also showing; He's a cloud. She's a blade of grass

Ermo Zhou Xiaowen (no cert)

Destiny Turns on the Radio Jack Baran (15)

Guarding Tess Hugh Wilson (12)

Clockwork Mice Vadim Jean (15)

Oliver Twist David Lean (U)

Hype rules the British cinema scene and one feels faintly apologetic for singling out for commendation, among all the high-profile English- language movies opening this week, an obscure Chinese film by a director, Zhou Xiaowen, unknown in the West. But, in a gathering summer drought of good or even watchable movies, Ermo is one of the best new films around.

It has none of the big-budget opulence which now marks the work of Zhou's better-known contemporaries, Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. It's a small, no-frills story set in a remote but distinctively contemporary region of North China. The heroine, one of those tough peasant women in the mould of Zhang's The Story of Qiu Ju, is locked in a feud with her neighbour and resolves to put her nose out of joint by buying a (by Chinese standards) huge, ostentatious and very expensive television set. To this end she twists noodles by night and day, weaves baskets, sells her blood by the gallon. And she does get her wish, but somehow it doesn't bring her quite the pleasure she had hoped.

Ermo is a lively, constantly diverting film: it has amusing, colourful characters, a generous dash of humour and not a jot of sentimentality. And there's a strong sense of China today, hurtling towards consumerism without anyone stopping to consider what this affluence will bring. It's plainly shot, confident enough about its story not to need clever gimmicks. I liked it for its grasping, vindictive, vulnerable, curiously likable heroine who gulps down three bowls of water before selling her blood, in order (she thinks) to dilute it. I liked it because it shows you in great detail how to make twisty noodles (although no-one watching this backbreaking work will be tempted to go into the trade). And because it told you that when the Chinese wear his 'n' her T-shirts, the male version bears the slogan "I am a cloud" and the female one reads "I am a blade of grass".

Destiny Turns on the Radio, by contrast, thinks it's so cool; how they must have crowed when Quentin Tarantino, king of hip, signed for one of the leading roles. He plays a mysterious, possibly mystical character called Johnny Destiny (why are all these iconic types - Suede, Guitar, Handsome, Mnemonic - always called Johnny? Fred Destiny has more of a ring, and at least it's original) drifting through a tarnished neon-tinted Las Vegas of crooks and losers. The intended tone of romantic, magical comedy is spectacularly misjudged; even QT fans should give the film a miss (he's terrible). And while it might be a cute title, Destiny, as I recall, never did get to turn on the radio.

In Guarding Tess, Nicolas Cage's Secret Service agent gets the assignment from hell: Head of Security for a cantankerous, widowed First Lady (Shirley MacLaine) retired and festering somewhere in the bowels of the deep Midwest with nothing to do but make her minder's life a misery. The premise suggests a jocular comedy in the Driving Miss Daisy mode, but the director, Hugh Wilson, hails from the Police Academy and has trouble with this melancholy, bittersweet piece: many scenes are so subdued they aren't funny at all. The film's forte is MacLaine's detailed, touching performance, labouring under the indignity of being a National Treasure with no useful role to play, patronised by the President - her husband's former Vice - who views her as an embarrassing liability.

The prolific British director-producer team of Vadim Jean and Paul Brooks (interviewed page 10) gave us Leon the Pig Farmer and the horror flick Beyond Bedlam. Their third venture is Clockwork Mice, a lightly comic drama set in a special needs school: it's heartening to see that they're not just belting out thin pastiches of American genre pictures. Which is not to say there's no air of deja vu: an idealistic teacher (Ian Hart, excellent as always) wins over his wayward pupils - clockwork mice ready to hurtle off in any direction - with poetry and cross-country running, dead poets riding chariots of fire. But it's a bright, pleasing, energetic film with well-drawn performances, particularly from the kids.

In the final third stretch the screenplay goes haywire like one of its mice: it seems perverse to keep insisting on one boy's obsession with the London-Brighton line then have him run off on the Mid Hants railway, even given that steam trains are so much more picturesque than InterCities. It was a big mistake, too, to kill off a principal character and then scrape together a feel-good finale: the last, would-be uplifting sequence doesn't make any sense. A rigorous script editor is recommended next time round.

Oliver Twist's workhouse had the right philosophy for dealing with errant children: keep the horrors in line with a strict regimen of floggings and thin gruel (no seconds). We're a long way from correct political thinking: released in 1949-50, David Lean's film attracted flack for Alec Guinness's outrageous Fagin. A long way from Heritage Dickens too: climaxing in a terrifying scene with a lynch mob, this film is cruel, dark and violent - even when Oliver hits a lucky streak with a rich benefactor the sunny scenes are flecked with thick shadows. Oliver Twist launches a season highlighting film soundtracks and its music is by Arnold Bax.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam