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Case Number 18798: Small Claims Court

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Pressure Cooker

First Run Features // 2008 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // April 28th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Franck Tabouring handles pressure pretty well, but he has no cooking skills whatsoever.

The Charge

It's time to cook up a tasty future.

The Case

Mark Becker's and Jennifer Grausman's Pressure Cooker is a truly inspiring documentary about the power of hard work and the ultimate desire to achieve great things. It's an incredibly entertaining film with a true story about a group of individuals looking for the right inspiration to change their lives for the better, and to tell you the truth, I loved every minute of it. In fact, Pressure Cooker is the epitome of a successful documentary that embraces simplicity in an attempt to create a meaningful portrait of a group of underprivileged youngsters trying to make a difference.

Someone is serving up something big at Frankford High School in Philadelphia, and that someone is an energetic lady named Wilma Stephenson, a determined teacher who runs a tough culinary arts class that prepares participating students for a yearly cooking contest during which youngsters from all over the state compete for a bunch of prestigious scholarships. Becker and Grausman follow Wilma and her students through an entire school year of preparing special dishes, setting realistic goals and acquiring impeccable discipline, and the result is indeed as tasty as it sounds.

Many students at Frankford High School don't even make it to senior year. Wilma's students, although lacking opportunities at home, are all determined enough to keep fighting towards a brighter future, and the filmmakers of this doc let the kids do all the talking when it comes to painting the picture of their lives. Each of these students has a bunch of challenges to deal with personally, but Wilma has the spirit and strength to motivate them all to reach out for their dreams and work hard to accomplish what is realistic.

Wilma is quite the character, and although she is the source of several of the film's more emotional, meaningful moments, she is also the one bringing along the laughs. Eccentric as she is, Wilma can be very harsh during class, and watching her do her thing is simply priceless. That said, she's got the biggest heart and only wants what's best for her students. Pressure Cooker does a fantastic job at showing this. Her class sessions are inspiring, hilarious, and important. Failure in her eyes is never an option.

Pressure Cooker is structured very well, and the pace of the film is ideal. The camera follows the students home, where they share the stories of their lives and tough everyday routines. We also see them in class prepping for the big contest, which gives us more insight into their skills and desire to take all this knowledge and buy themselves a ticket out of Frankford. Wilma never directly talks to the camera, but we learn her lessons through her students. They are the real focus of this film, and I applaud the filmmakers for deciding to go that way. You don't have to like cooking shows to love this film.

It's obvious Pressure Cooker was produced on a low budget, but I also get the feeling the filmmakers kind of wanted to shoot this thing in a rough way. Nonetheless, the DVD provides a decent transfer both in terms of picture quality and audio. Besides a few bonus scenes, the special features also include short updates informing viewers about the students' current experiences.

Pressure Cooker is one of the most entertaining documentaries I've seen lately. It's well-edited and filled with heart and brain, and that's what sets it apart. It's a truly wonderful documentary you shouldn't miss.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 93

Perp Profile

Studio: First Run Features
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Scenes
• Updates


• IMDb

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