A film that stands out in my opinion as one of the more enjoyable directing debuts in the past few years, George Tillman, Jr's 1997 feature "Soul Food" is a well-written, warm-hearted film that contains some very enjoyable and moving performances - it's a film that often made me smile, laugh, and most importantly, care about the characters. The film tells the story of a large African-American family, from the youngest children to Big Mama (Irma P. Hall), the grandmother.
The film is narrated by Ahmad (Brandon Hammond), whose mother and father are Maxine (Vivica A. Fox) and Kenny (Jeffrey D. Sams). There's also an older sister Teri(Vanessa L. Williams) who is married to Miles(Michael Beach). The youngest sister is Bird(Nia Long), who has just married Lem (Mekhi Phifer) and opened up his own beauty salon. There's even more characters to meet, and some wonderful supporting performances such as the Reverend (Carl Wright). A great credit to the filmmakers is not only creating engaging and realistic characters, but really making all of them feel fully-written and realized.
After a happy opening, things slowly start to get worse before they get better. Big Mama slips into a coma caused by her diabetes. With her in the hospital, there's no one to cook her famous dinners, and without the communication that happens during these events, the family begins to slip apart. It's up to Ahmad to bring them all back together for another Sunday dinner.
The performances across the board are wonderful, with Irma P. Hall and Brandon Hammond being particular stand-outs. Hall's performance is fantastic in an early scene as she saves the day at the wedding. Some of her scenes early on as she gets sick practically moved me to tears. The three sisters also give wonderful performances, making sure that these characters are well-defined and have their own strong personalities. Writer/director Tillman wasn't quite as successful with his follow-up "Men Of Honor" (which comes out on DVD one week after the release of this title), but here he not only provides great control over the tone of the movie, capably not only moving from comedy to drama, but also never allowing the movie to get too sappy or preachy.
Tillman's film is a very fine one that still stands up after multiple viewings. Great characters and performances make "Soul Food" definitely worth sitting down for.
VIDEO: Fox presents "Soul Food" with a new anamorphic transfer. Although I haven't seen the original release to compare it to, this new release certainly provides a very enjoyable viewing experience. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and usually looks very well-defined. Sharpness does tend to vary a bit as, although most sequences look crystal clear, there are other moments in the film that seem a little bit soft by intention.
Colors seemed pleasing and natural, with scenes varying throughout the film. Some of the outdoor scenes appear a little colder in their color palette, while the scenes in the household remain warmer in terms of color, and more comforting.
Flaws appeared, but none of them were enough to cause a distraction. A couple of very minor speckles were visible, but other than that, there were no print flaws to be found. A couple of slight traces of pixelation came up, but there were no instances of shimmering. I'm pleased that Fox has decided to re-visit this film, and although not without a few minor concerns, the new presention for the film offers very good image quality.
SOUND: "Soul Food" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and really doesn't have any opportunities to expand the audio beyond a dialogue-driven presentation. The film's score effectively keeps the film's tone - warm and emotional, but never becoming too heavy or emotional. The score is the one element of the audio that opens up a little and occasionally is offered by the surrounds. Otherwise though, the surrounds remain mostly quiet and, with the film's strong characters and dialogue-driven nature, the mainly front-only sound is perfectly satisfying.
MENUS:: Menus are non-animated, with very basic images serving as backgrounds. For example, the main menu simply re-uses the front cover.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director George Tillman, Jr, who also contributed an excellent commentary to his upcoming "Men Of Honor" release. The only difference is that, while that commentary had a group of people along with Tillman talking about that film, he is by himself here. Still, he's very capable of providing an interesting, insightful and informative discussion of his time working on the film as well as stories from the set.
There are some times where the director talks simply about the story, but he's often able to relate to instances that happened in his own life, or he provides some interesting thoughts about how the characters relate to one another. The director lets us in on the thought process behind his directing certain scenes in the film, and the commentary as a whole serves a fine tour through the making of "Soul Food". Or, you could say, the commentary tells us the recipe for making a great movie. It's a very good commentary well worth a listen.
Trailers: The trailer for "Men Of Honor" as well as the trailers for "Soul Food" and "Waiting To Exhale".
Music Videos: Videos for "We're Not Making Love No More" and "I Care About You".
Featurette: This is a 6 minute and 45 second promotional featurette that takes the viewer behind-the-scenes for the production of "Soul Food". Mainly, this is a promotional featurette that talks about the film's story, but some of the interviews with the cast and crew are interesting.
Also: Cast list.
Final Thoughts: "Soul Food" is a superb small film with great characters and both moving and funny situations - I'm very pleased that Fox decided to re-visit the DVD with a new "Special Edition" to accompany the DVD release of director Tillman's "Men Of Honor" available one week later. The DVD offers above-average image quality, fine audio and a handful of enjoyable supplements lead by a great commentary. Both "Soul Food: Director's Edition" and "Men Of Honor" are recommended.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 88/B = (352/400 possible points)
Audio: 87/B = (348/400 possible points)
Extras: 84/B = (252/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C- = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 84/B = (252/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B