Book Review: Boom! by Mark Haddon

Author: Mark Haddon 
Title: Boom!
Narrator: Julian Rhind-Tutt
Publication Info: Listening Library (2010)
Other Books Read by the Same Author:


Recommended books:


Movie Review: 63 Up (2019)

63 Up is the most recent installment in The Up Series, and with the death of director and interviewer Michael Apted on January 7, 2021, it may also be the last.  I do hope someone takes up the baton and makes a 70 Up, as it seems like a good age to bring the experiment to a conclusion and reflect on the entire process.

Granted, the specter of death hovers over 63 Up.  Lynn, the beloved children’s librarian who fought so hard for the kids became the first participant to die a few years before the film’s released.  In this film we also learn that Nick, the physics professor, has throat cancer and is not doing well (as of this writing, Nick appears to still be alive).

Despite the inevitable age and decay, I don’t find 63 Up to be depressing.  All of the participants have accomplished so much in their own ways and have found joy in something.  I think Sue puts it best that being in the films is a lifelong achievement. “The things we go through are what everyone are going through.”

I neglected to note this in my review of 56 Up, but it appears that the archival footage was restored and looks so much sharper and clearer than it does in the earlier films. This was the first movie made after Brexit, but oddly Apted only asks some of the participants about it. All the participants who talk about the issue have had it with the Conservative Party.  Another reason 70 Up would be great would be to hear their thoughts on the revolving door of Prime Ministers.

Tony and Debbie sold their Spanish vacation house as their income has taken a hit in the war with rideshare companies. They’ve settled in a community of elderly East Enders in Essex and dote on their 6 grandkids.  Tony voted leave but has reconsidered it to the point where he will no longer vote Tory.  They talk about how Michael thought he’d be a criminal at 21.
Andrew is getting ready to retire.  His kids are grown up and he’s taken up Japanese gardening
Sue is still engaged to Glenn, but Glenn loves motorbikes! She is still working at University of London and singing and acting in her free time.  She’s worried about the social safety net collapsing.
Nick has throat cancer and seems very tired. He mourns his father’s death but has trouble expressing it.  He expresses a lack of faith in the wealthy upper class continuing to have the right to rule, talking about both Donald Trump and Theresa May.
Bruce is working part time at Penny’s school and close to retirement.  His sons are almost grown up.  We see him visit New York City with his family and returning to the East End school he taught at in his 20s.
Jackie says her three boys are doing well, although still dealing with the death of their father Ian.  They have not found closure from the guilty verdict for the woman who ran over Ian.  They revisit how angry she was by Michael treating women differently, but is surprised that viewers thinks she hates Michael. “I told him off, I didn’t kill him!”
Peter is still in a band, working 2 days a week, and writing a novel. He was against Brexit. He’s worried about next generation being the first to not have a better life than their parents.
There’s a full segment of archival interviews with Lynn before they reveal that she died.  I found this a bit cruel because it’s kind of playing it for shock value.  Her husband and daughters speak in her memory and their is a ceremony dedicating a school library to Lynn.
Paul and Symon are profiled together, with Symon and Vienetta visiting Australia for the first time.  They have a lot in common personality-wise in their shyness, lack of confidence, and not realizing their talents. They talk together about how the children’s home and their seperation from their parents affected them.
John hasn’t changed much, still working in law, active with Friends of Bulgaria, and disappointed that he never got into politics. He voted remain, perhaps surprisingly, but he never thought he fit the stereotype of the “archetypical” Tory squire. He’s also proud of the advances made by Bulgaria as a member of the EU.
Suzy did not take part in this film but there is a short collection of clips from earlier interviews.
Neil is still active in politics and was opposed to Brexit. He continues to be a lay preacher and is active in his Christian faith. He’s still struggling with his relationship with his parents after their deaths and dealing with mental health issues.  He married since 56 Up, but he and his wife have separated.
Still struggling with mental health. He has a second home in France.

Panorama of the Mountains

Title: 63 Up
Release Date: June 4, 2019
Director: Michael Apted
Production Company: Albert+ Sustainable production | ITV Studios | Shiver

It’s December 2019, and I’m thrilled to see the 9th installment in a legendary movie saga on the big screen!  No, not Star Wars, that’s next week.  This is the Up Series, a documentary focusing on the lives of a group of British individuals starting with the a tv special produced by Granada Television for ITV in 1964 called Seven Up!  The premise of the series is based on the Jesuit motto “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” and the original filmmakers thought that the rigid class structure of England would show that the futures of these children would be locked in at 7-years-old.

Director Michael Apted has interviewed the participants every year since…

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Movie Review: 56 Up (2012)

We’ve finally reached an installment of The Up Series that I previously reviewed on this blog when it first came out, so I included that original post after some thoughts from this viewing.

The first thing I noticed is that Michael Apted has broken the pattern of Tony first/Neil last and it really does shake things up, especially if you’re watching all these movies in a row.  More importantly, nearly 50 years into the project, a stunning 13 of 14 people participated in making this film, the best participation ratio since 1977!

Sue may have the least drama of anyone and most laid-back approach to these films.  Her children are grown and her responsibilities working at the University of London continue to increase (despite Michael Apted always pointing out that she never attended university). She’s been happily engaged to Glen for 14 years, and has taken up amateur drama performances.

Paul and his wife Sue are now working at an assisted living village.  They have  lots of grandkids who all appear on bikes. They visit their daughter Katie in England, the first member of the family to graduate university.

Neil is still representing his village in Cumbria and serving as a lay minister at his church.  He feels strongly about setting the record straight on past installments of The Up Series and wants to be recognized for his writing.

Peter returns for the first time since 28 Up! He explains how the media frenzy in response to his comments on the Thatcher administration kept him away.  In the meantime, he’s found work in the civil services, married, and has two kids who are now teenagers.  He and his wife play in an Americana band called Good Intentions.

Jackie remains optimistic despite going through some hard, hard times. Her ex-husband Ian died and her mother-in-law is terminally ill. Her benefits have been cut and the government said she should be able to work despite her disability.  She has a newborn grandchild and all three of her sons offer their insights in interviews.

Suzy & Nick -The best part of this episode is the seemingly unlikely pairing interviewed together.  They’ve been corresponding for some time and Nick believes that they have a lot in common due to their rural upbringing. Nick has a lot of deep insight into the value of the project. Suzy hates it but has a weird loyalty.

Symon and Vienetta’s children and former foster children have a lot of good things to say. Somehow Symon is very busy and laid back simultaneously.

Bruce is still doing well with Penny and two sons. We see them goofing around while camping and playing cricket in Oxford. We learn that they are a non-farting family.

Lynn’s prediction that the pennypinchers would cut funding to her department at the library and lay her off came true.   The whole family is hit hard by the recession and her husband has to go back to work after retiring.  Lynn cares for a grandson full-time after he was born premature.

John and Andrew are profiled together although sadly they are not brought together in person, which seems like a missed opportunity.  I don’t want to say that anyone’s life is boring but there’s seems to have changed the least.  John is still active in practicing law, supporting charities in Bulgaria, and still cranky about The Up Series.  Andrew is still working in a corporate legal department and his sons are grown up.  Unlike John, he believes there is still as class system.

Tony is now more famous than Buzz Aldrin, at least in London cabbie society.  The recession affected their Spanish vacation village and he did not open sports bar. Tony and Debbie are caring for a granddaughter whose mother is dealing with mental health issues. Tony makes several “I’m not racist, but…” types of comments and Michael Apted calls him out on it. The film ends with Tony visiting old haunts in the East End, and the Olympic Stadium built on the site of his old dog racing track.


Panorama of the Mountains

Title: 56 Up
Release Date:
14 May 2012
Michael Apted
Production Co:
ITV Studios
United Kingdom
Rating:  *****

Seven years ago, my wife and watched a box set of the first 6 movies in the Up Series, then went to a local art moviehouse to see the then current release 49 Up.  In about a week of binge-watching we became acquainted with the lives of 14 individuals from England who since they were seven years old have had their lives documented every seven years.  We’ve been eager to catch up with these participants and finally were able to watch the most recent installment.

The original tv special in 1964 was almost socialist in its approach, attempting to define how the rigid British class system is ingrained in children at the age of 7.  Since then, it’s become more of a humanist document of the…

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Movie Review: 49 Up (2005)

Title: 49 Up
Release Date: September 15, 2005
Director: Michael Apted
Production Company: Granada Television

Reality television, that is ordinary people who are not professional actors are seen in purportedly unscripted programs, has existed for as long as there has been television (for example, Candid Camera debuted in 1948). When Seven Up debuted in 1964 with 14 seven-year-old children talking about their lives, it added to a growing reality television paradigm.  By the late 1990s, the genre of reality television had exploded in dominance with many new programs, a lot which included some form of competition, innovated in the United Kingdom.

The participants of The Up Series were suddenly seeing reality TV making many people wealthy and famous.  But the cost of having one’s personal life broadcast of the world are dear, and that is something they all are reflecting upon.  John addresses is it most directly, considering The Up Series as nothing more than another form of sensationalism.  In one of the most cathartic moments in any of the films, Jackie calls out Michael Apted for his condescending questions, marginalizing the women participants to domestic roles, and editing to fit a predetermined story line.  Nick acknowledges how important the series is while noting that it still makes him uncomfortable.

This was the first Up film I watched in real time when it was released in U.S. movie theaters back in 2005 (or was it 2006?) shortly after binge-watching the first six movies.  It is also the movie that captures the participants at the age that I am now, 49, which is why I’ve decided to rewatch the series.  For the first time, the movie includes on screen labels depicting which prior episodes that clips are taken from, which is a huge help.  For a lot of these reason, I think this is the best installment of The Up Series to this point.

Tony is in a better place in his relationship with Debbie and is now a loving grandad.  As much as I love Tony I can’t help but be peeved by the disconnect of criticizing the new immigrants to the East End for not sharing English culture while simultaneously getting a vacation home in an all-English enclave in coastal Spain.

Apart from chewing out Michael Apted, Jackie is still raising three sons in Scotland, remaining close with her ex-husband and mother-in-law.  The rheumatoid arthritis is affecting her health but she is focused on what she can do more than what she can’t.

Sue is in love with Glen and they have a new house and a terrier.  Her children are teenagers and she has earned a managerial position at the University of London.

Bruce burned out at teaching in the East End and has moved on to a boys independent school where he sings in the choir and coaches the cricket team.  He and Penny are doing well and he seems quite content.

Paul got therapeutic help to deal with lack of confidence while Susan is working as an occupational therapist. He focuses on his grandchildren and running marathons

Suzy continues to be in a strong marriage with Rupert as their children start moving away.  She states that she’s more happy now than at any time previously in her life, but does not enjoy being part of the films and wants to bow out.

Nick suffered as setback at work that forced him to abandon his research.  His accent sounds more American now than when he was younger. He divorced his first wife but has remarried to Cryss, another professor (from a university in Minnesota), and they are doing well.

Lynn is still happily married to Russ with their daughters grown up and their first grandchild. At work she finds herself fighting cost cutting of children’s services at the library, and feeling that she isn’t going to win

Symon and Vienetta continue to do well  and they now have grandchildren. They are also foster parents, taking in children who arrive at Heathrow Airport who have been separated from family. The production brings Paul and his family to London to reunite with Symon and they both talk about their parents in more depth than they have before.

Andrew is still happily married with Jane and has left his law firm for industry.

John is still in law, still interested in politics, still married to Claire, still supporting Bulgarian philanthropy, and still cynical about the whole thing.

Neil has moved again, this time to a small village in Cumbria, where he is serving on county council and is active in his church.  He talks about his relationship with mother improving.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: 35 Up (1991)

Title: 35 Up
Release Date:August 29, 1991
Director: Michael Apted
Production Company: Granada Television

It feels natural to refer to the participants in The Up Series as children, but 35 Up is the point where there are more films showing them as adults than as children.  In fact, they are settling into adulthood with children, new homes, settled career paths, and the passing of parents being common themes.  This film brings the series into the 1990s, which as I often joke with my kids, feels like yesterday. And yet, as recent as 1991 feels to me, this is actually the halfway point of The Up Series thus far, with four more films to come.

Charles is still not participating, sending only a photograph, as he now works as a producer for the BBC but does not want to appear in front of the camera.  Symon is also missing, as is Peter, who suffered a lot of blowback for his rather anodyne criticism of Margaret Thatcher in 28 Up. John, who presumably approves of Thatcherism, is back after missing the previous film.  He’s married now and a barrister and mainly appears to promote his charity to support people in Bulgaria.  He does seem like less of a prat.  Andrew, the other boy from a prosperous background, has settled in a less flashy but comfortable life also working in law, and father to two sons.  He even speaks out in favor of more taxes for social services! Suzy is also doing well in her marriage to solicitor Rupert and they now have children, although Suzy remains wary of revealing too much.

Tony is doing well and his wife Debbie is more prominent in the interviews.  I like that we get to see both of them working as taxi drivers in London.  Paul’s wife Susan also has more to say in this film, although she mostly talks about Paul.  You have to feel for Paul because his lack of confidence is so strong after his troubled childhood, but he nevertheless seems to have a strong marriage, loves his children, and skill as a bricklayer (even if he fails to run his own company).  Nick’s wife Jackie appeared prominently in 28 Up, but didn’t like how she appeared and that viewers thought their marriage was doomed so she sits this one out.  Nick, on his own, still remains one of the most observant participants on how the whole experiment affects the people involved and is good at sharing his experience. I continue to be surprised that Jackie, Lynn, and Sue are still being grouped together for their profiles, although their different stories are starting to emerge.

Two of the participants remain unmarried.  Bruce, who seems so kind and thoughtful, has become a teacher in Bangladesh, somehow fulfilling his childhood goal of becoming a missionary in a less colonialist way.  Neil, still struggling with mental health and stability, nevertheless seems to be in a slightly better place having found a place to live in a council estate on the Shetland Islands and engaging with the community by directing pantomime shows. The stories of Bruce and Neil are ones that have the most intrigue of what comes next.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: 28 Up (1984)

Title: 28 Up
Release Date: 20 November 1984
Director: Michael Apted
Production Company: Granada Television

28 Up is the movie that Roger Ebert put on his ten favorite movies list. I’ve kind of dodged the issue by putting the entire series as one entry into my personal top ten, but 28 Up is definitely a landmark of the series.  All the participants have come into their own as adults in this entry and we’re beginning to see the ways that they’ve been molded by their childhood and how they’ve defied societal expectations.

Tony, the working class kid from the East End, has become quite prosperous as a London taxi driver.  When he was younger he wanted to be a jockey, a taxi driver, and an actor, and by 28 he has achieved all of those things.  The fact that he wasn’t a very successful jockey or that he only plays bit parts in TV shows doesn’t bother him as he’s achieved his goal, which I think is a good way of looking at life.  On the other end of the spectrum, Bruce, who has a child at a militaristic boarding school wanted to be a missionary, has instead become a socialist and now teaches at Tony’s old school in the East End.

Two of the wealthier boys, John and Charles, declined to participate in this movie (Charles will never return).  The remaining wealthy boy Andrew seems, maybe not humbled, but more grounded than in previous episodes and married to “a Yorkshire lass.” Suzy is also happily married and a parent after being completely cynical about those things in 21 Up.  In fact, many of the participants are married and interviews with the wives (and Suzy’s husband) give new perspectives to Britons of their generation.  I know that Tony’s wife Debbie practically becomes a participant in future films, but her first appearance here was actually less significant than I remembered.

Probably the biggest disappointment is that three of the four women – Jackie, Lynn, and Sue – are still being interviewed and profiled together.  Apted would receive a lot of criticism (including from the participants) for his sexist angle in portraying the working class women and it is fully deserved.  I know from later installments that all three of these women have fascinating insights so it’s disappointing that they don’t get an adequate share of time.

Finally there’s the issue of Neil, whose life story is among the most compelling.  In this film we see him living as an itinerant in rural Scotland, clearly suffering from mental illness and isolated from society.  Many viewers in 1984 feared that Neil would die or take his own life, but later films showed that Neil is full of surprises.

Rating: *****


Movie Review: 21 Up (1977)

Title: 21 Up
Release Date: 9 May 1977
Director: Michael Apted
Production Company: Granada Television

There are a lot of firsts for the Up Series in 21 Up.  For the first time, each of the subjects will get a discrete portion of the documentary instead of everyone being mixed up.  There are also more probing questions with time allowed for in-depth responses as is suitable for the participants now that they’re adults (although Michael Apted still hasn’t built the rapport to the point where some of his questions don’t come of as intrusive or condescending).

There are also a number of lasts in 21 Up. This is the final time that the participants are brought together in a large group event (at least, on film) and wow, are those conversations interesting and I would’ve liked to see more of them.  Nick analyzing the entire experiment is particularly keen.  This is also the final movie in which all 14 individuals will participate (goodbye Charles!).

This movie is very transitional as we start to see how those children we saw in the first two films are shaking out on their first hesitant steps into adulthood, and beginning to set patterns for their future lives.  But there will always be surprises.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: 7 Plus Seven (1970)

Title 7 Plus Seven
Release Date: 15 December 1970
Director: Michael Apted
Production Company: Granada Television

I’ve kind of accepted that 7 Plus Seven is the Ugly Duckling of The Up Series. Michael Apted takes over the directorial reigns, but doesn’t seem quite ready to connect with teenagers while asking them questions.  To be honest, it’s a fool’s errand since 14 is an age where you’re not going to find many kids willing to be expository about their life.  Since there was still no plan to revisit the subjects every seven years, Apted has also not settled on the structure he would adopt for the latter films.  It’s basically, here’s the kids at seven and here are the kids now.

All that being said, it’s still a wonderful and necessary film.  For some reason Seven Up! feels ancient but the social change of the mid-to-late 60s makes this children in this film feel like they are living in more contemporary times.  Apted once again asks them about class, race, religion, education and career goals, dating, and what they think of the other kids involved.  Some of the kids are parroting what the adults in their lives have taught them but others are really thinking things out.  A surprising number of them support the Conservative Party which I guess is why Margaret Thatcher rose to power once they were old enough to vote.

The absolute highlight of this movie is when Suzy is talking about social class on her father’s estate and we see her dog slaughter a rabbit in the background.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Seven Up!(1964)

Today I turn 49 years old.  Since that is an age divisible by seven, I’ve decided to revisit The Up Series, the great documentary series from the UK that checks in with a group of people every seven years starting back with this TV special in 1964.

I first discovered this series back in 2005 when I checked out the box set from the library.  Susan and I binged all the movies in less than a week and then went and saw the most recent release at the time, 49 Up, at the movie theater.  I’ve kept with additional installments over the years but this is a good opportunity to revisit the earlier films.

Title: Seven Up!
Release Date: 5 May 1964
Director: Paul Almond
Production Company: Granada Television

Director Paul Almond created this one off TV special for the Granada Television series World In Action to focus on a group of seven-year-old children, the generation who would provide “the shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 .” Twenty children were brought together for a visit to the London Zoo, a special party, and time to play in an adventure playground (none of these things would past muster with today’s helicopter parents). The children represent various parts of England including London’s East End, the post Kensington borough, the Liverpool suburbs, a farm in Yorkshire, and a charity orphanage.

The experiment is flawed from the beginning as the 14 participants chosen to be documented in the ensuing films, only 4 of them are girls.  Michelle, a girl from the East End who is featured prominently in the first installment but for some reason never returned in the subsequent films.  There also is only one non-white participant, Symon, who has an immigrant Black father and a white English mother.

That aside, it is an interesting gathering of children.  The interviewers ask a series of questions about issues such as interest in the opposite sex, money and class, racism, and violence.  The answers are as adorable as you might expect and surprisingly insightful.  The upper class boys Andrew, Charles, and John, naming the prep schools, public schools, and universities that they plan to attend (right on down to specific Oxbridge colleges) is alarming.  But then again, working class Tony is always spot on about what he’s going to accomplish in the future too.

Highlights of the movie remain:

  • Tony falling flat on his face
  • Andrew licking his knee while being interviewed
  • Nick refusing to answer questions about girls
  • Bright-eyed Neil talking about how he dies when playing make believe
  • Paul not wanting to get married because his wife might make him eat greens
  • Also, I noticed this time that at the party the kids are actually drinking from bottles of 7-UP.  Great product placement!

Michael Apted worked as a researcher on this film, and by 1970 was wondering how these kids were doing as teenagers.  But we’ll get to that tomorrow!

Rating: *****

Book Review: Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford

Author: Ross Welford 
Title: Time Traveling with a Hamster 
Narrator: Bruce Mann
Publication Info: Listening Library (2016)

“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine, and again four years later when he was twelve. (He’s going to die a third time as well, which seems a bit rough on him, but I can’t help that.)”

Al Chaudhury is a nerdy 12-year-old growing up in the North of England who is off Indian and Welsh heritage.  He lives with his mom, her boyfriend Steve with whom he doesn’t connect well, his goth half-sister Carly with whom he does not get along, and his genius Grandpa Byron.  On his twelfth birthday, Al is given a letter written by his father Pye before his death four years earlier.

Al is tasked with finding his father’s time machine and traveling back to 1984 when the young Pye suffered an accident that would contribute to his early death decades later.  Pye was unable to do it himself because the rules of time travel prevent the same person from appearing twice at the same time.  In this very sweet story, Al makes several attempts to figure out the time machine and how to fix the past, while forming a bond with his father as a boy his own age.  And yes, he travels with Alan Shearer, a pet hamster that was also a birthday gift.

I love time travel stories and really enjoyed this messy, heartfelt adventure even if it makes me feel old that traveling to 1984 is treated as the distant past.  Grandpa Byron is a great character and reminds me of my own grandfather who tried to get me to read a book about learning memorization skills. And this is a light spoiler but I love that this is the only time travel story other than Back to the Future where changes in the past lead to a more positive future for the protagonist.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****