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15 Big Facts About My Big Fat Greek Wedding

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In 2002, Joel Zwick's My Big Fat Greek Wedding became a worldwide phenomenon. Shot on a budget of $5 million, the Tom Hanks-produced movie went on to earn more than $368 million at the global box office. The film was written by its star, Nia Vardalos, who played Fotoula "Toula" Portokalos, a Greek-American who falls for non-Greek-American Ian Miller (John Corbett), much to the disapproval of her overbearing family. Here are some facts about the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all-time, on the 15th anniversary of its release.

1. IT BEGAN LIFE AS A STAGE SHOW IN LOS ANGELES.

In 1997, Second City alum Nia Vardalos wrote and performed a one-woman show about her Greek family. "I basically took every Greek wedding I’ve ever been to, including mine, and on a scale of one to 10, I turned it up to an 11," Vardalos said. Los Angeles' Hudson Theater over-sold the six-week run of the show after Vardalos sent flyers to every Greek church in Southern California. Rita Wilson, who is also Greek, attended one of the performances; she went backstage after the show and told Vardalos that it should be made into a movie. One week later, Wilson's husband, Tom Hanks, attended a performance.

2. WHEN TOM HANKS CALLED, NIA VARDALOS THOUGHT IT WAS A PRANK.

After Vardalos told her friends that Hanks had seen her show, one friend repeatedly called her pretending to be the Oscar-winning actor. When Hanks actually did call her (she was on her treadmill at the time), she assumed it was the same friend. Hanks assured her it was really him, "And then I heard Forrest Gump," Vardalos recalled.

3. DISNEY WANTED MARISA TOMEI TO STAR.

Before Hanks' call, several production companies expressed interest in purchasing the rights to Vardalos' project. One wanted to turn it into a story about a Hispanic family. Disney was interested in buying the story as is, but wanted Marisa Tomei to star in it. Hanks and his production company, Playtone, saw Vardalos playing herself.

4. IAN MILLER IS BASED ON ACTOR IAN GOMEZ.

Ian Gomez and Vardalos met while performing at Second City in Chicago in the early 1990s. Gomez, like Miller, wasn't Greek but had himself baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church and won over Vardalos' family. The couple married in 1993. Gomez played Ian Miller's best man, Mike, in the movie.

5. VARDALOS'S MOTHER CONTRIBUTED A LINE TO THE SCRIPT.

"[My mother] gave me a line for the movie the other day," Vardalos said before filming began. "I have the father in the movie say, 'I am the head of this house' and the scene as it exists now is that the mother turns to the daughter and gives a 'yeah, right' look heavenward. But my mother suggested I have the mother character reply, 'But the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants.'"

Vardalos' father contributed some dialogue, too. He really did tell her once that she'd better get married because she was starting to look old.

6. VARDALOS WROTE THE ROLE OF AUNT VOULA WITH ANDREA MARTIN IN MIND.

Andrea Martin is of Armenian descent, but Vardalos had always wanted to work with the fellow Second City alum.

7. MICHAEL CONSTANTINE CAME OUT OF RETIREMENT TO PLAY VARDALOS'S FATHER, GUS, MUCH TO THE EXCITEMENT OF TOM HANKS.

When Michael Constantine (The Hustler) left the audition, Hanks slapped the table and exclaimed, “We’re done!”

8. JOHN CORBETT WAS OFFERED THE ROLE OF IAN AT A HOTEL BAR.

John Corbett was in Toronto shooting Serendipity (2001), telling his friend over drinks about the funny script he had read. (Corbett tried to get a reading for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but his shooting schedule had not allowed it.) Hearing the actor talk about their movie, Vardalos and producer Gary Goetzman walked over and introduced themselves. Within 10 minutes, Goetzman offered Corbett the part of Ian Miller.

9. IT WAS PRIMARILY SHOT IN TORONTO.

Vardalos grew up in Winnipeg, but the movie was set in Chicago, and filmed in Toronto. Much of the Ontario city's large Greek population volunteered to be extras at the large wedding scenes. Some of Vardalos' relatives joined in as well. Toula and Ian actually tie the knot in Toronto's St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church.

10. VARDALOS GOT HER ALMA MATER INTO THE MIX.

Vardalos graduated from Toronto's Ryerson University. Ryerson portrayed Harry S. Truman College in the movie.

11. THE OPENING SCENE WAS SHOT LAST.

The scene where Gus and Toula drive to open the restaurant in the early morning was the last scene filmed. According to the DVD commentary, the sadness Vardalos and Constantine displayed on screen came from the sadness of most of the cast and crew having already wrapped.

12. IT BROKE RECORDS.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding made $241,438,208 in U.S. theaters, making it the highest-grossing romantic comedy in history, over $58 million ahead of What Women Want (2000). It's also the highest-grossing movie since at least 1982 to never be number one during any box office weekend. With a gross revenue (theater and home video sales) of approximately $369 million off of a $5 million production budget, it's also one of the most profitable movies ever made.

13. VARDALOS'S MOTHER KEPT HER HUMBLE.

"When I first did the movie and got a call telling me that never before had a film playing in so few theaters been seen by so many people, I hung up and told my mom 'Hey, I think something huge is happening with the movie,'" Vardalos told The Huffington Post in 2012. "She said, 'That’s so nice ... now, will you take the chicken out of the oven?'"

14. IT SPAWNED A SHORT-LIVED TV SHOW.

The CBS series My Big Fat Greek Life (2003) brought everyone back except for Corbett, who was busy starring in Lucky (2003). Only seven episodes of the small-screen version ever aired.

15. VARDALOS WASN'T READY TO WRITE THE SEQUEL UNTIL SHE BECAME A MOTHER.

Because she always wrote "from a personal place," Vardalos felt she couldn't pretend to know how to write about Paris, Toula and Ian's six-year-old daughter who appears at the end of the first film. But in 2009, Vardalos and Gomez adopted a daughter, Ilaria, which allowed her to reconsider the idea of a sequel. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was released in theaters on March 25, 2016.

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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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