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Sunday, May 27, 2001

'Sister Mary' is black comedy on religion

Diane Keaton in titlerole condemns everyone to hell

"Sister Mary Explains It All" (7 p.m. Sunday on Showtime) is the darkest of black comedies commenting on religion, based on a play that obviously inspired recent exploits including Kevin Smith's 1999 film "Dogma," which starred Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as banished angels. "Sister Mary" isn't quite as crude as "Dogma," but it skewers Catholicism with a similar unconventional bent.
   Four former students (Brian Benben, Wallace Langham, Laura San Giacomo and Jennifer Tilly) return to their childhood church to embarrass a nun (Diane Keaton) who taught them - inadequately, they believe - in the early 1980s.
   Of the four students, they've committed an assorted lot of sins, according to Sister Mary. Whether they're homosexual or they've had children out of wedlock, Mary puts them on her list of those who are going to hell and continues to rip their lifestyles.
   They try to explain their lives to Sister Mary and the sizable congregation gathered in honor of Mary's annual speech. But when one of them pulls a gun and asks Sister Mary to apologize for lying to her, what was originally meant to be a joke spins out of control.
   The Showtime version stages the play with an eccentric flair thanks to a strong performance by Keaton. The new made-for-cable movie is based on Christopher Durang's dark play "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You," and the dialogue has held up well over the years.
   Other highlights this week include:
   6 p.m. on ABC: MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND Between the Muppets and the music, this Treasure Island may not be quite what Robert Louis Stevenson had in mind. The non-Muppet cast of the 1996 movie includes Tim Curry as Long John Silver and Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins.
   8 p.m. on NBC: PEARL HARBOR: LEGACY OF ATTACK Tom Brokaw hosts a special from the National Geographic Channel. This Memorial Day observance of the 60th anniversary of the attack includes footage from underwater explorer Robert Ballard, recollections of survivors, and comments from historian Stephen Ambrose.
   7 p.m. on the History Channel: EGYPT BEYOND THE PYRAMIDS Archaeologists have been learning more about ancient Egyptian culture by studying wonders such as the 60-acre Temple of Karnak. Preservation is also a goal; many structures are in danger of crumbling. Concludes at the same time tomorrow.
   8 p.m. on ABC: THE WORLD MUSIC AWARDS Carmen Electra and Sisqo host the annual ceremony, taped May 2 in Monte Carlo. Performers include Christina Aguilera and Rod Stewart.
   10 a.m. on Discovery Health Channel: BIRTH DAY Filmed at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, today's and Thursday's episodes of the series about childbirth deal with pain management during labor, including the use of hypnosis instead of medication.
   7 p.m. on PBS: THE LIVING EDENS Costa Rica may not be at the top of your list of exotic destinations, but this program may make you reconsider. The tiny Central American nation is described here as "one of the most enchanting and seductive places in the world."
   7 p.m. on Bravo: ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN It's been a while - Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman use typewriters, not computers, to write the stories that lead to the Watergate investigations that force President Nixon to resign. Twenty-five years later, any number of people inspired by this movie are soldiering on in a vastly different newspaper business.
   6:30 p.m. on Cinemax: BIG MAMA An 89-year-old grandmother struggles to care for her orphaned 9-year-old grandson and deal with welfare and legal systems in South Central Los Angeles. Tracy Seretean's film won an Oscar in the short documentary category.
   7 p.m. on CBS: BACKSTREET BOYS: LARGER THAN LIFE Billed as the pop group's first network special, this show includes concert performances and something that seems to be becoming almost as important - backstage footage.
   8 p.m. on CBS: NOW AND THEN Four female friends look back on their adolescent summer of 1970. This 1995 movie stars Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Gaby Hoffman and Ashleigh Axton Moore.
   7 p.m. on Fox: A TRIBUTE TO BARBRA STREISAND The American Film Institute presents its Life Achievement Award to Streisand, the first female director among the 29 Hollywood legends who have been so honored. Taped Feb. 22 in Los Angeles.
   7 p.m. on A&E: BIOGRAPHY Rosemary Clooney is a singer who truly got better as she got older. But it was only after a period of personal difficulties that she was able to resume her career on a higher level, long after her hits of the '50s had faded into obscurity.
   10 p.m. on the History Channel: SUICIDE MISSIONS: VOLCANOLOGISTS To study volcanoes, you have to get dangerously close to them. So for a long time, it seems, hardly anyone did. But in the last 20 years, volcanology has become a serious - though still extremely hazardous - field of research.
   7 p.m. on AMC MARILYN MONROE: THE FINAL DAYS On what would have been Monroe's 75th birthday, this documentary looks at her troubled last months and includes a 37-minute "reconstruction" of her never-completed last film.
   10 p.m. on the Cartoon Network: JUNE BUGS This year, for the first time, the annual festival was going to include every Bugs Bunny cartoon ever produced. But the network has decided to leave out a few old ones that include offensive racial stereotypes. That still leaves enough for a 49-hour marathon.
   7 p.m. on Starz: FREQUENCY Radio contact with his deceased father gives a New York City cop the ability to stop crimes before they happen. The movie stars Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Andre Braugher and Elizabeth Mitchell.
   7 p.m. on Animal Planet: CRUFTS DOG SHOW After a postponement of more than two months because of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain, the show, billed as the world's largest, was rescheduled for last weekend. (If your dog watches, of course, it would be kind to keep any unfavorable comparisons to yourself.)
   8 p.m. on HBO: GLADIATOR A big winner at the box office - and the Oscars - this action epic set during the Roman Empire stars Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix and, in his final role, Oliver Reed.

Pop culture and media critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 886-3688 or by e-mail at

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