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16 Feasible Facts About the Mission: Impossible Movies

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The Tom Cruise-starring Mission: Impossible movie franchise brought new life and peel-off faces to the classic television series that inspired it. With its fifth installment, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, in theaters now, there’s no better time to look back—from a dangerously fast-moving vehicle for style points if you wish—at how we got here.

1. IT WAS TOM CRUISE'S IDEA TO TURN THE SHOW INTO A MOVIE.

The TV series Mission: Impossible aired on CBS from 1966 to 1973, and was briefly revived on ABC for two seasons in the late 1980s. Cruise was a fan of the original show and wanted to adapt it to the big screen for Paramount Pictures, who owned the rights.

2. THE TV ACTORS WEREN'T HAPPY WITH THE FILM VERSION.

Greg Morris, the man who played Barney Collier, left the first movie early, and presumably didn’t see any of the sequels. Peter Graves wasn’t pleased that the one character name they kept was the name of his TV character, Jim Phelps (played in the Mission: Impossible movie by Jon Voight). Martin Landau (Rollin Hand) revealed that in an early script, the old TV gang was supposed to appear briefly before getting killed, which he didn’t appreciate.

3. THE TV DIRECTOR WAS TOLD TO GO AWAY.

Reza Badiyi was behind the camera for more episodes of the Mission: Impossible series on ABC than anyone else, and was invited by Paramount to consult on the movie. Director Brian De Palma (very nicely) approached Badiyi on set and told him the movie wouldn’t be anything like the TV show, and that having him on set would make things uncomfortable. Badiyi thanked him for his candor and never came back.

4. JULIETTE BINOCHE AND RACHEL MCADAMS TURNED DOWN LEAD PARTS.

Binoche—who won an Oscar for The English Patient, which came out the same year as the first Mission: Impossible film—said no to playing Claire Phelps, not wanting to become completely known for appearing in American blockbusters (Emmanuelle Béart said yes). For M:I-3, McAdams opted not to play Ethan Hunt’s fiancée Julia Mead (Michelle Monaghan's part).

5. CRUISE AND VOIGHT DEALT WITH BIG WIND MACHINES IN THEIR FACES.

Cruise and Voight’s faces were up against a wind machine blowing gusts of up to 140 miles per hour. Cruise had dinner with the owners of the French high-speed TGV train service to convince them to let them film on it.

6. APPLE PAID $15 MILLION TO HAVE THEIR PERSONAL COMPUTERS IN THE FIRST MOVIE.

The money was also for print and TV ads, and Apple also launched an online game related to the movie. The company claimed that the 1996 agreement was the first partnership between a studio and a major high-tech firm to promote a movie.

7. SIR IAN MCKELLEN TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF SWANBECK IN MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II.

He felt that he couldn’t determine if the movie was any good after only receiving the parts of the script with his scenes in it, so McKellen turned the producers down (they ultimately went with Sir Anthony Hopkins). The next day, the actor was offered the part of Magneto and then Gandalf.

8. ROBERT TOWNE WAS STILL WRITING THE SCRIPT FOR THE SEQUEL AFTER FILMING HAD BEEN COMPLETED.

After needing to write around the big action sequences that were already planned, the Oscar-winning screenwriter was repeatedly flown in to continue rewriting the script during filming. This continued even when the movie was being editing.

9. SCARLETT JOHANSSON, KENNETH BRANAGH, CARRIE-ANNE MOSS, AND RICKY GERVAIS WERE ALL SLATED TO STAR IN M:I-3.

When production on the movie was pushed back because Cruise decided to work on War of the Worlds instead, original director David Fincher left due to “creative differences,” then another director—Joe Carnahan—walked away. Johannson left officially due to a scheduling conflict, and Gervais eventually left, too (Simon Pegg got his part instead). 

10. CRUISE MET KATIE HOLMES WHEN SHE AUDITIONED TO PLAY HIS FIANCÉE.

The role Holmes auditioned for (that McAdams initially turned down) eventually went to Michelle Monaghan.

11. J.J. ABRAMS GOT THE DIRECTOR GIG FOR THE THIRD MOVIE THANKS TO ALIAS.

Cruise binged on DVDs of Abrams’s spy show and liked it so much that he offered him his first job directing a movie.

12. ETHAN HUNT’S HOUSE WAS MADE TO LOOK JUST LIKE ABRAMS’S HOUSE.

When needing Cruise’s character to have an average, middle-class abode for the start of M:I-3, the director asked the production designer to design it just like his Los Angeles home. Abrams apparently found the similarity “a little disturbing.”

13. MAGGIE Q LEARNED HOW TO DRIVE FOR M:I-3.

The actress learned how to drive with a Lamborghini, which she said meant that driving was a downhill experience ever since: "What do you do after that?"

14. PARAMOUNT’S PROMOTION FOR THE THIRD MOVIE LED TO PANIC AND DESTRUCTION.

Paramount placed digital audio players that played the Mission: Impossible theme song when the doors to 4500 random vending boxes containing copies of the Los Angeles Times were opened. When some of the players came loose and landed on top of stacks of newspapers visible to anyone walking by or opening the boxes, they were confused for bombs. One newsstand was blown up by the Los Angeles County arson squad for precautionary reasons.

15. CRUISE CLIMBED THE TALLEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD FOR GHOST PROTOCOL.

Usually performing his own stunts, Cruise topped himself by scaling the 2722-foot-tall Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai without use of a stunt double.

16. HE ALSO WAS ACTUALLY OUTSIDE OF THE PLANE IN ROGUE NATION.

Similar to France’s TGV train employees for the first film, France’s Airbus Group plane company initially refused to loan a plane out of safety concerns for Cruise, until ultimately relenting. After testing with a dummy, Cruise performed eight takes of the scene in which he is tethered to the side of the plane—5000 feet up in the air, going 184 miles per hour. If something went wrong, the door was assembled so that he could be pulled inside the plane.

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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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