News Flash—‘Dark’ Is Not ‘Stranger Things’

Dark Poster
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Recently, I finished watching the new Netflix series, ‘Dark.’ Prior to its availability, though, I was reading headlines like these: Dark Review: Netflix’s German Answer To Stranger Things Is Appropriately Titled, And Far More Grim and Netflix’s Dark: Stranger Things meets The Killing in this supernatural Nordic noir, and to be honest, it kind of pissed me off. To be fair, the articles in question did a pretty good job of distinguishing between the two shows, but why compare them at all? Frankly, they have little to do with each other. Sure, both feature a forbidding forest and missing children. But where ‘Stranger Things’ is a mashup of ‘ET,’ ‘Stand By Me,’ and ‘Super-8,’ ‘Dark’ is a brooding meditation on Chernobyl, fate, and time travel.

So, what happens when you go with these kinds of attention-grabbing headlines? In my opinion, you create wrong expectations in the viewer’s mind. You know about expectations, right? Like when you sit down with your kids to watch the new Pixar movie, ‘Coco,’ at the local cinema and are greeted with a nearly thirty-minute short about some stupid buck-tooth snowman named Olaf. Yeah. Well, the press was bad. I think I heard there were riots in Mexico.

If by now you’re thinking of giving the show a try, let me offer a piece of advice. Switch the dialogue to German and add the English subtitles. I know, I know. Most people hate subtitles. But you will be in for a treat. Hearing the actors’ real voices as they navigate through this hell-on-earth is worth it and adds wonderfully to the tension. Trust me on this. Also, pay attention to the music. It’s spot-on.

I’ve found over the years that European storytelling is different from that of America. Europeans like to take their time letting things unfold. They’re more philosophical. They don’t shout, but rather speak in low, measured tones that convey an intensity that acts as a window into a person’s darkest secrets. And they like to minimalize the backstory, so you end up having to work hard to get to the bottom of a character rather than listening to some rube monologuing about what made them the way they are. Or worse, smarmy narration that attempts to put a bow on it all.

I will admit ‘Dark’ is not for everyone. But if you want to explore something different, give it a try. Why, you may even be tempted to get a taste of Nordic Noir a la ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ And don’t get me wrong. I loved ‘Stranger Things’—well, the first season, anyway. All I’m saying is, ‘Dark’ truly stands on its own. It doesn’t need help from some other successful American series.

Movie Review—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’

[The Keeper of Lost Causes Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

The Keeper of Lost Causes’ (2013)
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Writers: Jussi Adler-Olsen (novel), Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Per Scheel Krüger, Troels Lyby
Crime | Mystery | Thriller
Denmark-Germany-Sweden
Not Rated
Log Line: Chief detective Carl Mørck and his assistant Assad become involved in a five-year-old case concerning the mystery of politician Merete Lynggaard’s disappearance—a journey that takes them deep into the undercurrent of abuse and malice that lurks beneath the polished surface of Scandinavia.

Okay, so I’m late to the game. I had no idea Nordic Noir was a thing. I’ve been enjoying dark Scandinavian movies like the Millenium Trilogy (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ etc.) for years and am thrilled someone decided to actually categorize them. Yeah, thrilled. Anyway, I caught another one on Netflix the other night—a Danish film with what is probably the worst title ever—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ I don’t know, maybe it sounds better in Danish.

Don’t let the crappy title fool you, though. This is an outstanding film. And like a Nordic winter, it’s cold and spare, with a protagonist who is as dysfunctional and people-averse as they come. I’m not prepared to reveal any spoilers here. Let me just say that, as police procedurals go, this one really stands out. The main character, Carl, is himself dark and unapproachable. But in the best tradition of antiheroes, he is driven to seek out Truth—no matter what that may mean for his languishing career as a homicide detective.

This film features the usual cast of Scandinavian loonies—especially the blonde and creepy Lasse—with a wonderfully empathetic performance by Carl’s sidekick, Assad who, when asked why he isn’t following orders, claims his Danish isn’t that good. Nice touch!

I can highly recommend this film. Though there’s little on-screen violence, it’s creepy as hell as sucks you in like a Scottish peat bog. And here’s the best part: Netflix also has the two ‘Department Q’ sequels, ‘The Absent One’ and ‘A Conspiracy of Faith,’ both which I plan to catch very soon.

Damn You, Netflix—Another Distracted Writer

[Netflix Button]Want to know what the hardest thing about writing is? For me it isn’t a lack of ideas. I have more stories knocking around in my head than time. In fact, when they bury me I will ask that they toss in the dog-eared notebook with all the unfulfilled dreams I had hoped to get down on paper. Is it a clean well-lighted place? No. I work in a dungeon of sorts. I do have access to coffee and a bathroom, though, so it’s not so bad. Honestly, the hardest thing about writing is not writing. Why? Because it’s 2016, people, and there are just TOO MANY DAMNED DISTRACTIONS!

Finding a Balance
Now, I am not suggesting that just because I am a writer I shouldn’t get to enjoy a little R&R. But bingeing on ‘Nurse Jackie’? I literally spent the summer getting caught up on ‘Supernatural’—which is a great show, BTW. I even bought Season 11 on Amazon Prime. But it’s these kinds of stupid interruptions that kill the writing process.

Want some more? How about Facebook? Yeah, that. Okay, I love staying in touch with family and friends, but do I really need to watch another hoverboard catch fire? And Twitter—don’t get me started. I mainly use that to curate and share content I am interested in. I also do a little marketing. But the thing is a huge time sink, let me tell you. What about reading? That is not a distraction. To write better, you need to read more. The truth is, I don’t read nearly enough either.

Starting Fresh
Okay, time for a resolution. I need to dial down on Netflix and amp up on actual writing. The only reason I’m baring my soul like this is because I am confident there are hundreds—if not thousands—of writers out there suffering from the same condition. Look, it’s easy not to write. All you have to do is pretend you’ll do it tomorrow. And let me tell you, streaming and social media were godsends for the born procrastinator. Hooray, ‘Orphan Black’! Nevertheless, the next book isn’t going to write itself.

So, say it with me …

I will write first and goof off later.
I will ignore cute pet videos, raging political debates and recipes from the New York Times.
But above all, I will spend more time with my family, because writing will never be as important.

Here’s to a fantastic, productive 2016!

Coyote Kishpaugh Interviews Me

Coyote Kishpaugh, coauthor (with Lauren Scharhag) of The Order of the Four Sons, interviewed me recently. Earlier this year Lauren wrote a guest post, which you can find here. With each of these interviews I peel away the onion a little more. I’m not sure what I’ll find when I get to the core, but it’s a fun ride. Enjoy …

Coyote: What kind(s) of books do you read? Do you have any favourites?

Steven Ramirez: As a writer, I love to read other peoples’ books. And my tastes vary a lot. On the one hand, I do enjoy horror. But I am also a fan of comedy—especially satire. One of my favorite horror-fantasy authors is Richard Matheson. As for comedy, I am still crazy about Kurt Vonnegut. Considering his rather tragic past, it’s a miracle he was able to produce so much humorous prose. I also love the classics—Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, especially.

Coyote: If you weren’t writing books, what would you be doing with that time and energy instead? Why?

Steven Ramirez: I would probably read a lot more books and watch more movies and television. When I was a kid, there was no Internet, so when I wasn’t outside riding my bike, I liked to read, go to the movies or sit in front of the TV. With the advent of Netflix, though, this tendency is becoming a problem. Writers are famous for procrastinating. Netflix and Amazon Prime are just what I needed!

Coyote: What first first inspired your writing of Tell Me When I’m Dead? How did the project begin?

Steven Ramirez: Well, I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. I’ve always wanted to write a story featuring zombies. But like George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ I didn’t want to do the zombie apocalypse thing. I liked that he treated his story as small and fairly isolated. So with that in mind, I set my story in a fictional Northern California town.

Here’s the funny part, though. That book was supposed to be a one-off. But when I reached the end, I realized there was still more story to tell. So I continued with Book Two. And of course, you cannot have a series without at least three books, so I completed the trilogy, setting the last book in Los Angeles.

To read the rest of the interview, please visit Coyote’s blog.