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Before They Were Stars: 7 Early Films Featuring Hollywood Royalty

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Hollywood A-listers usually don’t come out of thin air—many, like Brad Pitt and Reese Witherspoon, worked steadily before becoming major fixtures in both movie theaters and the tabloids. Yet their star power was palpable from the start. From Ryan Gosling as a misunderstood, dreamy high school football player to Helena Bonham Carter as one of literature’s spunkiest leading ladies, find these undiscovered gems and many more for free on

1. Wildflower: Reese Witherspoon

Before she snagged an Oscar and the title of America’s Sweetheart, Reese Witherspoon got one of her earliest starts in the film Wildflower. Featuring co-stars Beau Bridges and Patricia Arquette, Witherspoon proved that she could hang in the big leagues at an early age.

Fun Fact: We all know that Diane Keaton is a one-of-a-kind actress, but did you know that she also has tried her hand at directing? Wildflower is one of her first directorial efforts.

2. Too Young to Die?: Brad Pitt

Thelma and Louise may have put Brad Pitt on the map, but before he played the deceptive cowboy J.D., Pitt starred in the riveting drama Too Young To Die? Centered on a controversial trial with the death penalty in the balance, Pitt demonstrated from a young age that he is more than just a pretty face.

Fun Fact: Costar Juliette Lewis dated Pitt for nearly four years; they met on the Too Young to Die? set.

3. The Slaughter Rule: Ryan Gosling

There are entire blogs devoted to Ryan Gosling during his tenure on the Disney Channel, but one of his first transitions to the big screen was his starring role in the football drama The Slaughter Rule. In this Grand Jury Prize nominee at Sundance, critics could already detect that Gosling had “major star material,” and, hey, girl…we all know what happened there.

Fun Fact: Gosling might be the single most prolific meme-generator ever, with nearly three-dozen Tumblrs devoted to his quirky charm. 

4. A Room with a View: Helena Bonham Carter

Long before she became partner Tim Burton’s defacto “kooky” leading lady, Helena Bonham Carter began her career as one of literature’s most beloved heroines in A Room with a View. Boasting an impressive who's who of almost every major British actor, including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Daniel Day-Lewis, Bonham Carter proved she could work with the best despite just entering the industry.

Fun Fact: Funnily enough, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench’s characters discuss E.M. Forster’s other Italian novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, and Bonham Carter subsequently starred in the novel’s film adaptation in 1991.

5. Little Shop of Horrors: Jack Nicholson

One of the first times the incomparable Jack Nicholson graced the silver screen was in the Roger Corman cult classic Little Shop of Horrors. One of many collaborations between Corman and Nicholson, Little Shop put Nicholson and his over-the-top eccentricities on the map.

Fun Fact: Legend has it that the film’s principal photography was shot in two days, after Corman made a bet that he could shoot a movie in under 72 hours.

6. Deadly Blessing: Sharon Stone

Deadly Blessing was the first film in which the character Sharon Stone played actually had a name. In this Wes Craven horror flick, Stone plays Lana Marcus, a young woman haunted by a strange religious sect that may be responsible for her friend’s murder.

Fun Fact: In one pivotal scene, the production crew dropped a real spider into Stone’s mouth. She only agreed to participate in the scene after the spider was defanged.

7. Visioneers: Zach Galifianakis


Zach Galifianakis primarily cut his teeth in TV on programs like Reno 911!, but he secured a few outstanding film roles before he became a household name after The Hangover. In the dark comedy Visioneers, Galifianakis stars as George, a disgruntled worker bee in the dystopian future where he “suffers from dreams.” Paired with Judy Geer, hilarity naturally ensues.

Fun Fact: Zach Galifianakis' big break could have come after he was hired as a writer for SNL; however, he only lasted two weeks.

Itching for something different? SnagFilms’ diverse library of films has you covered: click here and sign up today—did we mention it’s completely free?

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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]