So it turns out that his review of You All Are Captains, in today's Times, is embarrassingly adrift from any real sense of the movie, beginning with its opening sentence: "So here’s a list of those who could be smitten with 'You All Are Captains':", and continuing in actual listicle form ("Patient and indulging art film aficionados") for the first quarter of the review.
Granted, it's a challenge to write about movies made in a style with which you're unfamiliar, in 300 words or so. But I'd like to think that it's at least possible to attempt a level of engagement beyond jokey first-person speculation about who could possibly like this weird little movie:
Are their efforts messy or profound? Yes. No. Maybe. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I acknowledge that “You All Are Captains” has something to express that can’t be said except the way it’s said, and that way there be art.
(Weirdly, a version of the "I guess it's art" line was also used by the similarly confounded third-string Times reviewer of, incredibly, the entirely accessible Turkey Bowl.)
This is, I guess, the problem with the way the Times assigns film reviews: freelancers, like the great Dennis Lim and our own Nicolas Rapold, and a host of other prominent writers, mostly do longer-form Sunday Arts stuff. There are semi-regular freelance reviewers (the Times has, I gather, a fairly strict noncompete clause for freelance reviewers, which means that they don't draw from the same film-nerdy pool as do the film sections of The L, the Voice, Time Out, and the Internet), but many of the actual reviews seem to be handled in-house, by whichever editor or staffer or TV critic can make the press screening.
This leads, of course, to reviews that are incapable of engaging with what a movie like You All Are Captains is trying to do, and how; and how—reviews that make many a small film seem like a curious artifact from the forbidden planet Arthouse.
Reviews like this one can kill a smaller movie's chances with a larger audience, programmers will tell you; they're also infuriating to read if you know anything about the current discourse in world cinema, and think it's the job of any critic, even a reviewer from a daily newspaper with a general readership (especially for a daily newspaper with a general readership!), to model an ideal level of engagement with the film object under discussion.