Instant Gratification: “House of Flying Daggers” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime

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Pick of the Week: “House of Flying Daggers (Netflix) — Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s follow-up to the martial arts epic “Hero” is one of the most visually gorgeous action films ever made, from a fight in a bamboo forest to a climactic duel in the middle of a snowstorm.

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The five movies you need to see in Madison: Dec. 5-11, 2014

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1. “The Homesman” (all week, Sundance) — I really liked Tommy Lee Jones’ last film as a director, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” and this Western also looks strong. Jones plays a drifter helping several women driven mad by pioneer life head back east, but the path is difficult and dangerous.

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“Life of Riley”: Alain Resnais says goodbye in his own strange way

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“Life of Riley” has its Madison premiere at the UW-Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall on Friday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. FREE! Not rated, 1:48, two stars out of four.

French director Alain Resnais had a career spanning 50 years (in “Whiplash,” one of the old black-and-white movies that Miles Teller and Paul Reiser watch is one of his). But rather than feel the accumulated weight of his years and his reputation, Resnais’ later films seemed to get weirder, lighter, more playful.

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Blu-ray review: “The Vanishing: The Criterion Collection”

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A thriller as unassuming and meticulous as its villain, George Sluizer’s 1988 film “The Vanishing” hasn’t lost its power to create a sense of dread in the mind of the viewer. In fact, I think it’s even stronger now — a modern-day film couldn’t be this horribly patient at pulling us into its world and not letting us leave. “The Vanishing” is now out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

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Instant Gratification: “The One I Love” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant

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Pick of the week: “The One I Love: My full review is here. This indie comedy/drama takes a “Twilight Zone”-esque turn early on as an estranged married couple (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss) decide to spend a weekend at their therapist’s vacation home — only to discover there’s something very strange going on in the guest house. While it gets a little too enamored of its own plot twists in the third act, this is still an inventive and thoughtful film about how relationships change and don’t change.

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Blu-ray review: “La Dolce Vita: The Criterion Collection”

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I found myself with a lot of trepidation in writing about Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” It’s one of my favorite movies ever, now re-released in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. But what could I possibly add to the mountain of great film writing already accumulated around one of the greatest films ever made, perhaps the greatest Italian film?

And how could I even begin to encapsulate all that’s there in the nearly three-hour film, stuffed with allegory and politics, poetry and satire, romance and disillusionment? Could a food critic review an entire buffet?

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