Blu-ray Review: The Counselor Unrated Extended Cut

The Counselor: Unrated Extended Cut
Blu-ray l DVD
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Cormac McCarthy
Starring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Release Date: February 11, 2014

Of all the highly anticipated films released last year I don’t think any of them received the critical blanket party that greeted the opening of The Counselor, the pulpy drug world thriller that united influential filmmaker Ridley Scott ( Blade Runner) and Pulitzer Prize-adorned author Cormac McCarthy ( No Country for Old Men, Blood Meridian), the latter having penned his first original feature screenplay. To say that expectations were high for this film is an understatement on the level of the scene in Easy Rider where Peter Fonda tells Dennis Hopper, “We blew it.”

People hated this movie, man. Hated it. Obviously The Counselor had its share of defenders amongst the filmgoing public and the shadowy agents of the blogosphere, but they were mostly silenced or shouted down as the star-studded noir plummeted to a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a massively disappointing fourth opening at the box office. Scott has had his considerable share of theatrical flops that were later vindicated on home video in the form of extended and rejiggered director’s cuts. Not surprisingly, his latest film has received the same treatment and The Counselor may yet find the audience that either berated or ignored it on the big screen as twenty minutes have been added to this exclusive “unrated extended cut.”

Do these previously deleted scenes elevate Scott and McCarthy’s lurid, languid potboiler to the status of an underrated masterpiece? Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, the haters were hopelessly misguided? Well, let’s see…

To discuss the plot of The Counselor in detail is to spoil the pleasures of its carefully unfolding narrative, so I will tread lightly. Michael Fassbender is the title character, a cool-headed lawyer with a lack of scruples and an overabundance of expenses, the prettiest being his girlfriend Laura ( Penelope Cruz), whom he intends to wed. He decides to use the influence of some of his criminal clientele, including the decadently wealthy Reiner ( Javier Bardem) and his ambiguous arm candy Malkina ( Cameron Diaz), to broker a drug deal that will pay out of the furnace rotten tomatoes $20 million and set him and his unsuspecting fiancee up for life. As sordid tales like this go, nothing happens according to plan. Betrayals occur, violence ensues, lives are snuffed, and the entire film might just leave you reeling once it’s all over.

That is about all I can tell you because in McCarthy’s world the plot isn’t as important as the morally complex characters involved, and not because things get so complicated I would need a flow chart in order to boil it all down into a review-worthy synopsis. We have Wikipedia for that. The devil is in the details, as they love to say, and this devil wants to dance.

Make no mistake, folks; The Counselor is far, far from the film you expect it to be. The combination of the director who made some of the most visually astounding sci-fi thrillers and epic adventures of the past four decades and the prolific author who managed to get a dark, esoteric apocalyptic novel in Oprah’s Book Club made this one of last year’s surefire movie-going propositions. But once critics and audiences saw the film for themselves they reacted as if they had cruelly deceived. Part of the blame could be attributed to 20th Century Fox’s marketing campaign that sold Scott’s film as a slick, sexy roller coaster ride with gorgeous stars and picaresque vice. Then again that’s what most of us had already envisioned it to be long before the first trailers arrived. We should have known better.

Very rarely can one accuse Scott of being a conventional director without coming across as a detractor with a staggering lack of hindsight; every film he makes, for better or worse, comes into being primarily because of his will to see it done. Nor can you easily attach a label to Cormac McCarthy, because there is a reason why his fans often liken novels such as Child of God and All the Pretty Horses to the works of celebrated writers the likes of Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad. The man knows how to write an unforgettable and gripping story with both characters and dialogue that ring true.

In short, to harbor any expectations that The Counselor would merely be a frothy weekend evening’s entertainment to be enjoyed before or after a dinner of shrimp scampi with herbed rice pilaf and a rousing game of Pictionary with the neighbors is an error in judgment worthy of Custer.

The film the less enlightened among us could not have possibly seen coming is worlds removed from the vacuously thrilling Fast & The Furious franchise. What we do get is a dark, scabrous meditation on the pursuit of wealth and power and the unforseen consequences that can impact those who foolishly believe they can somehow rise above the fray. It is brutal, philosophical, sexually frank, and uncompromising. This is purely and simply powerful storytelling. Scott tends to work beautifully with talented writers who can bang out terrific scripts without breaking a sweat and there are few more adept at the task than McCarthy, a wizard of weaving pitch black narratives of intelligent individuals becoming entwined in suffocating webs of greed, deceit, and death. The Counselor is no different as its characters hurtle willingly into the yawning chasm of criminal life where the only true victory is survival, and even those who live to tell the tale are forever broken at the hands of forces they thought they were smart enough to defeat.

McCarthy’s characters are smart and loquacious and every line of spoken dialogue does not come at the expense of a wasted breath. A conversation between a man and woman about the pleasures of oral sex can reveal more about who these people are than an entire page of expositional dialogue. One of the primary criticisms leveled at The Counselor time and again since its release was the presence of long scenes where the characters have intriguing dialogue duels rather than having them punch, shoot, and screw one another. Heaven forbid we can have a film where adults conduct adult conversations full of delicious quotable lines savored by a top-form cast like an expensive, luxurious meal prepared by the world’s finest chefs. The film is bursting at its exquisitely stitched seams with rich monologues delivered by characters actors renowned across the globe such as Bruno Ganz ( Wings of Desire) and Rub&;n Blades ( The Two Jakes), and even though they usually vanish from the story afterwards the impact of their fleeting moments on-camera cannot be denied.

Other dialogue exchanges function as shrewd deconstructions of shopworn cinematic cliches that often have the reverse effect they might have in the hands of lesser talents. Take, for example, a scene where Reiner tells the Counselor a story about the time he watched as Malkina got rather…intimate with the windshield of his expensive sports car. In any other film this scene would serve no greater purpose than to be a source of temporary titillation, and to her credit Diaz puts both her body and dignity to the test. But as written by McCarthy and performed by Bardem the scene takes on an entirely different context that I dare not spoil. Bardem’s facial expressions that go from arousal to curiosity to frightened awe in the span of mere seconds make the flashback a time capsule-worthy moment, perfectly brought to fruition by the moment when Reiner embarrassingly reveals that he had to use his socks to clean the windshield off.

That’s McCarthy’s bleak, occasionally inappropriate yet devilishly playful sense of humor at work. The Counselor isn’t a laugh riot mind you, but there are lines of dialogue here and there that might elicit a chuckle or a relieved guffaw from you at first, and as the plot continues to unfold they’ll stick right in your throat. The film’s structure is built to resemble a short novel being adapted directly from the page, with most of the longer dialogue scenes playing out in the manner of an entire chapter of the story. That isn’t to say that the pace lags at any time; far from it, editor Pietro Scalia - who has worked on nearly every Ridley Scott film since 1997&;s G.I. Jane - uses a full selection of close-ups and medium and wide shots to construct the footage into dynamic scenes that never feel extraneous to the narrative. Certain scenes, such as the conversation between the Counselor and Ganz’ Swiss diamond merchant, would make wonderful short films.

Fassbender is wonderfully cast as the film’s idea of a hero, though he takes no heroic action during the story except to try to save his own ass and Laura’s as well. He isn’t unsympathetic though and Fassbender uses a silken tone of voice (backed up by a pretty decent Texas accent) and his natural charisma to make the Counselor into a likable guy in spite of the selfish moves he makes. Critics accused the character of being a non-entity in his own film, but the man is a lawyer after all, not an action hero. Maybe audiences would’ve been more comfortable had Fassbender picked up some guns in the third act and took the fight directly to the Mexican cartel in a shower of bullets and blood to a rockin’ soundtrack. The Counselor is a great figure of moral ambiguity and in Fassbender’s interactions with Cruz you can see the deep, abiding love he has for the woman in his life - the one thing he truly has to lose.

Speaking of Cruz, the lovely actress has never made much of an impression on American audiences as she did in her native Spain. Though her character in The Counselor serves as little more than a plot motivator she makes Laura a sweet and caring person whose vulnerabilities make her an instant target to those whom she comes into contact. Her scenes with Diaz (at her best in years as the quietly manipulative Malkina) carry a flirtatious overtone with hints of a lesbian subtext that is never fully spelled out but adds an intriguing layer of mystery to the narrative that takes greater shape upon repeat viewings, if you’re up to the task.

Bardem steals his every scene as Reiner, the connected underworld player who doesn’t wield as much power as he prefers to believe, with hilarious dialogue and one loony wardrobe. Brad Pitt shows up a few times as cartel middleman Westray and makes the most of his limited screen time with a terrific performance oozing with dark wit and a few subtle hints of pathos. &;dgar Ram&;rez ( Zero Dark Thirty), Goran Vi&;nji&; ( The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Toby Kebbell ( War Horse), Dean Norris ( Breaking Bad), and John Leguizamo ( Summer of Sam) all put in worthwhile performances in extended cameo roles that often have them not interacting with the principal players.

The Counselor was mostly filmed in Spain and England - with pick-up shots done in the U.S. - and the European locations lend the scenes a distinctive aesthetic flavoring rooted in the haunting crime dramas and westerns of world cinema past. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who has worked with both Scott and his late brother Tony countless times in recent years, bathes the lush and intimidating locales in light harsh enough to fry your eyeballs while bringing a moodier tone to the interior scenes filmed on London soundstages.

Scott brought in British composer Daniel Pemberton, whose previous credits include the acclaimed Ghost Recon: Alpha short, to create his first major feature film score and the results make for an audibly pleasing compliment to The Counselor. Pemberton’s music is shaded with hints of Ennio Morricone’s bombastic spaghetti western scores and the brooding, minimalist soundtrack composed by Carter Burwell for the McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men. It’s the kind of score that you can listen to on your MP3 player and instantly recall scenes from the film without really thinking of it. Pemberton is one of the genuine discoveries of this film and it will be pretty interesting to see what he comes up with next.

Most importantly, The Counselor finds its director working at the peak of his talents and in the service of great filmmaking for once. Scott has made one of the finest-acted films of his career, and by allowing the performances and script to take center stage he proves himself to be as adept to directing his actors as he is crafting vivid and operatic visuals. It’s nice to see the guy taking the considerable clout he has amassed over the course of his legendary career in cinema to make a film infinitely more bleak and moralistic than for which he is famous. Great directors have defied the expectations of their supporters to bring them challenging features that they might initially despise with volcanic passion but later come to appreciate and even love with subsequent viewings.

I would gladly place The Counselor (especially in its extended and uncut form) in the company of other misunderstood gems of film such as William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and more recently Michael Mann’s big-screen Miami Vice. That’s pretty good company to be in, and I know a lot of folks would happily agree.

Both cuts of The Counselor are presented by Fox in MPEG-4 encoded transfers mastered in 1080p high-definition and presented in the 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The glorious, sun-baked visuals sparkle with fantastic clarity and enriched picture detail, while the deep black shadows in the low-light interior scenes add immeasurable atmosphere to the film. These are marvelous presentations of a visually sumptuous feature. Both versions come with English, Spanish, Italian, French, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Estonian, Hindi, Latvian, Lithuanian, Chinese, Ukrainian, and English Text subtitle options.

The only audio option for the extended cut is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, but it’s a great one, with the vibrant dialogue and Pemberton music score mixed to crystalline perfection and no manual volume adjustment required. The theatrical cut has that track and it works beautifully not to my surprise, but it also comes with an English 5.1 descriptive audio track as well as Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Ukrainian Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish, Italian, and Russian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. For those of you who speak English as a tenth language you’ll find that any of these tracks will perform admirably for your listening pleasure.

Special Features

Regardless of how much they earn at the box office Ridley Scott’s films typically get the deluxe treatment on DVD and Blu-ray, and Fox has not disappointed when it comes to his latest.

Both the theatrical (117 minutes) and extended (138 minutes) cuts of The Counselor are included on two 50GB Blu-ray discs for those collectors who prefer complete packages. The first disc pairs the theatrical version with a trio of uncut Viral Pieces that function as short compliments to the main feature focusing on several of its most important characters: Laura (3 minutes); The Counselor (3 minutes); and Malkina and Reiner (2 minutes). Also included are three theatrical trailers (6 minutes), ten television spots (5 minutes), and a Sneak Peek menu that includes trailers for Robocop, Runner Runner, 12 Years a Slave, and The Family along with a promotional spot for MGM’s 90th Anniversary celebration. The first three trailers also play upfront before the main menu and are followed there by an additional trailer for Out of the Furnace.

The major extra of the extended cut disc is Truth of the Situation, an interactive behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Counselor comprised of a feature-length audio commentary from director Scott and thirteen video featurettes that all play during the film. You can also watch the featurettes individually from an Index sub-menu or as a 78-minute whole. Between Scott’s full film school curriculum of a chat track and the exhausting mini-docs you’ll get just about everything you wanted to know about the film’s inception, themes, and production.

Closing things out is a code to download a Digital HD copy of The Counselor to watch on your computer.

The Counselor isn’t an easy movie to love if you go into it thinking it’s going to be disposable, glossy Hollywood entertainment. There is nothing typical about this film and it demonstrates why Ridley Scott is a masterful filmmaker and Cormac McCarthy is one of our finest living writers of the literary and the cinematic. It’s Scott’s best film in years, one of the greatest released in 2013, and for the in-depth bonus features and first-rate presentation of both the theatrical and extended cuts this Blu-ray is a must have. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a feature that defies convention to become something greater and more substantial than you might usually expect.

stories

Monday’s early taste of spring may have been nothing more than a cruel tease.

Wednesday may be a good day to go back into hibernation. A Winter Storm Warning takes effect Tuesday night at 10 p.m., lasting through 1 p.m. Wednesday. Areas to the north and the far west of Chicago will be under a Winter weather Advisory. Areas to the south will see themselves under a Winter Storm Watch.

The precipitation will begin Tuesday evening as light rain showers before temperatures drop and switch the rain over to snow. Snowfall across the city will be heaviest between midnight and about 6 a.m., NBC 5 Storm Team Meteorologist Andy Avalos predicted.

Windy and cold conditions will persist by midday Wednesday but most of the snowfall should be on its way out of the area.

Weather models project various amounts of accumulating snow. The general consensus between the models put the snowfall at between 5 inches and 9 inches.

One model with the most significant snowfall includes the following projections:

  • 16.1” at Midway International Airport
  • 13.4” at O’Hare International Airport
  • 14.4” in Romeoville
  • 14.1” in Aurora
  • 16.1” in Gary, Ind.
  • 7.1” in Waukegan
  • 13.1” in DuPage
  • 14.4” in DeKalb

Another model projects diminished

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 vs iPad Air - Price and Specs Comparison

Gone are the days of 7 inch or 8 inch screens. Apple’s iPad Air and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3 are both close to 10 inches and are absolutely driving the crowds crazy.

The perpetual rivalry between the two technology giants makes people constantly wonder which of the two would come out on top, in terms of user reviews and popularity. Here’s how the two compare.

First Look

A lot of technology gurus would say that iPad Air and Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 cannot really be compared. This is because iPad Air is the finest presentation from Apple, while Galaxy Tab 3 seems a little defenseless without the S pen stylus. To top it up, while Apple has amped up the specs for Apple Air, to make it a better and more niche product, Tab 3&;s spec sheet looks generic and rather unimpressive. Samsung’s advantage is that it comes at a cheaper Coupon and therefore would be more welcomed in the markets where price is a major consideration at the time of purchase.

Design

The iPad Air is a premium product and the design shows that. The high quality aluminum shell, the two color variations, and the remarkable compactness of this device speaks volume about the thought put into its design. iPad Air is much lighter than all its previous versions and the 9.7 inch display is stunning with the latest Retina Display technology. The handling is much better and the physical keys are elegant. On the other hand, the Galaxy Tab 3 doesn’t offer anything new or interested with regards to its appearance. Its mid range appearance makes it look very generic when compared with the iPad Air. The physical keys are not very well made and though the display is slightly larger than iPad Air, at 10.1 inches, the design makes it look bulky and unbecoming.

Specs

Apple’s 9.7 inches display has the upper hand on Samsung’s 10.1 inches. The display is much better calibrated in Apple, making it stand out clearly. The iPad Air sports A7 64-bit SoC, 1 GB RAM, a 1.4 GHz dual-core Cyclone CPU and a GPU of PowerVR G6430, with a 5 mp camera which is able to take 1080p videos. The Tab 3, meanwhile, offers a 1.6 GHz dual-core Intel Atom processor, with 1 GB RAM with a 3 mp camera able to take 720p videos. Though its display specs are not as good as iPad Air, the Tab 3 makes for much more pleasant viewing experience. Its speakers are positioned on the opposite sides so the sound quality is also much better. iPad Air comes in 16, 32 and 64 GB variations, while Tab 3 is available in 16 and 32 variants. However, Tab 3 has an additional micro SD card slot, which is missing from iPad Air. The iPad offers Apple’s latest iOS 7 interface, with Safari as its browser. Tab 3 has Google’s TouchWiz Android with a lot of new widgets. It also sports Google’s Chrome browser and Samsung’s own browser as well. Browsing is quick on both iPad Air and Tab 3.

Milk price, production comparison tool

Dairy producers are often exposed to not only the highly variable nature of milk Discount, but also the highly variable costs of the feeds they supply to their herds. This variability often creates a situation where dairy farmers are tasked with making many choices affecting milk production and feed costs without being able to visualize the outcome.

Milk price is affected by several factors including milk volume, milk components (fat, protein, and other solids), and any bonuses or deductions applicable to the producer. While milk volume is important, many of the performance indicators of today’s industry overlook the value of a herd with slightly lower milk volume and higher solids. Additionally, feed choice may have an impact on milk volume or solids. The effect of using different feeds to boost milk volume or milk solids is not only hard to calculate, but also to compare and contrast.

An example of this situation would be a farmer making the decision to spend more money on new feeds to boost component production. If this feed were to increase the production of milk solids, it may be more economically justifiable than the current feed, even if it costs more. This new feed could be more economically justifiable if it increased milk components, milk pay price, and income over feed cost values.

In order to visualize and quantify the economic impact of changes to milk volume, milk composition, milk price, and feed costs to dairy farm profitability, the University of Kentucky and DFA have developed a dashboard tool. This tool can be found at: http://afsdairy.ca.uky.edu/productioncomparison.

This tool allows farmers to quantify the difference slight changes in milk production and component levels could have on milk price. An additional feature of this tool is to compare feed costs, and their impact on milk income. Within this tool, you will find places to input production values, milk check values, and feed costs. From these inputs, economic values are computed, giving a better picture of the viability of herds with varying milk prices and feed costs.

In short, this tool will then allow you to:

  • Calculate your milk price
  • Compare possible production scenarios and their effects on milk price
  • Compare income over feed costs between different production and feed cost situations
Instructions

The arrows on the following pages will help to direct you in using the actual Milk Price and Production Comparison Tool. While the arrows in the following pages will not appear on the actual tool, using these pages as a guide will assist you in utilizing each element of the tool to its fullest potential.

Discountp>Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…

Holy crap, when this show slides its puzzle pieces together the result is freakin’ amazing. After a small string of lesser episodes (that seemed like they lasted forever due to the long breaks in between), Person of Interest rebounded like crazy with “RAM” - an episode that was 99% flashback and 1% part Root showing right at the end to send Casey (Jurassic Park’s Joseph Mazzello) off to Colombia.

I rated this particular installment in the “9”s, but feel free to give it your own personal “10.” For me, a “10” usually means I have to feel anguish or loss or some other potent emotion. Like in “The Crossing.” But even though I didn’t weep or feel any sort of sorrow, “RAM” was a brilliant piece of work - showing us not only Finch working with a crude, blunt proto-Reese (Neil Jackson’s “Mr. Dillinger”), but incorporating Reese and Kara into the mix as well. Even giving us the underlying reason as to why Finch, after Dillinger got himself killed (BY SHAW, HOW AWESOME WAS THAT!!??), chose Reese to be his next “main in the suit.” Because Reese had used his instincts and better judgment to spare young Casey’s life when Kara would have killed him without blinking.

And with the involvement of Greer and Decima, we also now know how Kara came to be on Greer’s radar for when he met with her in her hospital room after the Ordos, China mission. In fact, the only thing I didn’t really need in this episode was the fast-forward/flash-forward that led us quickly through the Ordos mission. But that’s only because I tend to believe, most of the time, less is more. And as soon as Control and Special Counsel mentioned Ordos, I knew what was next. In fact, I had my suspicions just from the year being 2010.

But, in the end, the fast-forward made sense because it led us up to the final scene which took place in 2014 - as we were all probably wondering what became of Casey after he was let go and spirited off to Canada. And it was definitely time for Root to return to the show in order to kick start the back end of the season.

The way Mr. Dillinger himself played out, story-wise, was pretty cool too. A great way of showcasing the fact that not every trained gun out there was the perfect match for Finch and his high-tech, secretive mission to save innocent lives. Dillinger was certainly capable (as long as he was dealing with local hitmen and lower class thugs) but once everything turned into a government conspiracy, he got spooked. And then he got selfish.

You can wear the suit, but the finer points of protecting lives are easily lost on most candidates. It also lent a lot of credence to how careful both Reese and Finch were when they brought Shaw, who’s also a gruff killer, on board to join the team. Because the job takes a true hero, not just someone with training. “As long as the checks clear” seemed to be Dillinger’s motto.

There were a bunch of little notes in “RAM” that hit home too, like the way Reese objected to Kara’s torture methods (wasabi chopsticks, broken glass, etc), to the way Dillinger did just about everything the opposite of the way Reese would have done it (sleeping with damsel in distress, taking Casey to the Library, etc), to the great use of Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong” right at the end (especially effective when we saw Finch digging a hole for Dillinger’s body).

Discountp>The governor’s proposal to give Staten Island residents additional toll breaks on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge has spurred renewed calls for Westchester and Rockland dwellers to get discounts on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The New York State Thruway Authority is expected to significantly raise tolls to pay for the new $3.9 billion twin span, but officials have yet to present toll projections or even indicate when such figures will be decided.

Local leaders are already pushing for toll relief. Rockland County Legislator Cris Carey, R-Bardonia, wants Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make the same deal for Rockland as he is pitching for Staten Island: let local residents pay less to drive across the bridge in their backyards.

Like Staten Island, Carey argued, Rockland lacks a robust mass transit option.

"Residents of Staten Island are getting a break," Carey said. "I think the same strategies and factors could be applied for Rockland folks."

Carey has drafted a county resolution calling on Cuomo and state lawmakers to reduce toll rates for Rockland commuters.

Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Mt. Pleasant, supports the idea of Tappan Zee toll breaks for both Westchester and Rockland residents.

"You can’t treat people in one area one way and treat people in another area another way &; you have to treat all New Yorkers fairly," Abinanti said.

The current cash toll on the Tappan Zee is $5, but drivers pay $3 to cross if they have E-ZPass plus a commuter plan. The toll, which is collected one way, hasn’t been raised since 2009 and there are no plans to increase it this year.

In making the pitch for additional toll relief on the Verrazano, the governor said it “will allow Staten Islanders to keep more of their money on the island.” Staten Island residents with a New York-issued E-ZPass currently pay $6.36 per toll for one or two trips in a month and $6 per trip for three or more in a month. The cash toll is $15 and $10.66 for drivers with E-ZPass.

Under Cuomo’s plan &; which would be covered for one year with money from the state budget and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority &; Staten Island residents with a New York-issued E-ZPass would pay $5.50 per trip, regardless of how many times they cross the bridge each month.

Brazil: The new faces of human trafficking

In addition to sexual exploitation and slave labor, human trafficking in Brazil is being carried out for begging, domestic servitude, exploitation in soccer clubs and drug mules.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - In an effort to escape extreme poverty, Safira, a 27-year-old native of the state of Par&;, made a radical decision.

As an unemployed single mother, she accepted a friend’s invitation to work as a prostitute at a nightclub in Suriname, which borders Par&;. When Safira arrived, the nightclub’s owner confiscated her passport, saying she could leave only after paying her trip expenses.

"I was forced to turn several tricks a day and left only for medical examinations, accompanied by a security guard," Safira said. "From what I earned, they would discount money for food, accommodations and travel costs."

After four months, Safira got pregnant. The baby’s father paid part of the debt for her release. But their relationship didn’t work out and, when her son was 11 months old, Safira returned to Brazil.

In Par&;, she participated in a project introduced by the Par&; NGO Sodireitos, which specializes in prevention, care and research in the areas of the rights of migrants and the sexually exploited.

The stories of Safira and 10 other female human-trafficking victims were documented in the 2011 book Mulheres em Movimento: Migra&;&;o, Trabalho e G&;nero em Bel&;m do Par&; (Women on the Move: Migration, Work and Gender in Bel&;m, Par&;). The project was financed by the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.

"Each woman in the book was given the name of a precious stone," said Safira (Sapphire, in Portuguese), who did not want to use her real name to discuss her experiences. "Now, we’re looking for funding to give talks in schools and inform people about human trafficking."

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation, which was what happened to Safira, is the most common form of human trafficking in the “Diagnosis of Human Trafficking in Brazil’s Border Regions” report by the Ministry of Justice’s National Secretariat of Justice (SNJ).

It’s followed by human trafficking for slave labor.

The real surprise is what comes next.

"During the course of the research, we discovered new forms of exploitation, such as the use of people to engage in begging, indigenous exploitation and even victims who were used as drug mules," said fernanda lima Alves dos Anjos, director of the SNJ’s Department of Justice, Classifications, Titles and Qualifications.

In cases involving begging, children and adolescents are taken far from their homes and forced to ask for money or sell products on the streets. At the end of the day, they have to turn over part or all of the money to their exploiters.

In cases involving indigenous exploitation, indigenous Brazilians are recruited for a variety of purposes, from sexual exploitation to drug trafficking. Given that many of them live in isolated villages and don’t possess official identification, authorities are unaware of these crimes.

The Diagnosis, which was released in October, also identified the exploitation of children and young people for domestic slavery under the pretext of adoption, as well as for exploitation at soccer clubs.

In the latter, male adolescents are taken far from their homes to play soccer, with the promise of high wages, according to SNJ. Once they arrive, their documents are confiscated and they begin to be exploited, without the promised wages.

The Diagnosis cites specific examples, such as a Haitian who was taken to the state of Amap&; and children from the state of Acre who played for teams from youth divisions based in S&;o Paulo.

In the 11 Brazilian states that share borders with other countries, analysis was carried out on official figures, such as those from the social assistance network, law enforcement agencies and the courts, as well as sources outside government, such as NGOs that work to fight human trafficking.

Par&;, Amap&;, Roraima, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul are the states with the highest incidence of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Slave labor is common in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Paran&;, Par&;, Amazonas, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.

The profile of individuals vulnerable to trafficking includes children, adolescents and adults due to socioeconomic conditions or family conflicts.

The criminals all act in essentially the same manner. The victims are lured and convinced that they can have a better life. When they arrive, they discover they have acquired debts for transportation, food and accommodations, which are paid through violence and exploitation. They also receive threats of reprisals if they try to escape or file a complaint.

Brazilian legislation covers human trafficking only in cases involving sexual exploitation. For other purposes, prosecutors must find correspondence with other types of crimes covered by law.

The Diagnosis is part of the Federal Government’s Strategic Border Plan. The collection of information for the Diagnosis is the first of three actions under the SNJ’s responsibility.

The second action is training agents to work at the Outposts for Humanized Migrant Care, which will serve Brazilians who have been denied entry to, or deported from, neighboring countries.

"The Diagnosis also will indicate the municipalities in border areas where the new outposts should be set up," Anjos said.

Currently, of the 11 border Brazilian states, only Amazonas and Par&; have outposts.

The third SNJ action is the promotion of international legal cooperation.

"We maintain international partnerships for combating human trafficking, as well as prevention and care, with Mercosul countries, and we have created a strategy with the Unasul [Union of South American Nations] countries,” Anjos added.

For Ang&;lica Lima Gon&;alves, a social worker with the NGO Sodireitos, human trafficking must be combated on three fronts: dismantling gangs, punishing perpetrators and caring for victims.

"It’s also important to raise awareness among the population and provide access to public policies that really might guarantee a better life for everyone," Gon&;alves said. "What we most often hear is that people accepted these invitations because they wanted a better life."

Financed by the SNJ, the Diagnosis was carried out in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), an international organization headquartered in Vienna, Austria.

Accused “Toys R Us killer” faces judge

By Posted by: Emily Lenihan Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 12:10 pm

The accused “toys r us killer” was back in court Wednesday morning. Bernard Grucza appeared for a routine proceeding. He is charged with murdering assistant manager Larry Wells at the Toys R Us store in Hamburg last summer.

The case shocked the southtowns community as police tried to find a suspect for months, until Grucza was arrested last fall.

In a separate case, Gruzca is accused of violating an order of protection that his estranged wife filed against him.

Police respond to robbery in Town of Tonawanda Drug sales halted in Gowanda Ohio woman charged with snowmobiling while intoxicated

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