Director Steven Hanft’s Kill the Moonlight received its widest exposure in disguise, as snippets of sound in Beck’s 1994 song “Loser” and images in its accompanying music video (also directed by Hanft). The film itself revolves around a loser, one of the loserus dreamerus variety that once thundered — or rather shuffled — across the plains of American independent film in the decade after Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991). Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1996) remains the definitive romanticized account, while Hanft’s film exudes a stripped-down, earthier appeal. Lean and longhaired Chance (Thomas Hendrix) works part time at a fish farm but dreams of dirt-track racing glory. Inspired by motivational tapes, Chance decides to seize his destiny, as it were, by raising the $2,500 needed to fix his beat-up stock car and enter the big race. Stabs at larceny, drug dealing and landscaping all go dryly awry, and even a late compensatory shot at love falls apart when Chance’s stripper girlfriend leaves him for the local bully, giving away Chance’s shirt in the process. Hanft employs grainy film stock and handheld camera work that bring a pointillist poetry to the cinder-block fringes of Southern Californian suburbia where the film unfolds, and he crowds his frames with lovingly lived-in details of the sad-sack life — the fluorescent lighting of a 24-hour minimart, the grungy grout in Chance’s bathtub, his ragged Kiss T-shirt and spandex pants — that both elicit and complicate our empathy. Hanft doesn’t gloss over Chance’s lapses in judgment, but neither does he dismiss Chance’s dreams, or the environment that they took root in. Released by Plexifilm, Kill the Moonlight is being released on DVD with a bonus soundtrack CD.

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: The Busby Berkeley Collection: 42nd Street, Dames, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933, Gold Diggers of 1935 (DVD); Keane (DVD); The Squid and the Whale (VHS-DVD). Also released this week: VHS-DVD: Capote; Chicken Little;Paradise Now. DVD: Bewitched: The Complete Third Season; Break a Leg; Bukowski: Born Into This;The Confessor; The Dying Gaul; The Flying Nun: The Complete First Season; Gidget: The Complete Series; Huff: The Complete First Season; Ring Around the Rosie; Show Me; South Park: The Complete Seventh Season; The Young Riders Season 1.

LA Weekly