Get On Board With Monticello Railway Museum’s Polar Express!

We decided in early November that it’s high time we took the kids on a Polar Express ride.  I searched local events and found one put on by the Monticello Railway Museum in Illinois.  After a bit of research, I discovered that people were generally very pleased with the attraction and, after looking at the Museum’s Facebook page, realized that several of our friends had been on the very same ride!  (This makes sense as it’s only about an hour from our town.)

I visited their official web page to find that tickets were few and far between.  This only makes sense because, unbeknownst to me, the tickets went on sale back in August.  We lucked out, though, and were able to snag some tickets during Thanksgiving break.  In fact, an 8:00 p.m. ride on a Saturday night suited us perfectly!  I hesitated momentarily due to the price.  They only had a deluxe table left, which ran about $300.  However, I looked into the amenities, considered the occasion, and ultimately decided it was worth the risk.

I’m happy to tell you that it was worth every penny.  Every.  Penny.

When you first arrive, everyone is as nice as they can possibly be.  You enter the depot to get your physical tickets–you pick them up right before the departure time, they are not mailed to you.  If you’ve got a little time to kill, you can walk across the parking lot to a large gift shop area.  They also have a set where you can have your picture taken.  You have to use your own camera, but the backdrop is fantastic and they have volunteers to take the picture for you.  (The only reason I didn’t post ours with this article is because it could become our Christmas card.)

When it’s time to board, you walk along the Polar Express replica.  As you can see from the below picture, they went all out with the exterior.  My kids were in awe.  You might even get to see Hobo Joe by his campfire.  Odds are, if he sees you, he’s going to say hi with a big smile on his face.

Once aboard, you are pretty much entertained from start to finish.  The wait staff (primarily composed of a local dance troupe) sing and dance throughout, they give you as much hot chocolate as you want, as many cookies as you want, as well as all the soda, peanuts, water, and other goodies that you could ever want!  Each table has a sparkly silver gift bag that reads “The bell still rings for me” with a ceramic Polar Express mug inside.  The conductor punches your ticket in quite the creative fashion, Hobo Joe makes a run through, and Santa himself even makes an appearance while handing out sleigh bells!  Keep in mind, this is all happening as the train is actually rolling along.

We rode at night, so we couldn’t see much out the windows, but they made a point to have the “North Pole” all lit up with Santa waving to the train cars before he gets on board to say hello to the kids.  Honestly, there’s so much going on inside the train that we never had time to look out!

Now, one thing I want you to remember is that we were on the “deluxe” car.  I have no idea if all of this went on in the “coach” cars.  Though the deluxe was expensive, I feel that we definitely got our money’s worth.

I have a few suggestions to help  you enjoy your time even more.  Make sure the kids are seated by the aisle.  We were starting to have them sit by the windows and a nice man next to our table whispered to me that we want them along the aisle so that they can get plenty of picture opportunities when Santa arrives.  Also, if Hobo Joe sees your entire family in matching pajamas, he’ll give you a special ornament.  I knew they liked families to wear matching pj’s, but the ornament completely surprised us.  Furthermore, parking is a bit of a free for all.  We found a spot easily enough, but count on parking in the surrounding area somewhere.  Don’t expect to park right in front of the depot.  Finally, there are no bathrooms on the actual train, but the gift shop area has a few.  Beware, though, they were a disaster.  With that many people coming through, they couldn’t keep up with making sure those restrooms stayed clean.

The Monticello Railway Museum’s Polar Express left us 100% satisfied.  Everyone treated us exceptionally well, we were entertained throughout, and they made it as special as they possibly could for the kids aboard.  Our ten-year-old and six-year-old can’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed it, which, of course, delights their mom and me.  If you live in the Central Illinois area, I completely recommend you take part in this wonderful event.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

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The Grinch (2018) – A Movie Review

My six and ten-year-old daughters were very excited to see this latest rendition of Dr. Seuss’ classic, so I made a point to take them on opening night.  I believe they’ve seen the classic cartoon movie, but I don’t think they’ve ever seen the Jim Carrey live-action version.  This will be relevant later.

I have to be honest, for a Friday night, five o’clock showtime, the theater didn’t have many empty seats.  As you can imagine, most of those seats were occupied by people whose feet didn’t touch the ground.  It seems as though a lot of people were genuinely excited to see this.

At a brisk hour and a half, the new Grinch is perfect in terms of length.  It’s just long enough to tell a story, but brief enough to avoid anyone getting bored.

Well, most anyone.  More on that soon.

My daughters thought it was hilarious, cute, and delivered a nice message about reaching out to others while also forgiving past grievances.

So, for the kids, especially those who haven’t seen Jim Carrey’s version, this is probably a really cool movie.

That being said, I was bored silly.

In my opinion, you’ve already seen the best parts during the previews.  Otherwise, it hits most of the same beats as what you’ve seen before while adding new, unnecessary elements.  It’s nowhere near as clever as Jim Carrey’s movie, nor is it as entertaining.  Of course, I’m forty-one, so I’m sure I’m not this movie’s demographic.  And that’s totally fine.  I’ve got my Grinch movie, let the kids have theirs.  Just be prepared to take one for the team on this one–it’s not great.

However, there is much to appreciate.  The animation is absolutely beautiful.  The snow, the hair and fur, the Christmas lights–it’s all stunning.  The characters’ movements are also incredibly fluid and natural.  This movie looks good from an artistic and technical perspective.

There are also a few laugh-out-loud gags.  I wasn’t miserable, not by any stretch of the imagination.  And when I looked over at my kids, they both wore a smile ear-to-ear.  I honestly think your children will get a kick out of it.

Is it suitable for young children?  Absolutely.  In fact, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Grinch is the nicest Grinch you will have ever encountered.  He’s mean for maybe five minutes before he sees the errors of his ways, and he’s not even that mean.  This version is far more sanitized, wholesome, and family-friendly than ever before.

If you’re looking for a family movie, it’s hard to go wrong with 2018’s The Grinch.  The kids will love it, and it’s just short enough that the parents will be able to endure it without complaining …

Much.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Grinch (2018)

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Here’s a Few Thanksgiving Stories For Your Nook or Kindle

Are you in the mood to read a Thanksgiving story on your Nook or Kindle?  Here are a few for you to download tonight.  Both are full of humor with a positive message.  I’d be thankful if you gave them a chance!

Cold Turkey

Click “Kindle” to download

Click “NOOK” to download

Utterly unapologetic, Eddie stands fuming outside in the bitter cold while his son, wife, and in-laws sit silently at the dinner table, surrounding a cold turkey.  How did such woeful events arise? Read on to find out!

LoveLiesPumpkinPies

Click “Kindle” To Download

Click “Nook” To Download

In this short love story, Ramona Stocks, a retired science teacher, and Matthew Campbell, a widower, find romance amidst a torrent of lies and pumpkin pies.

Don’t Quit On Daredevil: Season 3

ScreenRant.com is saying that a lot of people gave up on Daredevil: Season 3.  If you’re one of those viewers, give it another try.  I finished this latest season about a week ago, and I have to tell you that after reflecting on it, I think this season is my favorite of all the Netflix Marvel shows.

First of all, the smartest of all the Marvel shows got even smarter.  Everyone in this series has actual motivation.  The plot unfolds organically and without any abrupt shifts in direction or tone.  Almost everything in this season actually makes sense.  One event leads to the next, which leads to the next, which leads to the next.

Consequently, the pacing is what actually makes this season my favorite.  The Netflix Marvel shows have had disastrous pacing issues–particularly in regards to Luke Cage and Iron FistDaredevil: Season 3 moves at a quick pace, and the story keeps developing from episode to episode to episode.  Other Marvel series have felt like three or four different story arcs within a single season.  Oftentimes they have an out-of-the-blue event occur around episode 7 or 8 that changes everything.  Not so with this one.  In fact, it’s the first time I didn’t tell myself (regarding a Netflix Marvel show) that thirteen episodes was too long.  I wanted more!

I groaned a bit when I heard Bullseye would be the villain of this season because he’s about as cliched a villain as you can get.  Fortunately, they grew “Dex” Poindexter into an antagonist only as the show progressed.  Getting him to that point was a slow burn.  Best of all, they never actually called him “Bullseye.”  Dex got more and more interesting as the show moved along in large part due to his mental torment.  I won’t spoil it for you, but they were quite creative in displaying this anguish.  Poindexter does awful things in this season, yet he is not entirely unlikable.  You can’t help but empathize with his plight a bit, especially because he can turn on the charm when he wants to.  I felt his frustration at being a hero when his talent for killing was done on behalf of the government, yet, when not working on behalf of his country, he was deemed a criminal.

Of course, I love Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk.  He, too, while certainly a villain, is a complicated man who is actually worthy of sympathy from time to time.  D’Onofrio plays him with such repression–it’s something to behold.  I love that Fisk is constantly flexing his fingers or working his hands.  He always seems as though he’s just barely constraining himself.  I’ve heard some say that D’Onofrio plays him too over the top, but I think it’s perfect.  Fisks merciless intellect always makes him a formidable opponent.

Jay Ali proved a welcome addition to the cast.  He played FBI agent Ray Nadeem.  Nadeem found himself at the center of everything in this season, and suffered as a result.  Ali delivered an average man just trying to do the right thing, and he showed us just how convoluted the “right thing” can be.  Nadeem provided a necessary emotional tether to the season that helped me to invest in the entire story as a whole.

Charlie Cox, though, is what makes this season something special.  This man is the perfect embodiment of Matt Murdock.  I think leaving the costume behind, having Murdock go back to the black shirt and pants really brought this series back to it’s street-level grittiness.  Murdock’s crisis of conscience, his battle with this faith, and his obsession with Fisk drove this season forward.  Cox benefited from getting to be the star of the show again.  He didn’t have to compete with an Electra or a Punisher taking up his screen time.  He didn’t have a gang of mystical ninjas to defeat.  He just had to outsmart Wilson Fisk, which is awfully hard to do, especially when you’ve got a man throwing items in your direction at terminal velocity.  The simplicity of this intricate plot made this season very entertaining.  It never got too big, but it never felt small, either.

Is this season perfect?  No, it’s not.  I think they don’t quite know what to do with Foggy Nelson, and I personally believe that Elden Henson is playing him more and more as a type rather than as a person.  Deborah Ann Woll, conversely, has gotten better and better as Karen Page.  The only misstep they had with her character involved an entire episode devoted to her background which was completely unneeded.  I’m also not a fan of a hero fighting an evil version of himself or herself.  If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Dex himself dons the Daredevil costume.  They have a good reason for it that serves the story very well, but it’s still a pet peeve of mine.  I guess I should be glad they didn’t put him in the comic book version of the Bullseye costume.

As always, the fight scenes were incredible.  These feel like real brawls–everyone looks exhausted by the end of them.  There’s a prison fight and a fight in a church that are just flat-out amazing.

Because of Murdock’s complex identity issues regarding his alias, his faith, and even his morals, and because of the well-paced, methodical character development regarding Poindexter, Fisk, and Nadeem, I found this season extremely satisfying.  I was hooked on Season 3 by the first episode, but if you gave up on it for some reason, I hope you’ll give it another chance.  I think you’ll end up loving it as much as I did.

Image result for daredevil season 3 poster let the devil out

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) – A Movie Review

My wife and I took our daughters to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Friday night and I have to admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I think the most striking aspect of this movie is that it looks exquisite.  The costumes, sets, and scenery are gorgeous.  It seemed to me that much of it featured real people on real sets.  There existed some CGI, of course, but generally speaking it appeared that the actors were interacting with actual props and materials.  The movie wielded a certain weight that many CGI-laden films do not.

Furthermore, I found the actors and actresses both capable and, more importantly, likable.  It’s hard not to like Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, though, isn’t it?  Mackenzie Foy, who plays Clara, is easy to root for even while not being particularly charismatic, and her nutcracker captain, Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight, is also generically appealing if not particularly memorable.  I’d like to say, though, that I think both of these new faces have great potential.

Believe it or not, Sugar Plum stole this movie.  She crackled with electricity and proved very entertaining to watch.  Oddly enough, I couldn’t place her–I couldn’t figure out who played this fairy.  Imagine my surprise when the credits revealed Keira Knightly as Sugar Plum!   I think this is probably my favorite part ever played by Knightly.  I’ve never seen her so relaxed, magnetic, and … well, fun!

Best of all?  The ballet dancing!  It should come as no surprise that they included quite a bit of ballet in this film.  I found the inclusion of ballet inspired.  They didn’t just toss it in for the sake of throwing it in there–it serves a real purpose to the overall story and looks fantastic.

Again, the whole movie is really a sight to behold.  While the story is full of adventure and even a little creepy at times, it’s incredibly intricate at all levels.  Everything looks like a piece of art.

Both of my kids enjoyed The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, though neither of them were “wowed” by it.  Anytime we see a new movie, at least one of them usually says it’s their new favorite, but that didn’t happen this time.  I’m not really sure why.

In my opinion, you should certainly take your kids to see it.  It won’t make their hearts skip a beat, but it’s still a very well-crafted family film that will probably please everyone, albeit in different ways.

Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez, Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Misty Copeland, and Jayden Fowora-Knight in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)