Review: ‘I Still Believe,’ starring KJ Apa, Britt Robertson, Shania Twain and Gary Sinise

March 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

KJ Apa and Britt Robertson in "I Still Believe"
KJ Apa and Britt Robertson in “I Still Believe” (Photo by Jason LaVeris)

“I Still Believe”

Directed by Jon Erwin and Andrew Erwin (The Erwin Brothers)

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in California and partially in Indiana, the faith-based drama “I Still Believe” has almost an exclusively white cast representing the middle-class (with a few African and Latinos in minor speaking roles) and has a story based on the real-life contemporary Christian singer Jeremy Camp at the beginning of his career.

Culture Clash: During his first year in college, Jeremy gets involved in a love triangle with a young woman who finds out that she has cancer.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of Jeremy Camp and anyone who likes predictable, tear-jerking, faith-based movies.

KJ Apa and Britt Robertson in “I Still Believe” (Photo by Michael Kubeisy)

Bring on the Christian melodrama. “I Still Believe,” which tells the story of how real-life contemporary Christian singer Jeremy Camp met and fell in love with his first wife Melissa, has enough weepy and sentimental moments to make a Hallmark Channel movie look downright cheerful in comparison. Because this dramatic film is based on true events that fans of Camp already know about (he’s written songs about it and done numerous interviews over the years about this period of time in his life), there really isn’t anything new that will be revealed here for his die-hard fans.

However, for everyone else, there are many indications of how this movie will go, from the cutesy lovebird moments to the emotionally distraught hospital scenes. “I Still Believe” is based on Camp’s 2011 memoir of the same name. Brother directors Jon Erwin and Andrew Erwin directed the movie (they also directed the 2018 biopic “I Can Only Imagine” about MercyMe singer Bart Millard), while Jon Erwin co-wrote the “I Still Believe” screenplay with Jon Gunn.

As the story begins, it’s September 1999 in Lafayette, Indiana (Camp’s hometown), and Jeremy (played winningly by a charismatic KJ Apa) is packing up his car to leave behind his supportive and loving parents and two younger brothers, as he heads off to California to attend college for the first time. (The college isn’t named in the movie, but in real life, Camp attended and graduated from Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California.)

Before Jeremy leaves, his parents Tom Camp (played by Gary Sinise) and Teri Camp (played by Shania Twain) give him a brand-new guitar as a gift. They know he’s a talented singer and musician, so they’re encouraging him to use that talent in the best way that he can. (It should be noted that Sinise and Twain are in the movie for only about 20 minutes, since most of the story takes place when Jeremy was a college student in California.)

One of the first things that happens when Jeremy arrives on campus is he meets a personal hero: Jean-Luc (played by Nathan Dean), a French Canadian contemporary Christian singer who graduated from the school years earlier and has returned to do a concert on campus. Because Jean-Luc has “made it” as a successful artist, Jeremy approaches him backstage before the show to tell Jean-Luc how much he admires him and to ask for his career advice.

Jean-Luc tells him the best advice he could give is that being an artist isn’t about “making it” but what an artist’s songs give to people. Jean-Luc also tells Jeremy that songwriting is about authenticity. He confides in Jeremy that he’s been writing love songs lately with a special girl in mind.

To Jeremy’s surprise and delight, Jean-Luc then asks Jeremy to tune his guitar. The next thing you know, Jeremy is an instant guitar tech who gets to go on stage and hand Jean-Luc the guitar when it’s time for Jean-Luc to switch instruments. While giving Jean-Luc the guitar, Jeremy sees a pretty young student in the crowd who seems enraptured as she sings along to the music. And then she and Jeremy lock eyes with each other. It’s a “love at first sight” moment for Jeremy that is as sweetly sentimental as you would imagine it to be.

Jeremy is so smitten that when he sees her hanging out in the theater after the show, he goes up and introduces himself to her. They have a cautiously flirtatious conversation. Her name is Melissa Henning (played by Britt Robertson, in an emotionally believable performance), and she invites Jeremy to hang out with her and some friends at the beach after the show.

It turns out that Melissa is a close friend of Jean-Luc, who’s also there at the beach, to Jeremy’s surprise. Melissa is so close to Jean-Luc that she says that she and Jean-Luc are “best friends.” As Jeremy lets this information sink in (and it becomes obvious that this is the “special girl” that Jean-Luc is writing love songs about), he still tries to figure out a way to date Melissa.

At the beach, Jeremy has brought his guitar, so that’s how Melissa first finds out that he can sing and play. And since she seems to have a thing for musicians, Jeremy’s talent probably makes him even more attractive to her. She plays it cool, but her reaction to him singing and playing shows how much Jeremy has piqued her interest. (Apa does his own singing in the movie. And he’s pretty good.)

When Jeremy is alone with Melissa, he asks her point-blank if she and Jean-Luc are dating. She says no, but she admits that Jean-Luc might have romantic feelings for her that aren’t mutual. Jeremy doesn’t waste time in expressing that he’s available and interested in dating Melissa, but she tells him that she promised God and her protective older sister Heather that this semester that she wouldn’t have any distractions from her studies and that Jeremy is definitely a distraction.

Undeterred, Jeremy persists in asking Melissa out on a date every time he runs into her on campus, until finally she says yes to one date. She agrees on the condition that she and Jeremy see each other in secret because she doesn’t want to hurt Jean-Luc’s feelings.

On their first date, Melissa and Jeremy go to a planetarium. While in the Hubble Space Telescope room, Melissa turns out to be very knowledgeable about astronomy trivia. After she rattles off some facts about outer space, Melissa says, “I’m just one star in an infinite galaxy.” And Jeremy replies as he looks at her meaningfully, “Well, some stars shine brighter than others.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

One date turns into two and then into more dates. And soon, it’s obvious that Jeremy and Melissa have fallen in love, but Melissa still wants to keep their relationship a secret because she’s afraid that it will ruin her friendship with Jean-Luc. This deception bothers Jeremy, but he goes along with it because he doesn’t want to lose Melissa.

Meanwhile, Jean-Luc has been acting as a mentor to Jeremy and has even offered to help Jeremy make a demo recording that could lead to a record-label contract. Jean-Luc has also offered to pass along the demo to the right people to help speed up the process. In other words, this love-triangle situation has turned into something even more complicated than when it started.

According to the movie’s production notes, there was no real-life love triangle between Jeremy, Melissa and Jean-Luc, who is based on real-life French Canadian musician Jean-Luc La Joie, the lead singer of the Christian rock band The Kry. In real life, Jean-Luc and Melissa were just friends, and Jean-Luc really did help Jeremy, early on in Jeremy’s career. But the filmmakers decided to make the Jean-Luc character in the movie as a combination of the real person and the numerous guys who were also pursuing Melissa during the time that she and Jeremy began dating.

Whether or not Jean-Luc finds out about the secret love affair turns out to be the least of Jeremy and Melissa’s problems. Just as Jeremy’s career is taking off, Melissa finds out that she has cancer. The rest of the movie shows how this devastating diagnosis affects their relationship. (And if you know what happened in real life, then you already know how this movie is going to end.)

All of the actors do a fine job with their performances. As the central characters in the film, Apa and Robertson (who also played a young couple in love in 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose”) have natural chemistry together that makes them convincing as two people who’ve fallen hard and fast for each other. But there are moments in the movie that are so melodramatic and cliché-ridden that they’re downright cringeworthy. And there might be some non-religious people who could be offended at the idea that prayer can cause medical miracles. But this isn’t a movie for atheists or people who don’t like Christian movies. “I Still Believe” will definitely be a crowd-pleaser for the film’s intended audience. For everyone else, proceed with caution or avoid the movie altogether.

Lionsgate released “I Still Believe” in U.S. cinemas on March 13, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Lionsgate Home Entertainment has moved up the digital and VOD release of “I Still Believe” to March 27, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘All I Can Say’

May 2, 2019

by Carla Hay

Shannon Hoon and daughter Nico Blue Hoon in “All I Can Say” (Photo by Shannon Hoon)

“All I Can Say”

Directed by Danny Clinch, Taryn Gould, Colleen Hennessy and Shannon Hoon

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 26, 2019.

The documentary “All I Can Say” gets its title from the first line of “No Rain,” the biggest hit song from Blind Melon, the rock band that released only two studio albums when lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a cocaine overdose in 1995, at the age of 28. Unlike most documentaries, which combine archival footage with new interviews, “All I Can Say” consists entirely of footage that Hoon filmed of his life from 1990 to 1995, the years when Blind Melon existed with Hoon as lead singer. Danny Clinch, Taryn Gould and Colleen Hennessy (who are credited as co-directors) assembled the footage and made it into this film.

The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival has the world premieres of three documentaries about lead singers of rock bands who had untimely, tragic deaths in the 1990s, and all three men left behind a toddler or infant child to grow up without their father. The documentaries are “All I Can Say”; “Sublime” (whose lead singer Bradley Nowell died in 1996 of a heroin overdose); and “Mystify: Michael Hutchence” (about INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997). “All I Can Say” is the most unique of this trio of movies, simply because it’s filmed from a first-person perspective with no outside commentary or current footage. There are voiceovers, but they are of interviews that Hoon did during the five-year period in which the documentary footage was filmed.

Almost all of the footage in “All I Can Say” is shown in chronological order, but it begins on a chilling note, with the last footage that Hoon filmed of himself. It shows him in a New Orleans hotel room, talking on the phone to an unidentified person, on October 21, 1995, the day that he died. Before this final footage can be seen in its entirety, the movie then rewinds to 1990, when Hoon was living in Los Angeles as a struggling musician, but also going back home to visit family in Indiana, where he grew up in the suburban cities of Lafayette and Dayton.

It’s clear from these first few scenes that even before he was famous, Hoon was a self-described troublemaking rebel who couldn’t wait to get out of Indiana to become a rock star. He had drug problems and arrests before he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream. He also had a high-school sweetheart named Lisa Crouse, who was in a relationship with him during the time all of this footage was filmed.

It was while in Los Angeles that Hoon met the musicians who would become the other members of Blind Melon: lead guitarist Rogers Stevens, rhythm guitarist Christopher Thorn, bassist Brad Smith and drummer Glen Graham. The band’s name was inspired by the nickname that stoner hippies gave themselves in Graham and Smith’s home state of Mississippi. But it was Hoon’s Indiana roots that proved to be a major factor in Blind Melon’s career, because Guns N’Roses lead singer Axl Rose, whose hometown was Lafayette, knew Hoon’s half-sister Anna from high school.

Guns N’Roses was one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, and Hoon became friends with Rose in Los Angeles. Hoon did guest backup vocals on several Guns N’Roses songs (including “Don’t Cry” and “The Garden”) that would be released on Guns N’Roses’ 1991 albums “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II.” There’s footage in the documentary of Hoon with Guns N’Roses at the Record Plant recording studio in Los Angeles.

Hoon’s prominent appearance in the “Don’t Cry” video catapulted him into the spotlight, and it became the catalyst for a quickie route to Blind Melon signing with Capitol Records, at a time when Blind Melon didn’t even have enough original songs for a showcase. The documentary has footage of Blind Melon recording the band’s 1992 self-titled debut album, including signature tune “No Rain.” There’s also footage of Hoon watching the 1992 Los Angeles riots on TV.

The documentary shows that Hoon’s heavy drug use was ongoing throughout the period of time that this movie was filmed. In one scene, he holds up a bag of psychedelic mushrooms. In other scene, he and Stevens are seen doing cocaine on Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills. In other scene, a coked-out Hoon is talking about being awake for several days. There’s also a hint that Hoon’s substance-abuse problems were probably passed down from a previous generation, since there’s a scene of him on the phone with his father after his father was arrested for DUI.

Blind Melon’s self-titled debut album was a big hit (selling 4 million copies in the U.S. alone), and it remains the band’s best-selling album,  known for the singles “No Rain,” “Tones of Home,” “I Wonder” and “Change.” But that quick success came at a price, because Blind Melon became known as the “bee girl” band, which was an image the band ended up hating. First, the album cover was of drummer Graham’s younger sister Georgia as a child, dressed as a bee when she was in a school play. Then, Blind Melon’s “No Rain” video prominently featured another child—actress Heather DeLoach—dressed in a similar bee costume.

The “No Rain” video, directed by Samuel Bayer (who also directed Nirvana’s iconic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video), has the concept of a lonely bee girl who is rejected and ridiculed by society until she walks into an open field where she finds that there are other bee people just like her. Blind Melon is shown performing in the field, but “Bee Girl” DeLoach actually ends up being a scene-stealer in the video. For a while, she became a minor celebrity in real life. It’s obvious that the “bee girl” image was starting to annoy the band, because Blind Melon was constantly asked about it in interviews. In one such interview that’s shown in the documentary, Hoon says with an exasperated voice, “The bee is bigger than the band.”

Another major fame-related issue that Blind Melon had was the lead singer got most of the attention—and that didn’t sit well with the rest of the band. (It’s a common issue with most famous bands.) Blind Melon was on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1993 (when being on the cover of Rolling Stone was still a big deal), and the documentary shows how that cover caused a lot of tension in the band behind the scenes. Rolling Stone originally wanted only Hoon on the cover, but the other band members insisted that they be on the cover too.

The documentary shows video footage that Hoon secretly recorded of the band members talking about him when he wasn’t in the room. “All I Can Say” also shows Blind Melon’s photo session for Rolling Stone—all the band members were completely naked—and the cover photo ended up showing Hoon, front and center, in pig-tailed braids. The documentary also shows Stevens’ giddy and happy reaction to seeing the magazine cover for the first time.

“All I Can Say” also shows a mischievous, devil-may-care side to Hoon, such as a scene of him delivering pizza on-stage naked, a scene of him trying to channel the Beatles while walking on London’s famous Abbey Road, and a full-frontal nude scene of him filming himself completely naked in front of a bathroom mirror. There are also a few rock-star diva moments, such as when Hoon taunts a security guard backstage at a concert for some real or perceived conflict. Hoon treats the guard in a condescending manner, essentially saying, “I dare you to pick a fight with me, but you won’t, because I’m untouchable.”

Hoon was arrested for indecent exposure in 1993 for urinating on a fan during a Blind Melon concert in Vancouver, but that footage isn’t in the documentary, although the arrest is briefly mentioned in a TV news report that Hoon filmed. Hoon was also arrested in 1995 in New Orleans for disorderly conduct. That arrest isn’t shown in the movie either.

Since most people watching this movie know how Hoon died, there’s a sense of impending doom when watching “All I Can Say”—and there are plenty of signs that despite the fame and success, Hoon was deeply troubled and immersed in drug addiction. In one scene, he has a spoon that looks like it’s dripping with melted heroin. In another scene, he openly talks about doing smack. Hoon’s drug addiction was well-known to people in the industry and to Blind Melon fans, and he had multiple stints in rehab. The rehab stints are obviously not in the movie, but the documentary includes footage of Hoon getting a message from Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready asking for Hoon’s advice on rehab.

Hoon’s emotional turmoil must have also been compounded by a suicide that he and other band members witnessed after one of Blind Melon’s shows at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, where a woman in her 20s jumped to her death at a nearby hotel. (Blind Melon’s song “St. Andrew’s Fall” on the band’s 1995 second album, “Soup,” is about that horrifying experience.) In the documentary, Hoon is seen confessing that witnessing the suicide was the hardest moment for him in the band.

Other haunting footage is of Hoon watching TV news about the suicide of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain (who died in 1994 at the age of 27), and later commenting about Cobain’s death in an interview: “A lot of people are hurting, including his little girl.” The irony is that one year later, Hoon would also leave his own little girl behind by tragically dying. Hoon and Crouse welcomed their daughter, Nico, on July 11, 1995. The documentary has footage of Hoon finding out he was going to be father, seeing ultrasounds, the birth of Nico, and Hoon being a loving and affectionate father to Nico.

One month after the birth of Nico, Blind Melon’s second album, “Soup,” was released, and it was the band’s sophomore slump. Even though there’s a scene where a band member jokes that Blind Melon isn’t that popular anymore, the band’s big decline in sales was obviously a blow to the band’s confidence. And although Hoon didn’t reveal on camera how this career decline affected him, there’s one scene in the movie that clearly shows how depressed he was.

At home celebrating his 28th birthday, Hoon is seen with Crouse and Nico, who are seated at a table with him. A birthday cake is on the table, and while Crouse is smiling and singing “Happy Birthday,” Hoon sits there sadly, deep in his own thoughts. It’s impossible to know if Hoon’s personal problems or career problems (or both) were weighing him down at that moment, but it’s obvious that being surrounded by his closest loved ones on his birthday wasn’t making him happy.

We’ll never know what Hoon would be doing if he were alive today. Blind Melon’s third album, “Nico,” was released in 1996, and featured songs the band had already recorded with Hoon. After going on hiatus, Blind Melon regrouped in 2006 with new lead singer Travis Warren. But in that five-year period when Hoon experienced his meteoric rise to stardom, we get to see his perspective in “All I Can Say” as a talented but self-destructive person who found out that fame wasn’t the answer to his problems.

Hoon might have escaped from Indiana, but he couldn’t escape from himself. The tragedy is that Hoon left behind a child who didn’t know what it was like to grow up with her father. But at least she can see from this footage that she was adored by him in the short time that he was in her life, and he left behind a musical legacy that affects people who are fans of Blind Melon’s early music.

UPDATE: Oscilloscope Laboratories will release “All I Can Say” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on June 26, 2020.

Kroger temporarily removes pre-cut melons from stores in Michigan and Indiana due to possible health risk

June 8, 2018

The following is a press release from Kroger:

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