Four Features By Filmmaker Steve Balderson (Movie Reviews)

Foursome squareEven though some in the cinematic scene may not have heard of filmmaker Steve Balderson (yes, that includes yours truly and I’m appropriately ashamed!), they’re certainly about to.  As a multi-genre award winning writer/director from Wamego, Kansas with over sixteen feature films under his belt, Balderson is literally a driven one-man movie-making machine and shows no signs of stopping.  Not only does he have three diversely different films opening at the end of August/September on TV, VOD and even theatrically, but the indie auteur has also made the move to Hollywood and if his past work is any indication it’s gonna be an interesting ride.  We were recently contacted about his new film hitting theaters Sept. 9 titled El Ganzo, but we decided to go big or go home and immerse ourselves in all things Balderson.  So in a single review article we’re checking out four of his features to give both ourselves (meaning me!) and the uninitiated out there, a crash course in the savvy of Steve.  From stories fit for a king to soap operas with a killer cast, check out the Encapsulated Movie Reviews (listed from ratings high to low) of El Ganzo, Firecracker, Hell Town and Elvis Lives below.

El Ganzo

(Dikenga Films)

Of the films listed here the wonderfully wild El Ganzo is most assuredly Director Steve Balderson’s swan song.  A kind of odd hallucinatory Before Sunrise for the adult set, this tale of lost white woman Lizzy who ends up romantically involved with gay black man Guy whom she meets at a luxurious hotel called the El Ganzo in Los Cabos all but fits the filmmakers style to a tee.  His visuals flourish in the majesty of the Mexico setting (Kubrick would be impressed with these shots!), his fondness for weird is present and fully justified (Lizzy hits here head in an accident early on – is brain trauma affecting her moods?) and there’s a real sense of substance in a story that’s not only about rediscovering who you are, but possibly becoming someone new.  (And yes, chemistry is key and fully present here!)  El Ganzo may be just a hotel, but in the case of stellar work for Steve it’s home.


(Dikenga Films)

Firecracker is Director Steve Balderson’s most acclaimed work and it’s not hard to see why.  Based on a true-life murder where the filmmaker is from, Firecracker not only tells the torrid tale, but does so in the oddest of ways.  Mired in mood (there’s a thick dramatic fog that looms over every frame!), covered in a complex color palate (the film boldly goes from color to black & white with unbridled passion!) and with a serious Oedipus complex, Balderson creates a Blue Velvet/Twin Peaks sinister small town creepiness that is impossible to shake.  His muse is the late great incomparable Karen Black (she channels her inner Grace Zabriskie – Lynch’s muse!) who skillfully takes on two very different roles as a buttoned down mom and sensual circus singer – both engaging as hell.  There are some stilted characters that feel weird without reason (Susan Traylor’s police chief speaks slow…why?) and some side stories that make this one a tad too long (the sideshow freak stuff is very Carnivàle, but unneeded), but overall Firecracker proudly sets fire to familiar.

hell town

(Dikenga Films)

While I dig the sassy premise of this multi-episode soap opera style flick that combines the cheddar of Santa Barbara (you get bad daytime acting galore!) with the tongue-in-cheek of Student Bodies (plenty of carnage to comedy ratio!), there’s also a too obvious vibe in the execution here that sometimes gets in the way of the enjoyment.  Meaning for every tasty turn (the inclusion of Jennifer Grace as the troubled Laura in episode two is a game changer!) and creative kill (death by doughnuts!) there are a handful of unwitty asides and unmemorable characters that at times threaten to fan the funny.  Balderson and his co-director Elizabeth Spear never quite find the right tone for their farcical fright fest and seem to go with the ‘everything AND the kitchen sink’ approach – a tactic with some ups, but a lot more downs.  So while Hell Town may seem like a delightfully droll and devilish destination, in this place bad doesn’t always mean good.

Elvis lives


The main problem with any Elvis project is everything has already been done to death and as such anything new requires intense elevation.  Meaning story creativity (Bubba Ho-Tep did fit the bill!) and a quirky character turn (yes, Michael Shannon in Elvis & Nixon gave us something different!) are no longer a nice option – they’re a dire requirement.  Elvis Lives does try by adding a little tall tale mythos about the king faking his death to put bad guys away and save his ailing family and Jonathan Nation does have a few of the signature moves and voice inflections down, but both are way too watered down to make this one feel like anything other than movie of the week fare.  As directed by Balderson (who didn’t write this one) there are glimpses of his visual style (his darks are still deep and beautiful brights befittingly blinding), but there’s not enough wild whimsy to make it a notable credit inclusion for the filmmaker.  Forgettable film fare made for folks with no discerning movie palate, Elvis Lives is rock ‘n’ roll sanitized for your convenience.

El Ganzo poster

Firecracker poster

hell town poster

Elvis Lives poster


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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