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Jim Valentine, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

5 Things You Didn't Know About John Cazale

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Jim Valentine, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

John Cazale may not be a household name, but if you enjoyed classic films from the 1970s, chances are you'd recognize the vulnerable Italian-American character actor from his handful of memorable roles in films like The Godfather, where he played doomed Corleone brother Fredo. Although Cazale's career was cut short when he died from bone cancer at just 42, his brief stay in Hollywood generated one of the more interesting bodies of work in modern film. Let's take a look at five things you might not have known about Cazale:

1. He Batted a Thousand With the Academy

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While Cazale never earned an Oscar nomination himself, his films fared significantly better; every feature film in which he appeared received a nomination for best picture. Three of his films, The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and The Deer Hunter took home the top prize. The other two films Cazale made during his life, The Conversation and Dog Day Afternoon, both got nominations but didn't win. Here's the real kicker, though: The Godfather: Part III, which didn't come out until 12 years after Cazale's 1978 death, featured archival footage of Cazale in the Fredo Corleone role. It got a best picture nod, too.

2. Cazale and Al Pacino Worked the Oil Biz Together

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Cazale studied acting at Oberlin College before transferring to Boston University, where he trained with Olympia Dukakis. Acting gigs weren't easy to come by, though, so after graduation Cazale found himself working as a messenger for Standard Oil. Through his job, he met a fellow aspiring young actor named Al Pacino, and the two became fast friends, even living together in a communal house.

The two friends wouldn't stay in the oil business for long, though. Eventually they ended up performing in an off-Broadway performance of Israel Horovitz's one-act play The Indian Wants the Bronx in 1968. The play was an immediate hit with critics, which earned Pacino an Obie Award for Best Actor, while Cazale grabbed the Obie for Best Supporting Actor.

The Pacino-Cazale hookup wasn't finished bearing fruit, though. Cazale supposedly auditioned for his role in The Godfather at Pacino's invitation. Although the "I know it was you" scene between Cazale's Fredo and Pacino's Michael is one of the most memorable parts of the whole trilogy, the two buddies might have clicked even better in Dog Day Afternoon, the often hilarious adaptation of a bizarre real-life bank robbery. Although Pacino allegedly had to hound director Sidney Lumet to even give his buddy an audition for the film, Cazale's subtly nervous, sad-eyed portrayal of the gunman Sal provides the perfect counterpoint to Pacino's addled, hyperkinetic bank robber Sonny. (If you haven't seen Dog Day Afternoon, check it out; it's one of the most thoroughly entertaining movies you'll ever see.)

3. He Could Ad Lib a Line

Cazale ad-libbed one of Dog Day Afternoon's most memorable lines as he and Pacino's Sonny character discuss the specifics of their getaway. Rather than spoil the line, here's a not-so-great YouTube clip of the Cazale's improvised response to the Pacino's question of whether or not there's any special country he'd like to go to:

4. He Was Lucky in Love

Although Cazale was already famous as Fredo Corleone by 1976, he was still spending some time working in theater. That summer he starred in the New York Shakespeare Festival's performance of Measure for Measure. Although Cazale was 40, the 27-year-old blonde Yale grad playing Isabella caught his eye. The actress was unknown at the time, but you'll undoubtedly recognize her name now: Meryl Streep. After the play's premiere, Cazale and Streep admitted they had feelings for each other, and she moved into his apartment. Cazale soon proposed to Streep, and they would have eventually been married if not for his terminal bone cancer diagnosis. When Cazale was ill, Streep put her career on hold to live with him in his hospital room in an effort to cheer him up.

They weren't just romantic partners, though; Cazale and Streep had good luck in their one piece of screen work together. They co-starred in the Vietnam drama The Deer Hunter, which wasn't released until after Cazale's death, and Streep received a Best Supporting Actress nomination (the first of many Oscar nods) for her portrayal of Christopher Walken's fiancé.

5. He Was Tough to Insure

When casting for The Deer Hunter began, Cazale had already received his terminal bone cancer diagnosis. Director Michael Cimino really wanted Cazale to play the role of Stanley, but since the severe nature of Cazale's illness made the actor uninsurable, the studio wasn't so keen on the idea. Cimino stood his ground, though, and apparently Streep and De Niro both threatened to walk if Cazale didn't get the part. Eventually, the studio relented; Streep later theorized that the studio gave in after De Niro secretly secured the bond for Cazale's casting. The cancer had so weakened Cazale that Cimino had to film all of Cazale's scenes before shooting any other part of the movie.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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