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Kawhi Life: The hero of Toronto’s screens, both big and small

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Even in his absence, Kawhi Leonard is always being talked about as the central figure on this Toronto Raptors team. And why not? He’s perhaps the hero the team has always deserved.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor — for at least one year. While the team’s on-court success has its part to play, we’ve decided to do our part in selling the city to the Klaw. Each week we’re talking Toronto, and letting Kawhi know what his life could be like here.

This Week in Toronto

Given all the Superman tie-ins to the NBA — with Shaq and Dwight fighting over the nickname for years — it’s something of a surprise we don’t have more players staking a claim to Batman. There was that time LeBron and then Joel Embiid wore face masks that invoked the famous caped crusader, but their look was more Phantom of the Opera-esque than of the bat variety. It was a worthy effort — but still, why not more Batman in basketball?

Over at PopMatters I wrote about my favourite Batman movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It’s a film that engenders grand feelings within me — of nostalgia, sure, but also of wonder. It’s a great movie, but please go ahead, read the piece and decide for yourself. I mention Phantasm here now for two reasons: one, it’s the 25th anniversary of its release this Christmas, and two, there’s a screening happening tomorrow in Toronto.

As part of the Dumpster Raccoon Film Series playing out of the Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles Avenue, you can watch this classic Batman film in a theatre of your peers for the price of one $15 ticket — which also includes, according to program director Anthony Oliveira, a drag show and a screening of a vintage Fleischer Superman cartoon. (There’s Supes again!) Not a bad deal all-around, I’d say. The Dumpster Raccoon program has already included screenings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Death Becomes Her, and given those variations who knows what’s next. But then again: that’s all part of the repertory movie scene in Toronto.

In the age of streaming, repertory cinema is a bit of a lost business. Cineplex owns most (all?) of the theatres running in Toronto, and it always feels like the money could turn against one of those smaller theatres at any moment. (The Revue officially closed in 2006, for example, before eventually reopening.) While there are only a handful of these theatres still around in Toronto — the Royal, the Kingsway, the Regent, the Fox, the Hot Docs (formerly Bloor) Cinema, and a few others — they’re all dutifully plugging away. Most show a mix of the newest films on the market, with special programs spliced in to capture a wider audience. (There are also “bigger” theatres to consider here, like the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Carlton Cinema; and smaller places like Reg Hartt’s living room theatre the Cineforum.)

It’s this combination that makes repertory theatres in Toronto (and everywhere, really) vital. It’s easy to plunk down $13 bucks to catch the latest Disney flick or sequel, quite another to revisit classics on the big screen — or be given a second chance to see something truly rare. My own experience stretches from seeing Blade Runner up at the Regent, taking in the original Suspiria out at the Fox, and recently visiting the Kingsway for the first time for a coffee and matinee screening of Can You Ever Forgive Me? (That last one isn’t hard to see, but it was a nice afternoon.) I’ve lost count my how many trips I’ve made to the Royal for a variety of films — everything from the little seen vampire film The Transfiguration, to the riotous evenings hosted by Drunk Feminist Films or the sci-fi nihilism of No Future, to just catching some of my all-time favourites on the big screen (seeing, say, There Will Be Blood was a treat).

Now that I’m adding it all up, the theatre scene in Toronto is actually pretty good — even considering the closures, the economy of theatre exhibition, and all the other baggage that comes along with that. (The Paradise Theatre on Bloor is set to open in 2019, which is also cool.) If I was Kawhi Leonard, I could at least take comfort in the fact that regardless of what movie I wanted to see, Toronto might just have me covered.

And unlike Los Angeles — which is also known for movies — our city is far, far less thirsty about it.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(But this got me thinking, about Batman and other things. Maybe I should be the one to bridge the gap. Maybe I should ask Kawhi about his favourite films, or his favourite characters in films, or his favourite heroes, or any heroes he may or may not have. Maybe I should just keep it simple and ask him about his favourite Christmas movie — I mean, Mask of the Phantasm did come out on Christmas Day, maybe he’d have a good answer for that? Maybe that’s the ticket!

On second thought, uh, maybe I’ll just leave this one be. Enjoy yourself out there Kawhi!)