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15 Fun Facts About True Lies

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Digital Domain

Arnold Schwarzenegger became a bonafide action superstar in the 1980s with films like Commando, Predator, Terminator, and the Conan films. By the early 1990s, the former Mr. Olympia had established himself as a guy who could both pump iron and tickle funny bones, with box-office hits like Twins and Kindergarten Cop. But nowhere was Arnold ever as tough and funny as when James Cameron’s True Lies hit the big screen in the summer of 1994. The film turns 20 today, so let's celebrate with some fun facts about the movie.

1. The film is based on Claude Zidi’s 1991 French film comedy La Totale! The original film has plenty in common with Cameron’s feature, from overall plot to small character details—for instance, the character of Simon (played in Zidi’s film by Michel Boujenah, with Bill Paxton taking on the part in Cameron’s film) is a sleazy car dealer in both films.

2. There are, of course, some differences between the two features. In Zidi’s film, the bad guys are intent on blowing up a French football stadium, while Cameron’s villains set their sights on bombing downtown Miami.

3. True Lies was reportedly the very first film to have a production budget that exceeded $100 million.

4. Schwarzenegger almost died on the set of the film, when a horse he was riding during one of the film’s most memorable action sequences got spooked by a camera boom and started rearing up near the edge of a very steep drop (the actor estimates it was about 90 feet to the ground). Arnold managed to slip off the horse in time, and a stunt man pulled him to safety.

5. True Lies is actually an Oscar nominee: The film’s visual effects team (John Bruno, Thomas L. Fisher, Jacques Stroweis and Patrick McClung) were nominated for an Academy Award for their work on the film. They lost to Forrest Gump.

6. In 2010, a rumor spread that Cameron was interested in developing the film into a new television series, joining another long-standing rumor that Cameron and Schwarzenegger were planning a cinematic sequel. Neither has come to pass, and Cameron promises that he’s not working on anything new in the True Lies universe.

7. The film was the top-earning R-rated new release of 1994, making $146.2 million at the domestic box office. The film edged out Speed for the honor, which made $121.2 million in U.S. release, despite the fact that it was in theaters for an entire month longer than True Lies.

8. True Lies was number one at the box office for just one week. When the film hit theaters in July 1994, it bumped Forrest Gump from the top spot that the Robert Zemeckis film had earned just the week before, when it was first released in U.S. theaters. Gump was back in the top spot the following week.

9. Jamie Lee Curtis refused to let a body double film the scene in which her character (Helen) is dangling off of a helicopter over the ocean. The actress did the stunt herself—and on her birthday, no less.

10. Curtis didn’t just do her own stuntwork; she also brought her own wardrobe. The bra and underwear set she wears during Helen’s famous striptease scene were her own.

11. James Cameron’s voice makes an appearance in the film. During the car chase scene with Simon, Helen, and the helicopters, it’s Cameron who yells, "Yeah, she's got her head in his lap, yahoo!" when Curtis tries to hide her face.

12. Schwarzenegger may have been very comfortable with the action sequences, but he needed extra help in a different area—he had to take tango lessons prior to filming, to give his Harry Tasker all those smooth moves on the dance floor.

13. Although Schwarzenegger was always going to play Harry, Helen could have been someone quite different. Jodie Foster was originally cast in the role, which she had to turn down when she signed on for the lead in Nell.

14. Other Hollywood starlets who were rumored for the Helen part included Rosanna Arquette, Annette Bening, Geena Davis, Madonna, Sharon Stone, Lea Thompson, Debra Winger, Kim Basinger, Joan Cusack, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Emma Thompson.

15. Three of the jets in the film are actual military fighter jets. Producers rented out three Marine Harriers (and their pilots) from the U.S. government for shooting. Total fee? Just over $100,000, figured from a $2410 hourly rate.

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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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