Some of the Worst Star Vehicles of All Time

After yesterday's post about the operatically horrible movie The Room, I'm in a worst-ever kind of mood. There are plenty of films vying for the title of worst-ever, in a variety of categories (worst b-movie, worst adaptation, worst comedy, worst sequel), but today I want to look at some of the worst star vehicle films that history has bestowed upon our silver screens.

The Conqueror (1956)

Starring John Wayne as Genghis Kahn and Susan Hayward as his exotic Tartar love interest, it was produced by Howard Hughes -- who thought it was so bad that he bought up all existing copies of the film and refused to let it screen until 1974, when Paramount finally struck a deal with him. To add injury to insult, the film's shooting location -- downwind from a nuclear testing range in Utah -- is generally cited as the reason John Wayne, Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, the director and a number of crew members died of cancer. In all 91, of the film's 220 cast and crew members developed cancer, half of which died. Reacting to the news, a scientist from the Pentagon's Defense Nuclear Agency said, "Please, God, don't let us have killed John Wayne."

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)

The worst movie of the aughts, according to Rotten Tomatoes, where this film received 0 out of 105 positive reviews. Quite a feat. The plot is hackneyed nonsense, little more than an excuse for the action scenes, which are themselves incomprehensible, thanks to video-game-style direction by a man who calls himself "Chaos." One critic suggested an alternate title as "Simplistic: Bullets Vs. Humans."

The Hottie and the Nottie (2008)

Starring the incomparable Paris Hilton, this film, despite aggressive marketing, pulled in a stunning(ly low) $27k on its opening weekend.

I Know Who Killed Me (2007)

Nominated for worst picture of the decade by the Golden Raspberry awards, it did manage to take home several honors, including Worst Picture, Worst Excuse for a Horror Film, and two Worst Actresses (Lindsay Lohan played twins).

Gigli (2003

Lots of people seem to consider this one of the worst films ever. A star vehicle for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, it was originally written as a black comedy, until the producers decided to cash in on their stars' tabloid-friendly love affair, and changed the script to include a romance mid-filming. It damaged the careers of all involved, especially that of the director, Martin Brest, who hasn't made a film since. All this despite being -- according to the trailer, at least -- "the summer's most irresistible romantic comedy!"

Jack Frost (1998)

This Michael Keaton-starrer features one of the most disturbing and misguided plots ever conceived: a man named Jack Frost dies in a car accident, only to "come back to life" as a snowman to cheer up his grief-stricken son. Oh well, at least you can't say it's a cliche.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]