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14 Things We Learned from Bill Murray's Reddit AMA

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Monuments Men Facebook

Tonight, Bill Murray did something that is very, very Bill Murray: He did a surprise Reddit AMA to promote his upcoming movie, The Monuments Men. His answers to user questions are equal parts delightful and thoughtful. Here’s what we learned.

1. Even Bill Murray can’t believe how awesome he is.

When one user asked Murray what it was like to be so awesome, Murray replied, “Nothing prepared me for being this awesome. It's kind of a shock. It's kind of a shock to wake up every morning and be bathed in this purple light.”

2. After filming Broken Flowers, he didn't think he could do anything better.

Murray told Jim Jarmusch that he would only do Broken Flowers if the director could find places to film that were within an hour of the actor’s house. Jarmusch did, so Murray did the movie—and when it was finished, “I thought ‘this movie is so good, I thought I should stop,'" Murray wrote. “It's a film that is completely realized, and beautiful, and I thought I had done all I could do to it as an actor. And then 6-7 months later someone asked me to work again, so I worked again, but for a few months I thought I couldn't do any better than that.”

3. Murray thinks Einstein was a “pretty cool guy.”

But if he could go back in time and have a conversation with just one person, it would be scientist and friar Gregor Mendel, "because he was a monk who just sort of figured this stuff out on his own," Murray said. "That's a higher mind, that's a mind that's connected. They have a vision, and they just sort of see it because they are so connected intellectually and mechanically and spiritually, they can access a higher mind. Mendel was a guy so long ago that I don't necessarily know very much about him, but I know that Einstein did his work in the mountains in Switzerland. I think the altitude had an effect on the way they spoke and thought."

4. He really likes Wes Anderson.

It’s probably not a surprise that Murray likes director Wes Anderson—they’ve worked on seven films together. But during his AMA, Murray enumerated why he likes working with Anderson so much: “I really love the way Wes writes with his collaborators, I like the way he shoots, and I like HIM,” Murray said. “I've become so fond of him. I love the way that he has made his art his life. And you know, it's a lesson to all of us, to take what you love and make it the way you live your life, and that way you bring love into the world.”

5. He thinks that, at the time it came out, Groundhog Day was underrated.

“The script is one of the greatest conceptual scripts I've ever seen,” he wrote. “It's a script that was so unique, so original, and yet it got no acclaim. To me it was no question that it was the greatest script of the year. To this day people are talking about it, but they forget no one paid any attention to it at the time. The execution of the script, there were great people in it.”

6. The strangest experience he had in Japan while filming Lost in Translation involved an eel.

Once, while at a sushi restaurant, the chef asked Murray, “Would you like some fresh eel?" Murray replied that yes, he would. “So [the chef] came back with a fresh eel, a live eel, and then he walked back behind a screen and came back in 10 seconds with a no-longer-alive eel,” the actor said. “It was the freshest thing I had ever eaten in my life. It was such a funny moment to see something that was alive that no longer was alive, that was my food, in 30 seconds.”

7. He thinks the previous SNL cast was “the best group since the original group.”

The current SNL cast is good, in Murray's opinion, but “the last group with Kristen Wiig and those characters, they were a bunch of actors and their stuff was just different," he said.

It's all about the writing, the writing is such a challenge and you are trying to write backwards to fit 90 minutes between dress rehearsal and the airing. And sometimes the writers don't get the whole thing figured out, it's not like a play where you can rehearse it several times. So good actors—and those were really good actors, and there are some great actors in this current group as well I might add—they seem to be able to solve writing problems, improvisational actors, can solve them on their feet. They can solve it during the performance, and make a scene work. ... So this group, there are definitely some actors in this group, I see them working in the same way and making scenes go. They really roll very nicely, they have great momentum, and it seems like they are calm in the moment.

8. Doing the voice recording for The Fantastic Mr. Fox was basically one big party.

The process, Murray said, "dragged on and on and on," but it was "great fun" that started at a friend's farm:

[W]e all stayed at her place for a handful of days while we recorded during the day and then at night we would have these magnificent meals and we would all tell stories. We had a LOT of great food, a lot of great wine and great stories. It went on until people started literally falling from their chairs and being taken away. And then we had to go to another place and do it again, we went to George's place, but then something happen and the whole party broke up, and George said "you don't have to go, do ya" and I didn't, so we just kicked around Northern Italy for a while. It was a real fiesta.

9. He didn’t part on good terms with his assistant.

When the actor was working on Groundhog Day, director Harold Ramis asked Murray to hire an assistant to make communicating easier. So Murray hired a deaf woman who didn't speak—and Murray didn't know American Sign Language. Murray says he and the woman didn’t part well:

I was sort of ambitious thinking that I could hire someone that had the intelligence to do a job but didn't have necessarily speech or couldn't quite hear or spoke in sign language. ... I tried my best, but I was working all day. She was lovely and very smart, but there's a lot of frustration when you meet people who can't speak well. Being completely disabled in that area causes a great amount of frustration, and this was going back 30 years or so before there were the educational components that there are today. It didn't go particularly well for me, but for a few weeks she really was a light and had a real spirit to her. … We were both optimistic, but it was harder than either of us expected to make it work.

10. Here's where to get what is, in Murray’s opinion, the best sandwich.

“There's a place not far from Warner Brothers, I think it was called the Godfather? And they made all kinds of sandwiches with smashed avocado and sprouts and stuff like that," he said. "And when you were having a bad day ... you'd get sandwiches from this place. And they were very filling and very tasty, and then you'd forget about the morning.”

11. You can thank Murray’s brother Brian for Bill.

Murray called his brother his "first great influence. He made much of what I am possible. To this day, if I have a question about something ethical or about being an actor or entertainer or a person or something like that, he's a person who helped form me.”

12. Bill has some pretty interesting thoughts on marijuana.

When asked what he thought about the recreational use of marijuana, Murray didn't exactly answer the question—instead, he discussed the American penal system and the failure of the war on drugs. "Now that we have crack and crystal and whatnot, people don't even think about marijuana anymore, it's like someone watching too many videogames in comparison," he said. "The fact that states are passing laws allowing it means that its threat has been over-exaggerated. Psychologists recommend smoking marijuana rather than drinking if you are in a stressful situation. These are ancient remedies, alcohol and smoking, and they only started passing laws against them 100 years ago."

13. He likes pickles.

And peanut butter. But he’s never tried them together. "I'm big on pickles, but I've never had them with peanut butter," he says. "I really like peanut butter though. I'm kind of surprised because I like them both so much that I haven't combined them.”

14. He thinks stealing art is “worse than stealing gold and diamonds.”

Murray's next film, The Monuments Men, tells the story of a group of museum curators and art historians who venture into Germany to rescue art stolen by the Nazis and return the pieces to their rightful owners. And there are direct parallels between what happened in history (and in the film) and what's happening in some parts of the world today. "You hate to say that a film is an important film but I think it's a movie that people will say enlightened them about something that was forgotten, and it's a situation that exists around the world now," Murray said. "For example when we invaded Iraq, we weren't really taking care of business and a bunch of criminals went in and looted the museums. It's what's happening in Syria now. It's far worse than stealing gold or diamonds. It's stealing a culture, a mystery, and if those works of art are stolen, we are losing the ability to learn about culture and about ourselves."

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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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