through

In a small but pivotal role, Davis is masterful as the mom whose belief in her son changed celebrity endorsements and deals for athlete’s families.

Before making the film, Affleck said Michael Jordan had one request – that Davis play his mother. His father, James, is genially played by Davis’ real-life husband, Julius Tennon. Affleck focuses on the close relationship Michael had with his parents, and Davis and Tennon depict it beautifully.

Affleck also decided to have an actor play Michael only as a physical presence, preferring to use archival footage, and that works – creating more of a mythology around this larger-than-life mortal. Damian Young is credited but has no dialogue.

Relationships are key to this story’s success, and the long legendary friendship of Damon and Affleck elevates the story as well. Oscar winners for screenplay in “Good Will Hunting,” this is their 20th collaboration, and their first pairing since the underrated “The Last Duel” in 2021 is as dynamic as ever. Word is that they both contributed rewrites to Convery’s original screenplay, and they have an unmistakable rhythm/shorthand with each other.

With its folksy charm and crackling dialogue, “Air” delivers a well-acted and written story that appeals beyond the sports market. It’s a dream team of natural actors defining these colleagues so that we can celebrate their considerable achievements.

Matt Maher, Matt Damon, Jason Bateman

Chris Tucker is well-suited to play Howard White, one of the inspiring former college players on Nike’s roster who helped Air Jordan take flight. He developed relationships with young athletes, including Jordan. Marlon Wayans is seen briefly as Olympics basketball coach George Reveling, who coached Jordan the summer of 1984, and that powerful scene is an important foundation piece. Jordan did not want them left out of his story.

Chris Messina plays Jordan’s bulldog agent David Falk with fiery abrasive bluster.

Matt Maher, who works frequently with Ben and Casey Affleck, deftly portrays the genius shoe designer Peter Moore, who also designed the icon symbol of Jordan taking flight.

It’s a collaborative effort, indicative of a workplace drama-comedy, and gives the real-life people their due for their efforts. Even though we know what happened — but not the particulars per se — we still are enthralled by all the developments. The results-wrap-up is truly remarkable, how such a deal had tremendous ripple effects and outcomes.

It’s early yet, but “Air” is likely sturdy enough to be among the last movies standing at year’s end and will make my short list for Top Ten. Yes, it’s that meaningful, fun and enjoyable.

“Air” is a 2023 sports biopic drama directed by Ben Affleck that stars Affleck, Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, and Marlon Wayans. It is Rated R for language and run time is 1 hour, 52 minutes. Movie opened in theaters on April 5. Lynn’s Grade: A.

By Lynn Venhaus

“Clerks III” is strictly for fans, a View Askew production set in that Kevin Smith universe that the writer-director broke through the business with in 1994, which has been his calling card ever since – but actually has a few very adult things to say.

Following a massive heart attack, Randal (Jeff Anderson) enlists his fellow clerks Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Elias (Trevor Fehrman), along with friends Jay (Jason Mewes), and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), to make a movie immortalizing his life at the convenience store that started it all.

This third installment is the final chapter in the lives of the New Jersey guys portrayed in the award-winning “Clerks” and its 2006 sequel, “Clerks II.”

As clerks in a convenience store, the characters were neighborhood slackers with obsessive pop culture interests who dealt with bizarre circumstances and oddball customers. Their circle of friends rounded out an eclectic ensemble.

Shot in black-and-white on a very low budget, the comedy became a sensation when the burgeoning independent film scene gave rise to fresh viewpoints. Smith won the Filmmakers Trophy at the ’94 Sundance Film Festival and “Award of the Youth” and the Mercedes-Benz Award at Cannes, and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards for first feature, first screenplay and debut performance (Anderson).

The original “Clerks” spoke to Gen X’ers in a relatable way, especially those in dead-end jobs who didn’t see their dreams ever becoming realities. After “Mallrats” came out a year later, Smith cemented his role as a voice of his generation.

In “Clerks II,” set 10 years later, they wear their lack of ambition like a badge of honor. After the Quick Stop and the adjacent video rental store are destroyed by a fire, the guys work at a fast-food restaurant, Mooby’s. Dante, engaged to Emma and planning to move to Florida, falls in love with fellow employee Becky (Rosario Dawson). With help from stoners Silent Bob and Jay, Dante and Randal buy the Quick Stop and RST Video, thus continuing their journey.

The surprise outcome of the first film, in an ‘only in the movies’ way, saw Smith achieving real-world success by tapping into those hopes, dreams, fears, deep love for the “Star Wars” franchise and his encyclopedic knowledge of comic book characters and superhero/fantasy scenarios. He has made 13 feature films since then, but his career has expanded in many directions. Above all, he is an observer of fate’s strange twists.

They say write what you know, and he did. A struggling filmmaker who worked at a convenience store close to a highway gave him an endless source of material.

For this leg of the trilogy, Smith takes more events from his life, notably the near-fatal heart attack he suffered before one of his comedy appearances in 2018. Older, wiser, and healthier, his point is that you are never too old to completely change your life.

Randal’s life-altering experience of winding up in the hospital, near death, triggers his decision to be a filmmaker, convincing Dante to make his movie. They shoot it at the Quick Stop.  

It’s very meta, and it knows it. The movie-making experience is a rocky one, presenting hilarious situations and revisiting some of the more controversial plot developments in the previous two.

Jason Mewes as Jay and Kevin Smith as Silent Bob in Clerks III. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lionsgate

In supporting roles, Amy Sedaris is very funny as a wacky no-filter doctor without any bedside manner and Dawson, as Dante’s beloved wife Becky.

Familiar faces are seen in cameos, with star turns from Ben Affleck as Boston John, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Fred Armisen, Justin Long and others.

But hidden in the bluster of these films is an underlying sentimental theme of pals going through the ups and downs of life together, and those ties that forever bind us.

And those schmoes that you grew up with, no matter how things turned out, are what’s important. That is ultimately Smith’s point. They may be juvenile, vulgar, and misguided, but they have a bond – which is often put to the test.

After all, Dante and Randal must confront their future – because they are grown-ups.

A quick wit and a glib tongue, Smith writes natural dialogue that’s funny and fast. You gotta keep up and pay attention.

The crude dark comedy is Smith’s wheelhouse, and he also edited and produced, besides showing up as the iconic Silent Bob character, who along with Jay, hung out in front of the store. The loitering pot-dealing pair were the core characters in three movies – “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001, “Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie!” in 2013 and “Jay & Silent Bob Reboot” in 2019.

Television shows, animated programs, video games and comic books have sprung from Smith’s prolific Viewaskewniverse. In 1999, he made the religious comedy “Dogma,” which became a controversy magnet. Although widely panned, 2004’s “Jersey Girl” is much better than expected (Seriously, Affleck, who also starred in “Chasing Amy,” and Liv Tyler make a sweet couple, Raquel Castro is adorable as young Gertie and George Carlin plays the grandpa).

With a great deal of affection and a very personal perspective, Smith concludes his saga in a satisfying way.

Do not leave until you hear the song, “I’m from New Jersey,” over the closing credits. John Gorka wrote this quintessential Jersey song in 1991, and it is so fitting here. Touche, Mr. Smith.

“Clerks III” is a 2022 comedy written and directed by Kevin Smith and starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Rosario Dawson, Amy Sedaris, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ben Affleck, It is rated and runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. It opens in theaters on Sept. 13 and runs for one week as a Fathom Event. Lynn’s Grade: B-

By Alex McPherson

An ambitious historical epic with powerful performances, hard-hitting action sequences, and an intelligent condemnation of systemic injustice, director Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” approaches glory, but falls slightly short of achieving it.

Based on actual events and taking place in 14th century France, the film, broken into three sections, begins with Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon, sporting an unfortunate hairdo), a valiant fighter serving under the cuckoo Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck). De Carrouges, having lost his first wife and child from the plague, sees an opportunity to father an heir and inherit a large dowry, which includes a huge swathe of land. He weds Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), the daughter of a wealthy-yet-disgraced nobleman. However, through a series of political maneuvers, longtime friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) ends up possessing a large portion of de Carrouges’ new land, gets promoted to captaincy over him, and rapes Marguerite when she’s alone at home. De Carrouges files lawsuit after lawsuit, eventually requesting a last duel to the death. Retribution for Marguerite’s rape isn’t de Carrouge’s primary motivation — it’s his own pride and “honor” that’s at stake.

We then see the same events from Le Gris’ point of view: he observes as the handsome, fun-loving squire who parties with the Count and helps him improve his fortunes (Le Gris can read and handle basic accountancy). He betters his own lot in life by currying favors. In this version, de Carrouges isn’t a brave warrior, but a bumbling fool. It’s all rather smooth sailing for Le Gris who, after the assault, is reassured from the Count and the clergy that there’s no way that Marguerite’s claims will be taken seriously. 

Jump to section three, the most resonant of them all, and we watch the happenings unfold from Marguerite’s vantage point, getting a more intimate look at the horrible situation she’s become stuck in. She’s left feeling dehumanized and at the mercy of arrogant men whose final battle risks not only their lives, but her own as well.

Suffice to say, there’s plenty of anxious tension headed into the climactic confrontation, a bloody brawl that’s undoubtedly one of the best scenes of 2021. Beforehand, “The Last Duel” takes a creative approach to storytelling that fully fleshes out its subjects — the courageous Marguerite in particular. While Scott’s film isn’t especially profound in revealing that 14th century France was, in fact, horrendously unjust towards women, it slyly demonstrates how shifts in perspective can alter how we perceive the world, and the self-serving ways in which we might perceive ourselves.

Indeed, “The Last Duel” invites viewers to compare and contrast each party’s accounts of what took place, illustrating pertinent differences between them. Alterations in music, camera angles, and dialogue reveal the truth layer by layer, depending on who’s telling it, both serving to fill in narrative gaps and make the film feel decidedly stretched-out by the sword-clashing finale. The costuming and production design are incredibly detailed and period accurate, to be expected. The screenplay — co-written by Damon, Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener — highlights the egomania of de Carrouges and Le Gris, while occasionally throwing subtlety to the wind.   

This episodic structure wouldn’t work if the actors weren’t in top form, and luckily, the whole cast delivers. Comer, bringing to life Marguerite’s kindness, trauma, and steadfast bravery in facing a system designed to subordinate her, is wholly deserving of accolades come awards season. Until the final act, she’s mostly relegated to the sidelines, but she conveys Marguerite’s weathered fearlessness through her facial expressions alone, infusing the film’s final stretch with true emotional gravitas. 

Damon and Driver are similarly effective, albeit portraying more straightforward characters. There’s little redeeming either of them, no matter if we’re seeing through their eyes or not, but “The Last Duel” takes great lengths to show the patriarchal structures that inform their worldviews. Affleck almost seems like he’s in a different film, but it’s entertaining watching him embrace a demented frat boy persona as the Count, drunk on power along with alcohol.

Where the film stumbles involves Scott’s lack of restraint. Witnessing Marguerite’s assault — twice — comes across as exploitative rather than necessary. On one hand, “The Last Duel” paints similarities of Le Gris’ monstrous actions to the “playful” nights he enjoys with women in the Count’s chambers. On the other hand, when shown again through Marguerite’s frame of reference, it serves little purpose beyond shock value, fueling our anger leading into the titular showdown. In this case,“The Last Duel” uses her violation to artificially amplify dramatic stakes.

Although the film is ultimately uneven in execution, there’s still enough compelling characters to carry it through to its squirm-inducing conclusion. “The Last Duel” succeeds in demonstrating how the past informs the present, and the importance of recognizing how a core issue of the time — viewing women as property rather than human beings — continues in various insidious forms today. It’s also just a bone-crushing, suspenseful medieval thriller that prizes at least some brains over pure brawn.

Jodie Comer in “The Last Duel”

“The Last Duel” is a 2021 drama directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. The run time is 2 hours, 32 minutes, and it is Rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language. Alex’s Grade: B+

By Alex McPherson

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is an entertaining, four-hour superhero epic that greatly improves on Joss Whedon’s 2017 version. After leaving the first production due to a family tragedy, director Snyder is finally able to give fans what they’ve been craving. 

Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and another familiar face team up to take down a world-ending threat. This time, a horned monstrosity named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) seeks to eliminate humanity from Planet Earth via three powerful “Mother Boxes” and rebuild it under the leadership of Darkseid (Ray Porter), who wants to control the galaxy. Feeling partly responsible for the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Batman becomes a reluctant leader as he and Wonder Woman bring the squad together. Heroes both new and old undergo their own arcs, to varying degrees — involving the topics of grief, faith, hope, and unity in times of crisis.

Aiming to please those who willed it into existence, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is difficult to recommend to viewers who aren’t already fans of the DC Cinematic Universe. The film contains moments of emotional resonance and visual spectacle, but proves grueling by the final hour — reverting to predictable plotting and repetitive, CGI-reliant action sequences.

At least the central characters are given more opportunities to shine. From its opening frames, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” establishes itself as a slower, mournful affair, with a 4:3 aspect ratio, dour chapter titles, muted color palette, and a clearer sense of organization. Snyder has crafted an unarguably more coherent storyline than before, maintaining a grittier tone than the original cut and giving scenes more time to breathe. Even though the storytelling itself is clunky, largely thanks to hit-or-miss dialogue and frequent exposition dumps, I appreciate Snyder’s ambition. 

The added depth to Cyborg (a.k.a Victor Stone) is particularly noteworthy. After Victor and his mother are killed in a car crash, his father, Silas Stone (Joe Morton) uses a Mother Box to resurrect Victor in a robotic body. Thanks to his new abilities, Victor becomes an all-powerful presence, able to tap into the world’s technological web with ease, and representing the League’s key to vanquishing Steppenwolf. Despite his powers, Cyborg is gripped with resentment towards his father and deeply uncertain of his own future. Fisher’s acting is endearing and empathetic, the most convincing in the entire film. His character  — practically deserving of its own standalone installment — remains the heart and soul of the whole endeavour. 

The Flash (a.k.a. Barry Allen) is also further fleshed out, but his journey lacks the nuance and complexity of Cyborg’s. He is much more confident in his speedy capabilities and doesn’t spout as many cringey quips as in the 2017 iteration. Batman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman, on the other hand, aren’t given much new material to work with under Snyder’s guidance, but we’re given more context for their actions. This helps create a stronger sense of flow from scene to scene than before, and all the actors give decent performances.

In terms of antagonists, Steppenwolf’s goals are more clearly outlined. Exiled from his demonic homeworld, he’s trying to prove himself to his master, Darkseid. Even though we understand where he’s coming from, Steppenwolf is still difficult to empathize with. Revealing more about his history doesn’t automatically fix his blandness or render him memorable. He’s big, powerful, odd-looking, and ready to slice and dice his way to victory.

Speaking of violence, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is rated R, allowing Snyder to indulge in bloody carnage that feels far more visceral than other cinematic comic book offerings. As expected, however, Snyder deploys an over-abundance of slow motion to present every shot as a work of art to be gawked at. Yes, there’s instances of beauty in his eye-popping, effects-heavy compositions, but they lose their thrill as the hours pile up.

Combined with an unnecessary epilogue that’s purely fan service, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” doesn’t quite justify its existence for casual moviegoers. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly support Snyder’s efforts to realize his vision. That being said, four hours is a huge time commitment, especially when viewed in a single sitting, and his film doesn’t differentiate itself enough to truly stand out.

A self-serious, over-indulgent, yet admirable effort, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” isn’t the masterpiece that some have touted it as, but it proves sporadically enjoyable. I just needed a long nap afterwards.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a 2021 release from Warner Brothers that is exclusively showing on HBOMax, as of March 18. It stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller as the six superheroes in the DC Justice League. is Rated R for violence and some language. It has a run time of 242 minutes. Alex’s Grade: B –

By Lynn Venhaus

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer

This is really a movie with the Serenity Prayer theme front and center. A grieving alcoholic father’s road to redemption is wrapped around an inspiring high school sports story – think “Hoosiers” meets “A Star is Born” (2018), “The Verdict,” and/or “Flight.”

Once a high school hotshot, Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) threw away his full ride to Kansas. His adult life – construction job, failed marriage, personal tragedy – has not turned out that well either. Using alcohol to mask his pain and self-hatred, he’s mired in a bad place. Then, his alma mater, Bishop Hays High School, calls to offer the head coach job. Going back to the school where he had his glory days proves to be redeeming as he turns around the team. But it’s not an overall fix, as he needs to deal with his demons and addiction, and his family ultimately helps put him on the path to recovery.

“The Way Back” is not your typical rah-rah sports underdog tale, to director Gavin O’Connor’s credit. O’Connor worked with star Ben Affleck in one of his best performances, “The Accountant,” and gave us “Miracle” about the U.S. 1980 Olympic hockey team and his acclaimed estranged family drama with a mixed martial arts focus, “Warrior.”

O’Connor knows how to stage sports action and captures well the re-energized youths of the Hays Tigers, with stand-out performances from Melvin Gregg as showboat Marcus and Brandon Wilson as loner Brandon, the team’s best player. Al Madrigal is memorable as assistant coach Dan.

But make no mistake, this is Ben Affleck’s comeback, and the parallels between his real-life battles with alcoholism, relapse and recovery come into play. You can’t help but think of his demons that he has wrestled with his entire life, for it is a genetic family disease.

Many families can relate to this struggle, which is why the film succeeds. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s realistic.

Beefy, with slumped shoulders signaling life defeat, Jack makes it through the day by drinking. He’s a construction worker with a cooler in his truck and vodka in his water bottle. After work, he’s either stopping at a liquor store or is a barfly, helped up the steps of his drab L.A. apartment at closing time.

His family watches his self-destruction. Sister Beth (Michaela Watkins) sees their father in Jack’s downward spiral. His ex-wife Angela (Janina Gvankar) tries to be supportive.

While he can’t get a handle on adulting, he sure finds his purpose in coaching his alma mater’s basketball team. He turns the team into a unified group who believes in their ability to win.

Yet, until Jack deals with his alcoholism, his life can’t get back on track. So, we see all the steps – the hitting bottom, the facing his troubles in rehab, the making amends. It’s a one day at a time process, no simple solutions.

It’s a sobering film, unconventional in a way because nothing is neatly tied up.

Understated, using natural light and dark shadows, its view is clear, despite some clunky transitions in the script by Brad Ingelsby.

And Affleck, with a strong body of work – and two Oscars – doesn’t have to prove his talent, but shows he is ready to move on to a better second act.

And his character sees more clearly now because of this hard-fought journey, which is reason to cheer, no matter how the team did in the playoffs.

The Way Back” is directed by Gavin O’Connor and starring Ben Affleck. It is rated R for language throughout including some sexual references. Running time is: 1 hr. 48 min. Lynn’s Grade: B+.