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Featured DVD Review: Pressure Cooker

April 23rd, 2010

Pressure Cooker - Buy from Amazon

Pressure Cooker is a documentary about a teacher who is clearly nuts, but in a good way. Wilma Stephenson is the Culinary Arts teacher at the Frankford High School in Philadelphia. It's a real life inspirational teacher story. When Hollywood gets a hold of one of these, they usually turn them into a mess of cliches. Will the filmmakers here have more success by sticking with the facts?

In the film, we follow Wilma's latest class, including students who are looking to compete in the citywide competition. Specifically, three students: Tyree Dudley, Erica Gaither, and Fatoumata Dembele. Tyree Dudley is an all-star tackle on the football team and looks like he could get into college on an athletics scholarship, but he's also smart enough to know he needs a back-up plan in case his football career falls through. Erica Gaither is a cheerleader with a 4.0 grade point average and who also helps look after her younger sister, who is blind. Fatoumata Dembele is a relatively recent immigrant from Mali to the United States who doesn't know any English.

The film follows the teacher and these three students, plus a few side characters, as the class prepares for the citywide competition. The heart of the movie is obviously the culinary arts competition finals and the awarding of the scholarships afterward. If you are not emotionally invested in these people by the graduation ceremony, then you just were not paying attention to the film.

The filmmakers wisely choose a "Fly on the wall" approach. For the most part, the subjects do not even acknowledge the camera's presence, so we get a very natural feel to the movie. Sometimes you need a central figure to walk you through a complex subject that touches many lives. Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock are great at these. Other times, any attempt at being "cinematic" would merely get in-between the audience members and the film's subjects. This does mean that there is a lack of background information that might frustrate some, but the movie's technique is most effective way to focus on the subjects at hand.

On a side note, making a tourne potato seems like a massive waste of food. Also, every time I watched them cook something I was thinking to myself, "Can't eat that, it's deep fried." Or, "Can't eat that, too much butter." Being on a diet sucks.

Extras on the DVD start with six deleted scenes with a total running time of close to ten minutes. There are also text-based updates and filmmakers' bios.

The Verdict

While watching this movie I was reminded of a scene in Back to School where someone is describing Professor Terguson (played by Sam Kinison), "Well, he's really committed. In fact, I think he was." I think this describes Wilma Stephenson: she's a little on the crazy side, but dedicated to her students in a way that makes her invaluable to her school. Pressure Cooker is an amazing movie and one that is worth checking out. The DVD doesn't have a lot of extras, but it is still worth purchasing over just renting.

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Filed under: Video Review, Pressure Cooker